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On the occasion of our current exhibition, Kayne Griffin is pleased to present a live digital conversation with New Orleans based artist Willie Birch and Cameron Shaw, Executive Director of the California African American Museum. The program featured a brief introduction followed by a discussion and an open Q&A.

About the Exhibition
On view until May 1, 2021, this exhibition marks Willie Birch’ first solo exhibition in Los Angeles, California. Birch was first recognized for his own papier maché sculptures that depicted African American men, women, and children engaged in common activities and rituals. In the late 1980's Birch returned to New Orleans from New York City where he was living, to attend the World Fair and visited the iconic Saint Louis Cathedral Catholic church. While there, he came upon a classical figurative sculpture from 15th century Spain depicting a crucifixion created in papier maché. This experience was monumental for Birch. It was the catalyst for connecting metaphorical and symbolic interpretation in his artistic practice. It opened up the ideas of how "art" is conveyed in terms of its fragility, preciousness, the value in our society, and the art world.

Since the papier maché series, all the works Birch has created are an extension of his living experiences. Each series is an accumulation that speaks to the human conditions he chronicles in daily occurrences. Birch’s recent works privilege the everyday object. He records the anti-moments: coiled hoses, wildflowers, tennis shoes, a cat on a porch, all situated in the historically Black and working-class neighborhoods. Birch's works are narrative, autobiographical, and a document of his encounters. 

Beginning in 2000, Birch removed all color from his palette working only in black and white. These graphic paintings made from acrylic and charcoal stem from the artist’s observations of the people and landscape of New Orleans and Louisiana. Birch uses a distinct layering of transparencies and mark making that is meant to act as a metaphor for human connection. Each layer holds a deeper meaning that when peeled away reveals the universal meaning of connectiveness. These works are no more representational than abstract. They are reflections of Birch’s feelings on the meaning of humanity.

About Willie Birch
Willie Birch was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1942 where he currently lives and works. He received his MFA from the Maryland Institute College of the Art. Birch has been the recipient of many awards and fellowships, including the Guggenheim Foundation, the Pollock Krasner Foundation, the Joan Mitchell Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He was named the USA James Baldwin Fellow in 2014. Birch’s work has been included in numerous group exhibitions throughout the country and a survey of his work, Celebrating Freedom: The Art of Willie Birch, was organized by the Contemporary Art Center, New Orleans, in 2016 and travelled nationally. Birch will be included in the upcoming Prospect 5 New Orleans: Yesterday we tomorrow curated by Naima Keith and Diana Nawi.

About Cameron Shaw
Cameron Shaw was appointed Executive Director of the California African American Museum (CAAM) in February 2021, after serving as Deputy Director and Chief Curator since September 2019. Highlights of her leadership include garnering major support for CAAM, such as grants from the Mellon Foundation and Getty Foundation; the recruitment of key staff with distinguished expertise in Black art, history, and culture; the successful pivot to virtual of CAAM’s public programs, necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic; and the subsequent reopening of the Museum. She also curated the exhibition Nikita Gale: PRIVATE DANCER and is co-curating the forthcoming World Without End: The George Washington Carver Project.

A native of Los Angeles, Shaw previously served as executive director of New Orleans-based Pelican Bomb, a non-profit contemporary art organization. She lectures on topics including values-based institution building, collaboration, translating theory to practice, and creative publishing strategies. In addition to her institutional practice, Shaw is an award-winning writer and editor whose work has appeared in numerous national outlets, books, and exhibition catalogues.