dream hampton
dream hampton, “Freshwater” (video still), 2021. (Courtesy of the artist and MOCAD)

Abstract paintings, unreleased music, activated spaces and reflective videos honoring the legacy of Black Detroit creatives will be featured at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit this weekend as a part of a new exhibit. On Friday, an opening reception will be held from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. to introduce the new exhibit which features four shows all honoring Black art in Detroit. 

For six weeks, curators Jessica Allie and Dan Saleh poured through 10 large storage containers that held thousands of pieces of art, belonging to James Dozier, a Detroit collector and artist. From the collection, a theme emerged and “Ground Up: Reflections on Black Abstraction” was created. 

“We were able to pull out quite (a few) prolific artists who have come to define the art historical canon that is Detroit art, but I had never really seen a show where they had all been grouped together,” Allie said. 

“When people think about Black art they don’t think about Black artists creating abstract works,” she said. “This was a really great opportunity to bring that up and have conversations around the fact that being a Black artist is not a monolith.” 

“Ground Up: Reflections on Black Abstraction” is just one of the four shows being featured in MOCAD’s new exhibit. 

Another show focuses on sound, with an omni-directional sound system that will debut unreleased sounds from Mike Huckaby, a widely known Detroit DJ who played techno and house music who died of COVID-19 in 2020. 

“(Huckaby) is important like so many other musicians are important in Detroit – a long line of legacy making, a diaspora of Detroit has shaped people’s sound for decades,” Nep Sidhu, creator of the show, titled “Paradox of Harmonics,” told BridgeDetroit. 

Sidhu’s show was created in consultation with Craig Huckaby, the brother of the late DJ, using archived interviews, audition samples, and more. It will be the first U.S. solo show for the Toronto-based artist. As someone who grew up with a mom that worked at a packaging facility and a dad that worked at a metal factory, Sidhu has always felt in parallel with Detroit and its residents.

“I’m thankful to be able to participate, in a city that has given me, as an individual so much, and creatively,” he said. 

The new exhibition will also include “Freshwater”, a video created by award-winning filmmaker, writer, and native Detroiter, dream hampton. Past work from hampton includes the Black Entertainment Television docu-series “Finding Justice” and the award-winning Lifetime documentary, “Surviving R. Kelly.” hampton was also named one of TIME’s 100 most influential people in the world. 

In “Freshwater,” hampton explores the duality of water as a force of harmony and devastation. Detroiters are the focus – with stories of flooded basements and connection – in the midst of the climate crisis. 

Sterling Toles rounds out the exhibit by exploring themes of trauma and identity in a show titled “s(h)elves.” He activated Mike Kelley’s “Mobile Homestead,” using old industrial equipment and original music. 

Sterling Toles. (Ash Arder photo, courtesy the artist and MOCAD)

All of the shows come together in a significant uplifting of Black art and Black Detroit creatives, some of it, for the first time. Collector and artist Dozier shared in conversations with Saleh that in the 70s and 80s most galleries catered towards white, mainstream art. “Now, there is more representation in Detroit art. But it wasn’t always the case,” Saleh said. 

All of the exhibitions are open to the public. The reception is free for MOCAD members and a $5 donation is suggested for non-members. 

Jena is a BridgeDetroit's environmental reporter, covering everything from food and agricultural to pollution to climate change.

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