John P. Dessereau, Illustration MFA ’19, drew a full-page illustration for the cover of The New York Times Real Estate section. The section, which came out Sunday, Jan. 15, the day before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, was devoted to the problem of discrimination toward Black Americans in the housing industry. The topic was approached from myriad perspectives: real-estate brokers, home appraisals, historic preservation, and more.
The art director asked Dessereau, whose work has appeared in The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, to incorporate inspiring or uplifting elements of each story into the piece.
“I thought, ‘Why are they tapping me to tell this story?’ I figured it was partly my relationship with using infrastructure and building as a method of storytelling.”
So he drew a montage of the buildings mentioned in the story—especially those that no longer existed, like a church owned by a Black congregation that was demolished to make room for a stadium.
“It’s important to show these places that have ceased to exist,” he says, “so people can dig up the records online to see into the past.”
He added portraits of people, too, inspired both by the subjects of the articles and photographs of Black real estate agents he found online. “There was something really special about it—you could see pride and power in the photos.”