Since 1916, the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club has remained one of the stalwarts of New Orleans Mardi Gras, from its history in the Black community to its unique style of dress and parade throws. Alas, as the dangers of COVID-19 rage on, the whole of the carnival season found itself canceled this year—except, that is, in a designated corner of the West Baton Rouge Museum.
“Queen Zulu: Rose Roche of Port Allen,” on exhibit until February 28, celebrates the season belonging to the first Queen Zulu non-native to New Orleans. Selected in 1996, Roche represented carnival-loving women beyond the boundaries of the Crescent City with aplomb, dressed in feathers and attending to crowds of revelers with a sense of joy she says needs to be experienced to be fully realized.
“Riding in a Mardi Gras parade is something everyone should try to experience at least once,” she says.
Roche’s 1996 Queen’s costume sits as the star of the exhibition, along with artifacts like crowns, scepters and sashes, plus designer sketches of previous Queens’ regalia drawn by Anthony and Shirley Colombo of Artistic Designs, on exhibit for the first time. A short film about Roche’s run as Mardi Gras royalty, The Tale of a Zulu Queen, will also stream on the museum’s Facebook page on February 16, Mardi Gras Day.
“The costumes are a favorite,” says curator Kathe Hambrick. “After all, when you are a parade-goer, you typically only see the Queen in her costume for a fleeting moment.”
Still, Roche is quick to point out the true benefit of being part of a Mardi Gras krewe like Zulu. “The major focus has always been to give back to the community,” she says. “Even though everyone sees us partying on Mardi Gras, there is so much work that goes on behind the scenes, and so much camaraderie.”
For the rest of us, taking a stroll down memory lane in a museum corridor will just have to be enough to hold us over ’til next year.