However, over her many decades in Washington, Burwell has provoked and comforted the larger local art scene with her themes and colors. On Saturday, she is celebrating the installation of a new three-dimensional work, “I Am the Mother Nile,” at Howard University’s Blackburn Center.
“The installation and poetry are in homage to motherhood and were inspired by Barack Obama’s response when on Fathers Day he was asked what it was like to be a father; ‘It’s like having your own heart walk around outside of your body.’ ’’
Her portfolio includes classes with the late Benjamin Abramowitz, one of Washington’s WPA painters, and degrees from the former D.C. Teacher’s College and Catholic University, as well as studies at Pratt Institute. In 1997 Hampton University Museum held a 30-year retrospective of her work.
“I Am the Mother Nile,” is hanging in Howard’s Blackburn Center, a crossroads of the campus, with tall ceilings fit for her towering installation. The mother figure is copper-colored with its arms outstretched. Blue branches spring from its blue hair, the color of the rivers. Small sculptures of people dance around a draped gown that flows onto the floor.
The materials are canvas, fabric, oil paint on a body cast and clay. As part of her artistic statement, Burwell added a poem; “Though I see myself as sprung from a Delta formed from an inherited sea/yet I remain confined within the limits of my ever changing banks.”
Her sculpture provides another stop along Georgia Avenue which now has its own history trail, organized by Cultural Tourism DC.