View from the roof of the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel, where two bells are installed; by Tere Kirkland


Have you heard the bells? It’s almost as if a moment has been frozen in time, haunting the French Quarter daily at 3 p.m.

There are five bells dispersed through an area that’s roughly bordered by Chartres, Toulouse, Royal and St. Louis streets. But of course, the sound spills beyond this, and also disappears into it. They resist being heard all at the same time, so if you do want to hear all of them, you’ll have to move through the city.

The bells are a part of Recitations (…pour le triomphe de la liberté et de l’égalité…), a sound installation by Zarouhie Abdalian, and the first program offered in conjunction with The Historic New Orleans Collection’s forthcoming exhibition Art of the City: Postmodern to Post-Katrina, presented by The Helis Foundation.

While we’re often imprisoned by familiarity—the things we think we know, like our city, or the long-established use for bells (church, school, another hour ticking by), Recitations goes beyond the traditional art space and time frame and creates a truly compelling and unique exhibit, which encourages residents and tourists alike to rediscover the city, a new city, blossoming amongst the old.

Abdalian, a graduate of the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, and a Crescent City native, has been deeply inspired by the city’s desire to take control of public spaces in the recent years leading up to our Tricentennial.

The title of the installation, ‘for the triumph of freedom and equality,’ comes from a 1791 letter Toussaint Louverture wrote to the French commissioner on the eve of the Haitian Revolution.

“For me, that title was appropriate on this Tricentennial, not only because that revolution inspired uprisings here, but because those aims and goals remain yet unrealized. But I think there’s great potential in the city of New Orleans for realizing them in our next 300 years,” says Abdalian.

Bells are traditionally used as a signal, but how will this signal be registered? Will it be a call to war, or a call for peace? Will it evoke the past, or ring in a new era? The rhythms heard from the bells are related to speech or oration, a sound that mimics talking to one another. One can only imagine what this conversation would be, in the context of our Tricentennial, with opinions varying so greatly during such a politically charged time.

“In some respects I celebrate the end of the last 300 years and the beginning of the next, which will be a more exciting time,” Abdalian says.