African American Artists during the Twentieth Century
John T. Biggers, Shotgun, Third Ward #1 (1966). Courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C. / Art Resource, NY
Since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina it is hard to look upon John Biggers's painting Shotgun, Third Ward #1 without experiencing some feelings of painful empathy or nostalgia for a New Orleans community that has suffered much from criminally inept and insufficient government efforts at relief and recovery following the disaster. At the center of Biggers's scene is a church that has been gutted by fire, its burnt and exposed beams visible as black lines against a bright red sky. Half-naked children play in the street in front of it while their parents gather to watch them and gossip among themselves. The church is flanked by shotgun row houses, simple geometrically constructed dwellings made up of one or two rooms, whose facades feature little more than a door, a window, and a peaked roof with a covered porch, each house as solid and monumental as the black folks who stand before them.