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The New York Times Highlights the Art of Willie Birch on the Occasion of Prospect 5 New Orleans

Willie Birch, White Picket Fence #2, 2019, Charcoal and acrylic on paper, 54 x 81 inches

A Show With Its Host City, New Orleans, as the Protagonist.

The contemporary art triennial Prospect New Orleans looks at the city’s cyclical history of challenges.

Prophetically titled “Yesterday we said tomorrow” by its artistic directors, Diana Nawi and Naima Keith, (the show was originally scheduled to open just before the 2020 election), Prospect looks back at the past as a portal to understand the present and asks whether the present is really as “unprecedented” as the media repeatedly called it. The added hurdle of Ida only reinforced the cyclic theme of the exhibition. 

“This is a condition of living in New Orleans,” said Ms. Nawi. “We were thinking about the ways that New Orleans is a nexus of so many definitive social, political and climate issues of our era.” 

The pandemic and latest hurricane have pushed Prospect to double down on its commitment to local audiences and artists. Nine of the artists are New Orleans-based — including Willie Birch, Ron Bechet and Anastasia Pelias — a larger percentage than in previous editions of Prospect, which has drawn crowds of 100,000 to 150,000, split about equally between regional and national or international visitors.

“We’ve been through disasters most of our lives and keep moving forward,” said Mr. Birch, who relocated from New York in 1994 back to the Black neighborhood where he grew up. On Nov. 6, at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, alongside seven other artists including the locals Katrina Andry and Welmon Sharlhorne, Mr. Birch will show several monumentally scaled charcoal drawings of acutely observed quotidian streetscapes that capture the light and atmosphere of New Orleans.

“You’ve got these old raggedy funky-looking houses but yet there’s something very beautiful in terms of their resilience,” Mr. Birch said, noting that the families in his neighborhood often go back six or seven generations. “You realize the history and the ghosts that are in these houses and how these people survived.” 

The haunting of the New Orleans landscape is a recurring thread in many of the artists’ projects. 


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