If you missed Detroit Art Week a few weekends ago, you missed a delectable experience. This year’s Detroit Art Week (or DAW) saw an expanded format and wider range of exhibitions compared to the inaugural edition in 2018, including national and international partnerships. The festival’s second run saw programming expanded to five days (versus three), and residents and visitors were invited to attend any of the 36 exhibition openings, 14 studio visits, 13 performances, 8 panel discussions, as well as 11 special programs. One of the highlights was the Young Curators, New Ideas V exhibition that paired 12 independent creators with a hotel room at the Trumbull & Porter Hotel to completely redesign. The artists selected hailed from across the United States and brought significant versatility to their spaces. DAW’s creators Aleiya Lindsey and Amani Olu have captured energy that was missing in Detroit in that they are focused on curators and creators versus the location or room itself.
The panels themselves were awesomely diverse, such as She, Her, Me: The Power and Magic of the Black Female Image. A talk that featured Sydney G. James, Halima Cassells, and Sherina Rodriguez. All Detroit luminaries, the ladies discussed tokenism, the fetishization of Detroit’s creative scene, self-care and spiritual upkeep. Creating on macro and micro levels, as well as holding space as women of color in an art world saturated with white male egos, quotas, and sexy versus useful.
One of Olu’s previous collaborators, and featured DAW artist, Ingrid LaFleur is a curator, pleasure activist and Afrofuturist. LaFleur unveiled Artists’ Talk at the Shinola Hotel downtown during DAW’s last days. The talk, which also closed out the premiere of LaFleur’s multi-hyphenate Manifest Destiny, was not to be missed. Featured on the line up were artists who brought their concepts, mindsets, beliefs, and worldviews enveloped in blackness for an enthusiastic audience. The speakers included Lafleur, Ute Petit, Lady Ph0enix, Alisha B. Wormsley, Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes, and Jasmine Murrell. Later in this piece, we’re zeroing in on Ingrid (@maisonlafleur), Lady PheOnix (@yesladypheonix), and Jasmine to get a wider feel for what they’ve created. Her work in Detroit has primarily centered around cultivating experiences, supporting black artists and exploring afro-surrealism with co-creators such as Bryce Detroit.
Manifest Destiny was the culmination of years’ long activism as the work centered and highlighted movements such as neurospeculative afro-feminism per Hyphen-Labs, artistic expression, and education with The Black School, and showcased digitally interactive artwork by artists such as Manzel Bowman (@artxman). Digging a little deeper during the talk, Ingrid candidly admitted that this was the first time a local gallery had sought her curatorial prowess and fully supported her vision both spatially and financially. Quite a triumph for a homegrown Detroiter and well-traveled visionary:
“I was free to explore Afrofuturism in any way I wanted. Because Library Street Collective is located in downtown Detroit, I felt I needed to ensure that this exhibition will serve as a safe place for Black bodies and that it inspires. Downtown Detroit is facing deep gentrification making many Detroiters feel unwelcome. Manifest Destiny is a reminder that regardless of circumstance, gentrification, profiling, and other oppressive acts Black bodies have thrived and forged destinies based on their own desires and dreams. Manifest Destiny is a claiming of space. Detroit is a Black city. For the newcomers, this exhibition an opportunity to learn about Black culture and history through a different lens. I believe Afrofuturism can help make the shift.
“We are in a time where taking action is absolutely necessary, it’s a matter of survival. But the question becomes what action needs to take place. That is why the public programming is so integral to the project. Between the 3D printing workshop with Onyx Ashanti and the lecture on quantum time by Rasheedah Phillips, a new orientation to our current reality is established. They and all the other workshop facilitators are giving participants Afrofuturist portals of enlightenment that challenge normative notions about Black lives…”
The exhibition and the talk itself allowed participants and panelists to really delve into their loves: love of self, love of blackness, love of a reality and future grounded in celebrating our melanin. LaFleur encouraged her speakers to discuss what may be seen as taboo, such as theories surrounding nature’s efforts to forcefully reset itself in an age of possibly devastating climate change, or the otherness sometimes felt as an Afrofuturist black person navigating creation, destruction, or just breathing. The panel was not ordinary shop talk on a Sunday afternoon.
Another panelist, Lady PheOnix, is also a star curator. One might be tempted to zero in on the rockstar quality of her associations–she’s been photographed with Pharrell Williams and Erykah Badu–and ignore the hot buttons she pushes, tying together tech and digitally integrating her artwork with contemporary agitations such as gun control or immigration. She is deeply concerned about the environment–both the one we’re interacting with as humans and the natural world–and is the panelist who suggested that a huge reset is in store for our futures. Her optimism shines through, however, as she’s the artist who used augmented reality (AR) apps to change the way viewers interacted with her work. This imagery cascaded off the walls of the BELT alleyway artwork in Manifest Destiny too.
Lady PheOnix’s work often challenges our perception of normalcy, whether it be supposedly everyday combinations such as bacon and eggs (a concept originally pushed by PR pioneer Edward Bernays, a figure who has fascinated PheOnix) or how much marketing via social media not-so-subtly shapes modern society.
PheOnix is a staunch encourager of people switching up the narrative and reclaiming technology for more humanitarian and benevolent uses. When she uses AR to invite us into the picture, she seems to be simultaneously inviting us to influence perception as well. Who controls who? The marketer always chasing a carrot of audience acceptance or the targeted population themselves competing with strangers on the internet? Who benefits in the long run?
Finally, Jasmine Murrell also incorporates the everyday into another mode of expression, however, her approach is a tad more analog, literally, such as weaving and twisting VHS tape into a tapestry. She describes her work’s intention “is to articulate the black emotional and spiritual body within modern dilemmas related to psychic and existential annihilation.” Deconstruction of our black selves within the world around us? Or because of the world around us? Given the nature of danger inherent in African-American bodily history and the extra-mortal nature of our everyday existence, this approach to confronting death by reconstructing objects away from their intended use is fascinating.
Murrell too has also been heavily influenced by world travel and spirituality, having explored the underground churches of Lalibela in Ethiopia. Religious homes hewed out of solid rock in a time before motorized machinery speaks to dogged determination and faith pounded into the physical. Again, the transformation of one into another through sheer faith and action. Murrell challenges us with the question: what makes us decide something is what it is? Who told you who you were before you had a chance to decide? Let’s reclaim our destiny.
Full-Disclosure: the author was the official photographer and social media manager for Ingrid LaFleur’s mayoral campaign and continues to contribute to and curate AFROTOPIA’s online presence under Ingrid’s leadership.
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Tash Moore is bicoastal Detroit booster, social entrepreneur and activist deeply passionate about promoting diversity & inclusion in all spheres. She currently spends her time between Detroit & DTLA.
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