Zuckerman Museum of Art acquires print by African American artist Willie Birch

 Million Man March by Willie Birch
Willie Birch (American, b. 1942) Million Man March , 1996. Print and pulp painting on cotton handmade paper 60 x 26 inches Edition of 10. Collaborating Master Papermaker: Gail Deery. Published by the Brodsky Center at PAFA, Philadelphia.

Renowned artist visualized his impressions of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath in silkscreen

KENNESAW, Ga. (Nov 17, 2020) — The Bernard A. Zuckerman Museum of Art (ZMA) is pleased to announce a new acquisition of work by renowned African American artist Willie Birch. The Aftermath of Katrina: A Church and a Home, a silkscreen print on handmade Hiromi paper, visually transforms Birch’s impressions of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina through the medium of silkscreen printing.

The large-scale print was generously donated to the ZMA by Dolphin Press & Print, a professional printmaking and letterpress shop housed in the Printmaking Department at the Maryland Institute College of Art [MICA] in Baltimore, Maryland. The work documents the conclusive effects and lasting impacts of Hurricane Katrina on the landscape of Birch’s native city of New Orleans.

aftermath of Katrina

Image, above: Willie Birch “The Aftermath of Katrina: A Church and a Home” 30” x 83.5” Silkscreen on handmade Hiromi paper. 

In residence for one month at MICA in October of 2006, Birch worked on the large-scale print in collaboration with faculty and student printers at Dolphin Press. Moreover, the work remains relevant in its shared relationship to recent historical events that have further illuminated the great divides that exist between race and class in our country, making this work of historical significance a poignant addition to the already robust print collection of the Zuckerman Museum of Art. 

“Given the context of New Orleans in terms of life and death, there is something about creating art that allows me to put things in perspective. One of my definitions for creating art is we take chaos and create art out of it. So, we’re making sense out of the reality of our existence,” said Birch.

He draws narrative inspirations from New Orleans’ rich and complex heritage of the African American community and from its Mardi Gras tradition. Through his work, Birch demonstrates the potential to provoke social change, often seeking to blur the boundaries of art and life.

Cynthia Nourse Thompson, director of curatorial affairs at the ZMA, has a unique connection to Birch, as she collaborated with him on another project at the Rutgers Center for Innovative Print and Paper: Birch’s Million Man March (1996). Technically exceptional and poignant, the work remains a witness to—and marker of—historical events. Birch created the piece, a man’s suit fashioned out of handmade paper with collaged pulp-painted elements, to commemorate the Washington, D.C. Million Man March of 1995.

Birch’s work is exhibited throughout the United States, housed in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Orleans Museum of Art, The Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and the Delaware Center of Contemporary Arts, among others. He received his MFA from Maryland Institute College of Art and his BA from Southern University of New Orleans.

--Kathie Beckett