Detroit artists honor Black lives, victims of police brutality

Posted at 6:18 AM, Jun 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-17 07:15:49-04

DETROIT (WXYZ) — Detroit muralist Sydney G. James expects people who visit her latest work on Hamilton Avenue will feel pain.

The mural tells a painful story -- one of police brutality, a problem that continues to plague Black communities around the country.

“Really the wall itself is Malice Green as a monument. But it’s paying tribute to all that we could fit on the wall," she said.

James said there's around 1,000 names on the wall, all Black and brown people killed by police.

“I painted that piece, that wall, with my full heart and soul. Like every bit of me," James said. "I had to make it look beautiful because it’s so ugly."

Malice Green is seen holding the scroll of names. In 1992, Green was killed by two white Detroit police officers.

The original Malice Green mural by artist Bennie White was demolished several years ago, sparking outrage from many in the city.

James' mural is on the side of the Hamilton-Tucker Gallery, which she co-owns with Rayshard Tucker and Breann White.

“It kind of came through me, but it’s not mine. It belongs to everybody who views it," James told Action News.

Floral installations around Detroit are also paying tribute to victims of police brutality.

Botanical artist Lisa Waud’s six part series started as a way to support local flower farmers impacted by COVID-19, as weddings and big events were canceled. But following the killing of George Floyd she shifted her focus, aiming to honor Black historic sites in Detroit.

In selecting locations, Waud had help from Andy and Emily Linn, co-editors of "Belle Isle to 8 Mile: An Insider's Guide to Detroit."

“That’s sort of the focus, putting a lens on places that are less frequently visited and a little bit under the radar. And we were looking at important, salient moments in history that are echoes in this current national movement," Andy Linn said.

“It’s important for us in this moment to try to find ways that we can contribute to this conversation," Emily Linn told Action News.

Waud's latest installation was at the site of Green’s killing. It included photos of other Black people killed by police.

“Every place that I go to do an installation so far, I have met people who are tied closely with these stories. As I’m doing this installation series, I am also learning," Waud said. “I thought as a white artist in a majority Black city that I would use my platform. I will take flowers there and I will draw people there," she said.

Waud's installations only last a couple of days; she announces their location on Thursdays. Her hope is that people walking by who may not know about a certain site's significance, might stop to see the flowers and stay to learn the history.

James' mural is completed, however it's official unveiling is Juneteenth, this Friday. James wants people to bring and lay flowers to honor the names on the wall, but not to stay, as she wants the unveiling to be conscious of social distancing.

"I don't want any more white tears for the sake of white tears at any of my paintings," James said. She said now is the time for action and education, and she hopes her work will promote that. "Of course you're going to cry because this is almost like a tomb or a cemetery. I want white people to talk to their family members, talk to their friends, talk to their circles."

She started a Go Fund Me to help pay for the mural, and raised well over her $10,000 goal in a matter of hours.

In addition to trying to support the Michigan Flower Growers Co-op, Waud is asking those who visit her installations and are able, to donate money to support Black artists, or Black Lives Matter.