EULALIE

A film by Casey Ruble

Trailer for Eulalie

Essay "Meeting Eulalie" for Pelican Bomb

 

Artist Casey Ruble has developed her experimental documentary Eulalie about Eulalie Mandeville de Marigny (1774 – 1848) through four residencies at PARSE NOLA over the last several years (June 5 - July 8, 2017; January 8 - 18 and August 1 - 25, 2018; June 7 - July 5, 2019) in the house located at 819 Marigny Street, sited on a piece of land once owned by Mandeville.

 

Eulalie Mandeville was an Afro-Creole woman born to an enslaved mother named Marie Jeanne and Pierre Philippe Mandeville de Marigny, the largest white Creole landowner in Louisiana in the late 1700s. Manumitted at age five, she was raised by her white family, who gave her land, slaves, cattle, and money. She went on to establish a successful dry-goods business, and mother seven children with her white partner Eugène Macarty. As Ruble importantly notes, Mandeville’s relationship with Macarty was not a plaçage arrangement, but rather one that Mandeville entered as an independent, wealthy, and successful professional. After he died, Mandeville won a court case (Nicholas Théodore Macarty et al. vs. Eulalie Mandeville, f.w.c.) in which Macarty’s relatives—including the notorious Madame Lalaurie, who was eventually banished from New Orleans as a result of her abuse and torture of slaves—claimed they were the rightful heirs to the couple’s estate. At the time of her death, Mandeville was one of the wealthiest free women of color in New Orleans.

 

Shot in black and white and borrowing stylistically from the silent-film tradition, Eulalie is divided into chapters—each crafted as its own “mini narrative”—on members of the Mandeville-Macarty family: “Father,” “Lover,” “Brother” (Bernard Marigny, founder of the Faubourg Marigny), “Niece,” “Good Children,” and “Mother.” Eschewing any particular interpretive agenda, the chapters instead explore contradictions and plumb unanswerable questions as they lay out the facts of the family members’ stories. A chapter on the court case against Mandeville, appearing between “Niece” and “Good Children,” reveals how ill-equipped the law was to contain or contend with the slipperiness of race at that time. Together, the chapters span the period between the Declaration of Independence and Reconstruction. Per the silent-film tradition, the film’s narrative is conveyed solely through text panels; interwoven footage consists solely of present-day shots of locations pertinent to the narrative, tying the story to the context of Louisiana as it exists today. A meditation on a young nation’s struggle to define itself, Eulalie is also an attempt to insert Mandeville’s overlooked narrative into the larger story of American history—a story marked by greed, hubris, and depravity but also unity, resistance, and strength.

 

Nearly erased from record, there are no known existing likenesses of this woman. Ruble has unearthed a copy of her signature, but the truth is that Eulalie Mandeville de Marigny lies in an unmarked New Orleans grave. A handful of books, journal articles, and PhD dissertations mention Mandeville, but the information they provide is relatively scant, and much of it is incorrect. With the exception of when Mandeville’s life intersected with historically significant whites (e.g., her father, Pierre Philippe Mandeville de Marigny, or her half-brother, Bernard Mandeville de Marigny), secondary sources have proven unreliable. Thus, in-depth research for this project has involved consulting primary sources:  baptism records, successions, property deeds, and so on. A goal of this project is to correct the existing historical record on Eulalie Mandeville, so that future research can build on a foundation grounded in proven facts. Ruble’s research has reiterated the importance of making this woman’s story known: Pulling Mandeville out of the historical shadows is one way to reinforce the importance of Black voices and Black lives in this very fractured moment in history. Additionally, Mandeville’s story sheds light on the ways in which Louisiana served as an early model for a more forward-thinking perspective on race relations in this country.

 

This narrative has already transcended the city through Ruble’s essay, “Meeting Eulalie,” published by the international online arts platform, Pelican Bomb, in 2017. The project was also presented at The Association for the Study of Arts of the Present’s 10th Annual Conference in New Orleans in 2018, which was attended by academics from all over the United States. Ruble has also received funding and support as a recipient of a Monroe Fellows Research Grant, administered by New Orleans Center for Gulf South and Tulane University. Eulalie has been supported thus far with funding provided by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts (2017 and 2021), in-kind support from Center for Gulf South History & Culture (CGS) for Ruble’s residencies at 819 Marigny Street, in-kind support from PARSE NOLA, and private donations.

 

 

ABOUT THE ARTIST

Casey Ruble is an Artist in Residence at Fordham University, where she teaches a range of courses and curates exhibitions for the university galleries. She is represented by Foley Gallery in New York and has received grants and fellowships from the Smithsonian Institution, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts (through PARSE NOLA), the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, and the New Jersey Council on the Arts, among others. Her work and curatorial projects have been reviewed in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Hyperallergic, the Wall Street Journal, and Sculpture Magazine. She has written for Art in America  and was an artist contributor to Rebecca Solnit and Rebecca Snedeker’s “Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas.” Influenced by minimalist literature, true-crime television, and documentary photography of the 1970s, her work focuses on history, memory, place, and violence, often as they pertain to racial inequity. Ruble received a BA from Smith College and an MFA from Hunter College CUNY. Raised on a ranch in eastern Montana, she has been living in New Orleans since March 2020.

 

©PARSE NOLA 2021