Disney commissions New Orleans artist for ‘Tiana’s Bayou Adventure’ ride

Updated: May. 4, 2023 at 9:07 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - When you step into Sharika Mahdi’s Elmwood home, you see the talented art teacher’s work displayed all over the walls.

“People describe my art as very happy, very whimsical, very musical,” Mahdi explained. “I never really look at my art as having a certain style. I started getting a lot of feedback about my work, as far as the nature of how I create my figures and the movement, and I even remember receiving comments that my work looked like Disney.”

Mahdi’s home also houses her studio. Her unique artistry, with her signature swirls, appeals to the likes of locals and is one of the most recognizable companies in the world.

Sharika Mahdi, a New Orleans artist, has been selected to help design a new Disney ride.
Sharika Mahdi, a New Orleans artist, has been selected to help design a new Disney ride.(WVUE)

“I actually received an email, and I thought it wasn’t a real email. Like literally, it was a contact on my website saying they were interested in my work,” Mahdi said. “The young lady said she was interested in my work, and if I’d be interested in doing a project with Disney.”

It is a project that centers around one of Mahdi’s favorite Disney films, The Princess and The Frog. It is a story about a chef named Tiana, who dreams of opening her own restaurant. Disney based Tiana’s character off of iconic New Orleans Chef Leah Chase.

“So, I responded. She responded back. Then we had a phone call. I wasn’t quite sure what it entailed until that first phone call,” Mahdi clarified. “She told me they were looking for some concept drawings for the new ride at the Disney Parks in honor of Tiana’s The Princess and The Frog.”

Disney commissioned Mahdi to do four pieces to help inspire its Imagineers to create a theme for the new ride, “Tiana’s Bayou Adventure.” It will replace the more than 30-year-old water ride, “Splash Mountain.”

“It’s almost like magic,” Mahdi said.

Disney tasked Mahdi with four themes. One features Mama Odie, the voodoo priestess who lives in the swamps and helps Tiana and her friends along their journey, another features the bayou, and the third... Mardi Gras. The final theme she cannot reveal just yet, but each piece takes about two months to complete.

Disney plans to play the sounds of Zydeco as riders take a trip with Tiana and trumpet-playing gator Louis through Louisiana’s swamps as they gear up to host a Mardi Gras celebration.

“To know that I have a part in it, and other little girls and other artists can look at that and go ‘wow an African American woman did this from New Orleans and influenced the iconic imagery of the ride’” Mahdi explained.

This ride revolves around Disney’s first black princess.

“She looks like she could be a cousin or something,” Mahdi said. “She reminds me of my sister, who started her own restaurant, or some other women I’ve seen start restaurants and other businesses that really had to fight the elements.”

Just like Tiana and her crew had to face Dr. Facilier, also known as the Shadow Man, Mahdi said she had to overcome doubters and naysayers to get to where she is today.

“Mainly her story of just having a dream, being told she couldn’t do it and persevering and doing it,” Mahdi clarified.” I was told that ‘I don’t see you being an artist.’ I had someone tell me that, that they didn’t see me being that great.”

For the artist who started painting at 6 years old, she can now represent her city, her passion, and her art with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Sharika Mahdi, a New Orleans artist, has been selected to help design a new Disney ride.
Sharika Mahdi, a New Orleans artist, has been selected to help design a new Disney ride.(WVUE)

“If somebody would have told me several years ago that I would be just making a contribution to Tiana’s Princess and The Frog. I would be like really.. really? So, this is actually truly a wonderful experience, and I’m just happy to be a part of it,” Mahdi concluded.

“Tiana’s Bayou Adventure” is scheduled to debut at Disneyland and Disney World in late 2024.

You can learn more about Sharika Mahdi and her work on her website, artbysharika.com.

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