ART, Feature Story

An Artsy Valentine’s Day

An Artsy, Detroit Valentine’s Day at the Detroit Institute of Arts: Viewing the art exhibit “Detroit Collects: Selections of African American Art from Private Collections”.

February 14, 2020


African American Art Exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts
African American Art: "Mother and Child" (1965) by Charles McGee
“Mother and Child” (1965) by Charles McGee

“Were we born in Africa?” she asked me as she peered at a collage art piece depicting what appeared to be three women standing on an African coast.

I looked at my daughter Zhen and then followed her gaze to the artwork– “Ancestors by the Water’s Edge” (1989) by artist Brenda Dendy Stroud. It was a profound question for my seven-year-old to ask for a couple of reasons:

1) Zhen remembered I had introduced her to the name of our culture– African American. Over the past couple of years, I had made it a point to have ongoing conversations with her about being African American and various aspects of our culture– from our first celebration of Kwanzaa to reading many African American children’s books. And yes, even attending African American events in the city.

2) Without even reading the title of Stroud’s artwork, Zhen could tell by the art piece that the setting took place in a region of Africa.

African American Art: "Ancestors by the Water's Edge" (1989) by artist Brenda Dendy Stroud
“Ancestors by the Water’s Edge” (1989) by artist Brenda Dendy Stroud
Detroit Valentine's Day at the Detroit Institute of Arts

“No, we weren’t born in Africa,” I smile answering Zhen’s question. “We were born here in America, but because our culture is from Africa, that’s why we’re called African American.”

I could have explained that a little better, I thought to myself. Because Zhen’s facial expression told me she was a little confused by my response.

Later that evening, Michala (my oldest daughter) and I explained to Zhen what African American and the term “ancestors” means, which ironically went perfectly with Stroud’s “Ancestors by the Water’s Edge”.

African American Art: Officer of the Hussars by Kehinde Wiley
“Officer of the Hussars” (2007) by Kehinde Wiley
An artsy, Detroit Valentine's Day viewing African American art at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Our artsy, Detroit Valentine’s Day at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) wasn’t planned. It was a spontaneous idea that I had just so happened to have come across while Googling the DIA’s Friday hours.

I wanted to find a budget-friendly way to go out and celebrate Valentine’s with the family. I had remembered in the summertime the DIA had kept late hours on Fridays, but I wasn’t sure if it was still a thing in the wintertime.

After confirming the art institute would be open until 10 P.M., I checked the schedule for the evening events. That’s when I found #HeartsForArts, a special Valentine’s activity, and the “Detroit Collects: Selections of African American Art from Private Collection”.

Perfect!

African American Art: "The Accusation" (1964) by Bob Thompson
“The Accusation” (1964) by Bob Thompson
African American Art: "The Hero" (1960) by Leroy Foster
“The Hero” (1960) by Leroy Foster

That Valentine’s Day, I also learned #HeartsForArt is a special project many museums across the country take part in. The way it worked was you had to get foam, red hearts at the check-in desk at the museum’s entrance. When you discovered an art piece you loved, then you placed a heart on the floor in front of the art.

I honestly thought the kids would like the Valentine’s activity for about 30 minutes. But they really surprised Travis and I because Zhen, Zechariah, and Zephaniah not only LOVED #HeartsForArt, but they wanted to do it during our entire visit!

It was a good thing we grabbed a stack of hearts because one or two hearts wouldn’t have been enough for our little crew.

African American Art: "Quilting Time" (1986) by Romare Bearden
“Quilting Time” (1986) by Romare Bearden

It was a joy to see which art pieces the kids loved. Perhaps at age 7, Zhen can verbalize more than her little brothers her thoughts on art. Small children, like my little boys, may not necessarily know how to communicate their feelings on what they thing of viewing artwork.

I can only imagine how the Detroit Art Institute must have seemed gigantic to the little ones. So many people were walking around them– strangers.

Who are these new faces? What is this big statue? Why are all of these paintings hanging on the wall? Why can’t I touch the art?

An artsy, Detroit Valentine's Day viewing African American art at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
An artsy, Detroit Valentine's Day viewing African American art at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

To the kids, it can all be so overwhelming at first. I feel like the hearts gave Zhen, Zechariah, and Zephaniah an opportunity to use their voice in a creative way to show which art pieces they loved.

Where were my two teens?

Elijah had to work, but Michala was also at the DIA with us. She had a special Valentine’s date with a friend. To give them their space, I chose not to take their photos. (But I really wanted to because they were so sweet together!)

Valentine's Day in Detroit at the Detroit Institute of Arts
An artsy, Detroit Valentine's Day viewing African American art at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The art exhibit “Detroit Collects: Selections of African American Art from Private Collections” will be on display until March 15, 2020. It’s a must-see! Click here for more information about the exhibit.

Visit www.dia.org for additional information on admission to the Detroit Institute of Arts– including parking, directions to the museum, dining information, and more.

Photos of our art experience are courtesy of J. Hamra for Good Life Detroit.


MORE PHOTOS FROM OUR ARTSY, DETROIT VALENTINE’S DAY

Detroit Institute of Arts in Detroit, Michigan
African American Art: "Quilting Time" (1986) by Romare Bearden
“Quilting Time” (1986) by Romare Bearden
African American Art: "Stomp It Down" (2015) by Aaron F. Henderson
“Stomp It Down” (2015) by Aaron F. Henderson
African American Art: "Mom Says I'm Her Sun" (2015) by Mario Moore
“Mom Says I’m Her Sun” (2015) by Mario Moore
"Noah's Ark: Genesis" (1984) by Charles McGee
“Noah’s Ark: Genesis” (1984) by Charles McGee
African American Art: "Stowage" (1997) by Willie Cole
“Stowage” (1997) by Willie Cole
African American Art: "Soundsuit" (2010) by Nick Cave
“Soundsuit” (2010) by Nick Cave
African American Art: "Soundsuit" (2010) by Nick Cave
“Soundsuit” (2010) by Nick Cave
African American Art: "Soundsuit" (2010) by Nick Cave
“Soundsuit” (2010) by Nick Cave
Capturing Growth in Paint. Painting 1: "The Child (Day)" and Painting 2: "The Child (Night)" by Tylonn J. Sawyer
Capturing Growth in Paint. Painting 1: “The Child (Day)” and Painting 2: “The Child (Night)” by Tylonn J. Sawyer
African American Art by Inez Nathaniel-Walker
“Untitled” (1975) by Inez Nathaniel-Walker
African American Art: "Little Paul" (1995) by Robert L. Tomlin
“Little Paul” (1995) by Robert L. Tomlin
Detroit Institute of Arts in Detroit, Michigan
Detroit Institute of Arts in Detroit, Michigan
Detroit Institute of Arts in Detroit, Michigan
Detroit Institute of Arts in Detroit, Michigan | African American Art Exhibit

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