Tylonn J. Sawyer @ N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

Installation image, Tylonn J. Sawyer, N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, 3.2021 All images courtesy of the Detroit Art Review

A new exhibition, White History Month Volume I and II: The Year of the Flood by Detroit native artist Tylonn J. Sawyer is now on display at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art and runs until June 19, 2021.  There is a cadre of contemporary Detroit artists that express themselves using the figure as the dominant source of their subject matter, including Mario Moore, Sydney James, Peter Williams, Tyanna Buie, Senghor Reid, Rashaun Rucker to name only a few, but no one that takes on the visual language associated with the power and oppression leading to the social injustice against African Americans, as does Tylonn J. Sawyer.

He says in his statement, “Within this collective body of work, I’m interested in themes of black motherhood, confident hypocrisies observed in politics, religion, and the overall social order. Culling from the Western History and cultural tropes, the work in this exhibition centers on the distortions in American social fabric.”

Tylonn J. Sawyer, The Birth of Venus, Oil and Mixed Media on canvas, 72 x 48″, 2021

The painting from 1480 by the Italian artist Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, depicts the goddess Venus arriving at the shore after her birth when she had emerged from the sea fully-grown. The painting was created during the Italian Renaissance, has dominated western art for seven centuries, and as we see,  Sawyer selects the title to give new meaning to this painting’s title.  When I first experienced the work, I was thinking of Madonna and Child in our contemporary urban world, taking from one of the most popular titles in art history. Here in Sawyer’s work, the standing portrait with child is drenched in symbolism. The American flag is the backdrop for this new mom holding her infant surrounded by butterflies.

Tylonn J. Sawyer, Three Graces: Aretha, Oil on canvas, 72 x 60″, 2019

The painting Three Graces: Aretha is a large oil painting that depicts three African American women standing in front of the American flag with these hand-held black and white masks of the performer Aretha Franklin.  This motif is used in several of Sawyer’s paintings; as an example, he uses Nina Simone and Martin Luther King as the subject of masks.  The concept raises a question in the viewer’s mind: What is the idea presented, and where does it come from?

Sawyer explains, “Borrowing from rituals in sub-Saharan Africa where people would place the mask of their ancestors and spiritual deities to seek counsel for contemporary problems, the figures in this exhibition wear masks of civil rights leaders, activists, artists, and political figures. The figures represent metaphoric deities placed on the backdrop of Americana. Using religious metaphor, history, pop culture, and the flag as sacred symbols of America, I am exploring questions of how Blacks exist within the mythology of Americana.”

Tylonn J. Sawyer, Your Founding Fathers Owned Slaves and We Ain’t Forgot that Shit II, Oil on canvas, 48 x 32″, 2021

Tylonn Sawyer must have known that when it came time to apply for graduate school, he wanted to attend a school specializing in representational art, focusing on figurative painting. The New York Academy of Art is a graduate school that combines intensive technical training using methods and techniques that met his goals.  The painting Your Founding Fathers…the work that is tongue-in-cheek where the African American female is working on a portrait of George Washington—reminds us that not everyone is a descendent of the first U.S. president.

Tylonn J. Sawyer, Missy Misdemeanor Elliot, Charcoal and glitter on paper, 30 x 22, 2020

Throughout the exhibition, there is a collection of charcoal drawings, 30 x 22″ as in Missy Misdemeanor Elliot, that illustrates portraits from famous contemporary celebrities that remind people that there is much accomplishment in the entertainment business.  Sawyer gives credit where credit is due by featuring these realistic headshots where some are surrounded with gold foil.  Sawyer says “Using Hip-Hop, a music genre and culture as a not only medium for both the audio and historical soundtrack, but also as witness to our participation in history, Year of the Flood, immerses the viewer in a body that  refracts movement through a false sense of stasis, offering various aspects of praise and conflict with and of Americana.”

Tylonn J. Sawyer, Every Now and Then, 84 x 50″, Charcoal and Acrylic on Paper, 2017

The large work, Now and Then, charcoal and acrylic is a field of police painted with flat white acrylic faces, depicts the officers as automated cutout droids crammed together in search of a strategy. The symbolism of a police force lacking the diversity it deserves is one more example of Sawyer’s tools to make his social injustice message loud and clear.

Tylonn J. Sawyer, The King James Version, 30 x 22″, Oil on Paper, 2020

The King James Version, also known as the King James Bible, is an English translation of the Christian Bible for the Church of England in 1604.  Historically,  Britons were enslaved in large numbers, typically by wealthy merchants, who exported indigenous slaves from pre-Roman times and became significant participants in the Atlantic slave trade. The painterly portrait here depicts a contemporary African American draped in the U.S. flag, poking fun at such an event’s impossibility.

Throughout our country’s history, the intersection of art and activism has played a crucial role in social movements against inequality, oppression and injustice.  The authors of the Declaration of Independence outlined a bold vision for America: a nation where there would be equal justice for all. More than two hundred years later, it has yet to be achieved.  Though generations of civil rights activism have led to significant gains in legal, political, social and educational realms, the forced removal of indigenous peoples and the institution of slavery marked the beginnings of a system of racial injustice from which our country has yet to recover.

Tylonn J. Sawyer earned his BFA from Eastern Michigan University and his MFA from the New York Academy of Art.

White History Month Volume I and II: The Year of the Flood at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art runs through June 19, 2021.

 

Souls of Black Folk: Bearing Our Truths @ Scarab Club

Installment Image, Souls Of Black Folk, Scarab Club, Detroit, Images : Courtesy of David E. Rudolph/ D. Ericson & Associates Public Relations.

In  W.E.B. DuBois’ essay, “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” from his poignant collection, The Souls of Black Folk, the sociologist makes a thorough and thought triggering assessment on being Black in America.

“The  Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world, — a world which yields him no self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world,” he wrote. “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness; an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

Written in 1903, this passage is  the impetus for  the exhibition Souls of Black Folk: Bearing Our Truths, on view at the Scarab Club through March 20. Curated by Donna Jackson, artist and owner of DMJ Studios, DuBois’ words and concept of dual identity – being Black and being American– resonated on a deeper and heightened level for Jackson throughout 2020 – a year imploded with a global health pandemic that still looms and a socio-political and racial reckoning that forced America to finally discuss racism and injustices on a worldwide stage.

In a reflective statement about the exhibition, Jackson expressed, “With the death of George Floyd and the amount of pain and in many cases,  guilt I have seen poured in our streets and in our media, I went back and re-read The Souls of Black Folk. The two-ness of being Black and American sits heavy and true with me. Sometimes this feeling is hard to pinpoint or express and yet, DuBois did it simply. It freed me to know that this feeling can be described. It is okay to be these two things. To be Black. To be American. The challenge is being accepted as both.”

The collection features the works of twenty, established and emerging Black artists – a first in the Scarab Club’s 100+ year-history– and range in emotion from depictions of harsh truths of existence in a Black body as well as expressions of joy, love and being human.

Jackson’s Black and Blue, sets a strong tone. The massive acrylic painting depicts a faceless  black body as a shooting target, a red dot is on the chest and  the words black and blue are scribbled throughout.  ‘Black Lives Matters’ and  ‘Blue Lives Matter’ chants mentally collide, drawing flashes of the racial  contention and shooting deaths of Black men and women by police officers and white citizens. I am reminded of Dubois’ use of the veil as a metaphorical presentation of the color line, racial oppression and injustices.

Donna Jackson| Black and Blue (Who’s The Target) | Acrylic on Canvas

There’s a trauma that exists within  Blackness that is inexperienced in mainstream America. Yvette Rock’s The Brutal Passage depicts the foundation of that pain. Accompanied by a performance, entitled 400 Years of Labor, the magnitude of the mixed-media canvas is aptly felt. Before the artist appears on screen, chains clinking is the first sound, followed by foot thumps, groans and heavy breathing. The artist appears carrying the thick canvas, each step a struggle. Each step a reminder of slavery and the oppressive mentality behind it.

The emotional and psychological grief  that comes with injustice and trauma carries over into Carole Morriseau’s chilling, The Healing Wall. The mixed-media ensemble comprises four quadrants, containing 1200-1500 colorful ribbons with painted portraits bearing the names of Black lives lost due to police brutality. George Floyd.  Rodney King. Breonna Taylor. Ayanna Jones. Emmett Till. And the list of Black and brown souls, gone (as we see it) too soon, goes on. Morriseau also incorporates phrases #StopTheKillings and #IAmTrayvon to represent social justice movements.  The visual breaks your heart, but there is  also a source of strength, purpose and a knowing that this is why we must continue to lift their names and use the tears as fuel to keep marching forward in hopes of a just world.

Yvette Rock | The Brutal Passage | Mixed Media on Canvas| 72×36| 2020

Carole Morriseau | The Healing Wall | Mixed Media | 45×50| 2020

Grief is heavily felt in the aforementioned pieces and in Rita Dickerson’s$100,000,000 SLAVES: The Absence of Black Ownership and Control, that never settles.  In this assortment of feelingsthere is a visceral balance and resilience presented in the installation. We see the way joy claims its right to shine in spite of historical pain and constant wearing of the veil in Cydney Camp’s Juneteenth (Teenth) painting, which depicts a couple laid out in a yard, smiling while taking in a hot day, and Ralph Jones’ life photo, We’re All Here,  that shows Black and brown children and families playing in water at Hart Plaza,  and certainly in Mandisa Smith’s Black Joy made from felted wool. This is part of the story, too. This is love and care.

Mandisa Smith | Black Joy | Mixed Media | 18inx18in | 2020

Honoring the ancestral realm with spiritual grounding and understanding “I am, because they are,” Monica Brown’s mixed-media-on-wood painting and image-making, I Prayed For You Before You Were Born (I) and Prayed For You Before You Were Born (II ),  are soothing like a needed hug. The art works are part of the artist’s ‘Mythical Memory’ series rooted in connections between the body, memory, personal history and healing. The circular motion in these small but mighty visuals feels like  a continuous prayer and donning of armor by loved ones. 

Monica Brown | I Prayed For You Before You Were Born (I) | Acrylic and Mixed-Media on Wood | 8”x8”

Monica Brown | I Prayed For You Before You Were Born (II) | Acrylic and Mixed-Media on Wood | 8”x8”

Olivia Guterson’s Sankofa, is reminiscent of Ghana’s Akan tribe and the mythical bird that serves as one of the Adinkra’s cultural symbols. With its head turned backward, the posturing speaks to embracing “what is at risk of being left behind.” Further, the three syllables that make up the word “Sankofa” mean return, go, look, seek and take. With this in mind, Guterson’s illustration welcomes a form of travel and seeking wisdom. There’s a present comforting that feels ancestral and communal. The artists’  use of black-and-white, textured lines and eyes throughout the image, brings both intensity and a sort of calm on this quest for knowledge and using the past as a guide to the future.

Olivia Guterson | Sankofa, 2020 Oil and ink on archival paper | 10×14

Throughout Jackson’s curation, we see the complexities and layers of the Black experience. We see love, the rich appreciation of  literature, music, connection, progressive thinking and being amid the struggle and the striving. Souls of Black Folk: Bearing Our Truths is a looking glass for not only a deep dive into DuBois’ philosophy but that of Black life as narrated by Black visual artists.

View closely, Black voices have stories to tell. And this exhibition SPEAKS.

“The human soul cannot be permanently chained.” – W.E.B. Dubois

Olivia Guterson | Sankofa, 2020 Oil and ink on archival paper | 10x14

Desiree Kelly | W.E.B Du Bois | Woodburn, oil, acrylic, collage on wood | 12 x 12

Participating Artists: Monica Brown, Taurus Burns, Cydney Camp, Rita Dickerson, Olivia Guterson, Asia Hamilton, Donna Jackson, Sydney James, Ralph Jones, Desiree Kelly, Charles Miller, Carole Morisseau, Sabrina Nelson, Yvette Rock, Phillip Simpson, Mandisa Smith, Rachel E. Thomas, Charlene Uresy, Carl Wilson, Cara Marie Young

Souls of Black Folk: Bearing Our Truths – On Display at the Scarab Club until March 20, 2021

ALSO ONLINE: https://www.soulsofblackfolk.com/  

Dual Vision @ MOCAD

Install image, Dual Vision, MOCAD, 202, All images courtesy of K.A. Letts

It’s March 2021, and we’re beginning to sense the coming of spring and an end to our seemingly endless COVID winter.  If crowded bars and restaurants are still out of the question, we can at least look forward to pants with waistbands and the occasional coffee at Starbucks.  The curators of Dual Vision at MOCAD appear to be sensing it too. Curator Jova Lynne, assisted by Maceo Keeling and advised by Kathryn Brackett Luchs, Ed Fraga and Robert Sestok, have assembled 40 Detroit artists, working in pairs, to showcase the personal interactions we have all been missing.  Some of Detroit’s best known and most accomplished creatives–along with a few newcomers– are celebrating at least the prospect of a return to normal.

Betty Brownlee + Cristin Richard, A Critique of Jean-Luc Goddard, 2021, mixed media detail.

Dual Vision, on view at MOCAD until August 8, 2021, is an all-of-the-above kind of exhibition that allows plenty of scope for artists working in a variety of media–video, painting, sculpture, sound, photography, fiber, printmaking. In the spirit of re-connecting, I met my friend and fellow arts writer Mariwyn Curtin at the gallery. Our visit provided us with an opportunity to practice the cultural interaction that will soon be part of our lives again. We hope.

Mariwyn and I noticed immediately the preponderance of installation among the entries.   This makes sense; the installation form allows maximum individual expression for each artist, while demonstrating–as if we didn’t know it already–that a collaborative artwork can be more than the sum of its parts.

Tony Rave + Tylonn J. Sawyer, Family Matter Episode 3 x Black and Blue: Field Notes, 2021, mixed media installation detail

A number of ofrenda-adjacent collections of objects and images included strong spiritual themes, while others featured ripped-from-the-headlines immediacy.   Tony Rave and Tylonn J. Sawyer’s installation, Family Matter Episode 3 x Black & Blue: Field Notes managed to combine both elements.  The altar-like installation presented a profusion of Rave’s saccharine white, ready-made ceramic figurines, mostly devotional in nature, their faces obscured by painted-on blackface.  They seemed–to me–to illustrate the artist’s bleak observation that Blackness is itself a social construct perpetrated by White culture. The theme was amplified by Sawyer’s companion pieces, family portrait-sized composite pictures of the 4 officers implicated in the death of George Floyd that provided a bitter corollary comment on the provisional nature of racial identity.

Rashaun Rucker + Mario Moore, Big Ma’s Porch (A Black Sanctuary) 2021, mixed media installation

Some much-needed psychological relief from the rawness of the Rave/Sawyer installation was provided by the nearby collaboration of Mario Moore and Rashaun Rucker. Big Ma’s Porch (A Black Sanctuary) conjures the artist’s wistful childhood recollections of his great grandparents’ front porch, a place of love and safety and tall tales, the mood of warm memory reinforced by Moore’s lovely silverpoint drawing.

My gallery companion brought her own distinctive sensibility to Dual Vision; Mariwyn responded to a couple of collaborations that I perhaps lacked the background to appreciate.  She particularly enjoyed A Critique of Jean-Luc Goddard by Betty Brownlee and Cristin Richard. She observed, “The skin-like translucent paper banners with French words on them was intriguing. Getting to the wall of images behind the banners was a little like passing through a section of forest with tall white trees. When I saw the wall of paintings, I thought immediately of Cindy Sherman’s Film Stills series. Once I made it through to read the label on the wall, it was rewarding to realize that [the collaboration] did indeed feature painted stills from films by Goddard.”

Mariwyn Curtin standing next to In Front of My Backyard by Julia Callis + Josh Kochis, 2021, acrylic, graphite, string on panel, mixed media installation.

The collection of smallish paintings by Nancy Mitchnick and John Corbin on the subject of the periodic table seemed a bit scattershot to me, but Mariwyn found something to like in the looseness of their improvisatory approach. She commented, “I thought it was interesting that the collaboration … was called Untitled when there is such a heavily researched background to the work…The treatment of each element captures the wave state of atoms more so than the Bohr diagrams seen in chemistry textbooks that look like mini solar systems. Each painting or cardboard mosaic seemed like a portrait of the doorway between particle and wave state.”

In the center of the gallery, images in Tyanna Buie and Chelsea A. Flowers’s video collage Call and Response prompted a visceral reaction. Adjacent television monitors engage in cacophonous conversation with each other and deftly capture the drinking-from-a-firehose quality of current events.  The fragmented clips, in which Buie and Flowers use off-the-shelf photographic apps to superimpose their faces onto pop culture and political figures to pointed comic effect, illustrate the extent to which our experience of events is colored by our racial identity in these polarized times.

Gisela McDaniel + Martha Mysko, Self Portraits In: Self portraiture in surrounding, in landscape, in DNA, in objects, in material, in eyes, in stories, in images, in the present, in the past, in plastic, in the familiar, 2021, Mixed media installation

Gisela McDaniel and Martha Mysko‘s mixed media installation wins the prize for best title:  Self Portraits In: Self portraiture in surrounding, in landscape, in DNA, in objects, in material, in eyes, in stories, in images, in the present, in the past, in plastic, in the familiar. This maximalist collection of fuschia and turquoise figurative and abstract paintings next to a bedraggled palm tree, near a pina colada perched  on a wrecked car hood, manages to suggest both a tropical getaway and a post-apocalyptic scene of environmental destruction.  I felt a wave of nostalgia for the beach vacation none of us took this year, along with a distinct urge to get my towel and lie down on the radioactive sand.

Robert Sestok + Kurt Novak, Forgotten Networks, 2020, Welded steel

In the center of the gallery, Robert Sestok and Kurt Novak contributed visual ballast to Dual Vision with their terrific steel assemblage Forgotten Networks. The monumental sculpture, which combines Novak’s humorous accessibility with Sestok’s formal elegance, provides a strong focal point for the exhibit around which the other artists’ work seems to revolve.

Michael Luchs, Moth (Jade), 2020, Woodcut, collagraph, sumi ink on glassine paper on canvas

Kathryn Brackett Luchs, Moth (Pink), 2020-21, Woodcut, sumi ink, on glassine paper on canva

Both Mariwyn and I enjoyed In Front of my Back Yard by Julia Callis and Josh Kochis, though her observations were better articulated than mine. She: “The installation of the distressed wood fence really gave the sense of peeking into a window from the outside yard and made me feel a bit like a voyeur.” Me: “Wow. I love those flat sea green, black and silvery gray colors.” The hues and textures of the wooden and found objects in Callis and Kochis’s environment accord well with the handsome pair of matching kimono-like wall hangings by Kathryn Brackett Luchs and Michael Luchs, installed on an adjacent gallery wall. The tissue-like glassine paper and the jittery marks of the sumi ink of Moth (Jade) and Moth (Pink) bring to mind the silence of moths’ wings as they pursue their life cycle through day and night and space and time.

My visit to Dual Vision with Mariwyn reminded me of how much I’ve missed social interaction and good conversation about art during the pandemic. There was a lot to look at and respond to–more than anyone could see and comment on in only one visit.  Other viewers will respond to some of the work that we haven’t mentioned, and I suppose that on another trip to MOCAD my friend and I might see things we missed on our first pass. Dual Vision has presented us with an invitation to celebrate our resilient and diverse Detroit art community, to reconnect, re-engage and restart our cultural conversation. I suggest you schedule a visit to form your own opinion.  Bring a friend.

Dual Vision Participating Artists:

Robert Sestok & Kurt Novak, Jim Chatelain & Steve Foust, Kathryn Brackett Luchs & Michael Luchs, Joyce Brienza & Deborah Sukenic, Simone DeSousa & Tim Van Laar, Nancy Mitchnick & John Corbin, Carlo Vitale & Ed Fraga, Nicole Macdonald & Carl Wilson, Betty Brownlee & Cristin Richard,  John Egner & Amelia Currier,  Gisela McDaniel & Martha Mysko, Tony Rave & Tylonn Sawyer, Rashaun Rucker & Mario Moore, Tyanna Buie & Cheris Morris,  Nour Ballout & Cyrah Dardas, Bree Gant & Cherise Morris, Sabrina Nelson & Levon Kafafian, Sterling Toles & Nate Mullen, Adam Lee Miller & Nicola Nuperus.

MOCAD Dual Vision through August 8, 2021

Story Word Sound Sway @ Stamps Gallery

Wes Taylor (BFA ’04), Ann Arbor Undercommons, 2020, Installation detail. Lead Archivist Jamall Bufford with assistance from Athletic Mic League. Photo: Nick Beardslee

The MFA’s and BFA’s produced each year by the nation’s academic art programs far exceed the ability of the art establishment–fine art galleries, museums, collectors and the like–to absorb them. What happens to all those aspiring and hopeful young creatives upon graduation?  How do contemporary artists pay rent and continue to work in a world that doesn’t reliably support them financially?  The exhibit Story Word Sound Sway, at the Stamps Gallery from now until February 28, provides a provocative answer of sorts.

Their creative paths as artists are as varied as the individuals–all graduates of the Penny Stamps School of Art and Design–now showing their work in the gallery. Contributions range from highly personal performance-based videos to political activism to graphics to object/image making. Many of the artworks in the gallery represent ongoing projects intended to engage multiple audiences at varying levels of sophistication and in diverse settings, all the while answering in real time the question of how contemporary artists continue to exist and even thrive.

The show, co-curated by Jennifer Junkermeier-Khan and Moteniola Ogundipe, allocates an outsize role to performance-related materials. I counted nearly a dozen time-based artworks, which collectively run to more than 90 minutes, throughout the show. This abundance of content made it challenging–okay, impossible–to experience all of them during the limited time of 25 minutes it was recommended that viewers be in the gallery during the pandemic. (To be fair, some–though not all–of the videos can be viewed online )

One of the most viscerally compelling entries in Story Word Sound Sway is Survivors Among Us, by Elshafei Dafalla (MFA ’08), an ongoing sound installation. It’s a disturbingly evocative description of physical and psychological torture that succeeds by moving the audience one step back from the experience. The first-person, anonymized interviews are both matter-of fact and chilling; the subjects baldly recount their experience without histrionics. They are unnamed, the locales also unknown.  What remains is the sense that capricious yet systematic, politically motivated cruelty can occur anywhere, to anyone.   It seems almost obscene to describe the formal qualities of the piece given the horrific nature of the subject.  Appropriately, Survivors Among Us can be experienced only in the gallery and is not available for online listening.

Elizabeth Youngblood (BFA ’73), Cone + Chartreuse, 2020, graphite on paper, 20” x 22” photo: K.A. Letts

In the case of Elizabeth Youngblood (BFA ‘73), the process of art-making takes on the character of ritual, a theme that runs just under the surface in the work of several artists in Story Word Sound Sway. Youngblood employs humble materials–aluminum paint from the hardware store, simple pen and paper, in her incremental journey toward transcendence.  Through her use of chance processes and repetition, the artist weaves a statement that is both private and universal.

Yvette Rock, Community Conversations, Kahtara and Dwan, 2016-2020, mixed media fiber, 18” x 12” x 2.5” Photo: Nick Beardslee.

Yvette (MFA ’99) Rock’s re-patched fiber pieces are visual metaphors for the spiritual process of healing–her carefully constructed fabric bands in Community Conversations illustrate the laborious one-on-one process of piecing back together the torn social fabric of Detroit.  In addition, Rock contributes a video of an accompanying performance set in the Brightmoor neighborhood of Detroit demonstrating her ongoing commitment to the restoration of her community.

Two videos, What the Tide Brought In by Carisa Bledsoe (BFA Interarts ’14) and Sift Shift Swoosh Bods by Levester Williams (BFA ‘13) continue the inward-directed spiritual strands of Story Word Sound Sway in narrative form. Both are hermetic performances that cast the spectator as bemused observer of  enigmatic private mysteries.

Perhaps the most clearly community-facing work in Story Word Sound Sway is Schroeder (BFA ‘76) Cherry’s installation employing rod puppets the artist uses to reach out to a broad audience with public service messages both humorous and colloquial. His puppets have performed in museums, libraries, and cultural centers for adults and children across the U.S. in productions such as The Civil Rights Children’s CrusadeCan You Spell Harlem?, and Underground Railroad, Not A Subway. The main character in this particular installation is Khordell, whose casual instructions to and from his fellow puppets include reminders to wear a mask, to not drink disinfectant and to register to vote–all good advice.

Schroeder Cherry, Dallas Dan, 1992, digital print, 11” x 17” photo: Schroeder Cherry

A room-sized display of ephemera from the Ann Arbor Undercommons, collected by Wes Taylor (BFA ’04), provides extensive documentation of a performance-based collective of Ann Arbor students of color from Huron High School. Dated from 1993 to the present, the materials record the underground hip-hop scene in Ann Arbor, particularly the ongoing activities of the Athletic Mic League. The artists hope that this exhibition will serve as a catalyst to get the process started toward a final documentary product that remains to be defined.

Other event-related installations, like The Collab by Caleb Moss (BFA ’13) speak specifically to the artist’s ongoing involvement in his Detroit community. As community activist and graphic designer, Moss’s entries consist of video documenting community cultural events intended to raise funds for scholarships, and a display of way-finding graphics for The Detroit Department of Transportation. Moss explains,  “My work with The Collab has allowed my friends and me to give back to Detroit Public School students while utilizing our varying skills. “The Connection” (our staple event) is a night of art, music, and fellowship that highlights the many talents of local Detroit artists.” The diversity of his work illustrates the multiple routes by which art–and artists–can find a way into the cultural ecosystem of a city.

Caleb Moss, The Collab, 2020, Installation detail, poster. Photo: K.A. Letts

The curators describe Story Word Sound Sway as “research-driven and collaborative… a document and documentation… an analysis, a celebration, a critique.” Co-Curator Jennifer Junkmeier-Khan goes on, “The artists tell stories, use words, create and transmit sounds; physically sway in their work and sway “us” with their ideas.”   In the process they have also illustrated a more private and often unseen struggle by artists to contribute to their environment while managing to live a creative life in the arts. They are part of a cultural community that, like dark matter, is invisible but essential.

Artists in Story Word Sound Sway: Carisa Bledsoe (BFA Interarts ’14), Schroeder Cherry (BFA ’76), Elshafei Dafalla (MFA ’08), Masimba Hwati (MFA ’19), Caleb Moss (BFA ’13), Senghor Reid (BFA ’99), Valencia Robin (MFA ’08), Yvette Rock (MFA ’99), Wes Taylor (BFA ’04), Levester Williams (BFA ’13), and Elizabeth Youngblood (BFA ’73)

Penny Stamps Gallery is open during limited hours to holders of the MCard. For more information go here.

This review is re-printed with permission from the Ann Arbor District Library’s online culture magazine Pulp. (Editor: Christopher Porter)

The Salad Days @ Detroit Artists Market

The Salad Days, Installation shot 2021, Image courtesy of DAM

Curated by Holliday Taylor Martindale, “The Salad Days” is a Shakespearean idiomatic expression meaning a youthful time. The millennial renaissance of Detroit from 2000 through 2012 heralded self-made artist run spaces. With rent low and space unlimited, artists gravitated to this inclusive paradigm shift to bring engaging shows. Emerging from a prosperous decade and a world reshaped by the internet, it was a new beginning as much as an awakening. Salad Days explores the subculture and practice of artists who were working in Detroit in the aughts (2000s) while featuring current work reflecting an age of genesis and collaboration.

Taurus Burns, The Hunt For Equality, oil on canvas 48” x 72” Image courtesy of the artist

Straight out of a nightmare comes The Hunt For Equality by Taurus Burns. Wickedly spiked branches trap a fantastical half-human creature while its hunters lurk in the shadows behind the twisted bark of complicit trees. The black and white palette fosters a scenario where present danger is felt, but not clearly seen. Under a draped confederate flag, a manacle and chain waits for its captive. A cross burning behind ghostly, pointed white hoods easily identifies the assailants. A harbinger crow warns from a branch high above as a modern-day lynch mob torch strikes down.

Burns interprets, “With this piece I wanted to capture the feeling of being hunted because of the color of your skin, while depicting the challenge of navigating America’s often polarized landscape as someone who is biracial. The panther here is inspired by both the Black Panther Party and the White Panther Party, both of which fought for Black empowerment against systemic racism. This panther wears the stripes of a zebra- a term sometimes used to describe children who have one black and one white parent. Tiki torches recall the “Unite the Right” rally in 2017 where supporters of the rising white nationalist movement gathered together in a show of strength, and Heather Heyer was killed when one of them drove his car into a crowd of people protesting the rally.”

Scott Northrup, Wayward Boys and Assholes, paper on clayboard 16” x 20” Image courtesy of the artist

Scott Northrup communicates his always personal message in a quiet, but bold way that asks the viewer to slow down and pay attention to the details. The reductive techniques he’s honed through sculpture, printmaking and film narrows the focus to content. For Wayward Boys and Assholes he’s collaged three pieces of paper including a scrap of a photo printed across the fold of a magazine page. The assembled image is an upside-down oil can spilling its contents and embellished with a green tassel tip from an illustration of a whip. Cloaked in Northrup’s trademark snark is ruthlessly honest dialogue. He openly flirts with the viewer, teasing a response from a shy grin to an audible chuckle. He is the master of calling out well-guarded secrets.

Cal Navin, Liberty I, digital print 30” x 18” Image courtesy of Kim Fay

Cal Navin’s Liberty I spills a toybox onto the page inviting us to remember childhood afternoons immersed in enchanted landscapes and adventures with mystical friends. The series began with 3D images of nostalgic toys as a way to mourn her dearly departed brother; toys they had played with, things that reminded her of him. She translated those images into layered digital drawings to tell her story. Her imagery and palette convey playful delight. Navin creates her imaginative characters with love, kindness and a whimsy most of us set aside long ago. Her reminiscence indulges the relationship the random playthings have with each other and our formative creativity.

Chido Johnson, Ari, multi-media and video projection 8’ x 8’ x 8’  Image courtesy of DAM

Installed in the east end of the gallery is a loosely constructed but recognizable figure comprised from a cacophony of materials. Ari is a collaborative project orchestrated by Chido Johnson. He began by carving a left foot in stone, then invited sixteen artists to join him imagining a body. Halima Cassells contributed a cement cast heart embedded with her sister’s and grandmother’s jewelry representing family combined with plants depicting life itself. Graem Whyte attached a left arm, which he’d had for thirty years patiently waiting for a body. Floating, dripping scraps of translucent material cast using her own fingers, Lisa Tolstyka provides a transitional element through “touch”.

Living in the midst of Covid, each artist came into the installation space independently adding their contribution to Ari’s body. They recorded their experience with the body, which they shared online to be witnessed through a digital window to the public. In the tradition of an exquisite corpse, a method by which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled. they did not know what Ari would become. Although working in isolation, they called each other to better understand how they physically connected and functioned together. This in itself reflects the time we live in.

Since the exhibition’s cohesive thread is the artists themselves—when and where they were working during a particular period—the work is as varied as they are. Genres range from photographic collage, found object sculpture, abstract painting and loosely painted street scenes. Themes run the gamut from intense social commentary to pointed sarcasm. What is on display here is not only the freedom and brilliance of a simpler period but artists devoted to their practice with passionate support for each other and their community.

On view January 22-February 20, 2021 at Detroit Artists Market 4719 Woodward Avenue, Detroit

Participating Artists: Michael Nagara, Mukhliseenah Hajj, Scott Hocking, Andrea Eckert, Asia Hamilton, CeCe McGuire, Bryant Tillman, Anthony Divis, Dekilah Nazari, Simone DeSousa, Scott Northrup, Chido Johnson, George Rahme, Jeff Nolan, Martin Anand, Gilda Snowden, Cedric Tai, Sioux Trujillo, Taurus Burns, Erik Howard, Katie Hawley, Chris McGraw, Cal Navin, Undine Brod, Kevin McCoy, Steve Kuypers, Kate Silvio, Vincent Troia, Shoshanna Utchenik.

Ari artists: Chido Johnson, Dyani Douze, Fatima Sow, Graem Whyte, Halima Cassell, Heather Anger, Jessica Harvey, Kasper O’Brien, Kristina Sheufelt, Kyle Lockwood, Lisa Tolstyka, Manal Shoukair, Sabrina Nelson, Sean Maxwell, Sophie Eisner.
See exhibition: The Salad Days