Detroit is fighting back against centuries of oppressive racism, and it’s using art as it’s medium.
Forced to confine to society’s warped ideas of what it means to be a Black person, Detroit artists join forces to tell their own stories with the help of the Detroit Artists Market, a non-profit gallery located in the hub of Michigan’s most historic city.
In mid-August, the Detroit Artists Market debuted “Multifaceted Narratives: An Exploration of Black Figurative Art”, a multimedia exhibition featuring Black figurative works by Black artists based in Detroit.
Hoping to combat racist misinformation spread over time, one art expert dedicated herself to sharing the complex stories of her community.
“Detroit is a majority-Black city and I feel like Detroit artists are not getting enough opportunities here and part of the reason why I wanted to do a show that focused specifically on the Black-figure and Black artists is because I wanted to just think of the idea of Black bodies taking up space in a literal and figurative sense,” said Juana Williams, the curator of Multifaceted Narratives: An Exploration of Black Figurative Art. “I was thinking of the complexity of Blackness. With stereotypes and things like that, Black people get grouped together and there’s this linear understanding of what Blackness means from people who are not Black and I wanted to give an opportunity to have this space for self-defined identity.”
Williams says the root of America’s strained relationship with the Black community stems from destructive thoughts ingrained into the country’s most influential systems.
“This is not something that just began in 2020 and this is not something that is just indicative of Detroit culture,” said Williams. “It leads as far back as colonialism and probably farther back than that. The powers that be had a lot of influence on the way people thought about Blackness; they created their own pseudo-science and decided that Black people had certain brain sizes and different anatomy so that they could create this idea that we were lesser than Europeans. A lot of systems that we’re still having to deal with today were put in place to uphold this idea.”
With nearly 80% of its residents belonging to the African-American community, Detroit has seen the effects of systemic racism firsthand. Issues of housing discrimination, police brutality, and public health concerns have plagued the city for years. Recent run-ins with COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter protests have intensified these stressors.
Williams made the decision to showcase the Black experience in all its glory and all its trauma.
“Violence against the Black body, especially the male Black body, is such a part of our culture and our identity and the way that Black people were brought to this country; I didn’t want to ignore the fact that that’s going on,” said Williams. “I think that what’s particularly interesting about Taurus’ work in the show is that it’s not incredibly graphic…there’s nothing else like [the “Shooting of Philando Castile”] in the show and it gave us the opportunity to have those conversations.”
While Williams does not intend on eradicating racism with the month-long exhibit, she does hope the pieces will spark, what she believes are, very important conversations on race.
“It’s important for art to be accessible because of the power that it has,” said Williams. “My hope is that people will come and see the work and have some type of an experience…I want this work to mean something to someone.”
Fellow art lovers in connection with the exhibition have expressed feelings of awe when attending Multifaceted Narratives: An Exploration of Black Figurative Art.
“Curator Juana Williams has put together an impressive exhibition of 30 artworks from an amazing group of 16 artists. The show forms an important and timely narrative woven together by individual perspectives,” said Matt Fry, Director at Detroit Artists Market. “Some of the pieces that stand out to me are: Desiree Kelly’s “The OG’s (Grandma and Auntie),” a wonderful celebration of family and tribute to lineage; the painting “Shooting of Philando Castile,” which is artist Taurus Burns’ commentary on racial violence; and, there is a poignant series of small collage-photographs by Olivia Guterson that speaks to the metamorphosis of pregnancy and the joy and apprehension of bringing a Black child into today’s world. These and many other works combine to make this a powerful exhibition.”
Multifaceted Narratives: An Exploration of Black Figurative Art will be held at the Detroit Artists Market until September 12. Detroiters can find out more about the exhibit HERE.