Norman Rockwell, a Detroit Artist and an Inskter Mural

October 08, 2017, 5:44 PM by  Alan Stamm

Sydney G. James explores "the themes of identity and invisibility of the African American." (Instagram photo by the artist)

We tripped down a rewarding rabbit hole while clicking through background on Detroit painter Sydney G. James.

The 2017 Kresge Artist Fellowship winner ($25,000) and College of Creative Studies alumna (2001) is among 54 muralists who brightened the city two weeks ago with street art for the Murals in the Market project. James earlier was a resident artist at the Red Bull House of Art and last spring was one of six African-Americans from Detroit featured at a gallery in Lower Manhattan's Chelsea district.

The "Detroit Grind" exhibit's title was taken from her "Grind" mural last year in the annual Eastern Market project. "Grind is my brand. It’s an acronym for Girl Raised in Detroit," James told freelance journalist Tamara Warren at the gallery. "We all grind as artists. We had to grind to get here."

James' splashes around Metro Detroit include "No Census Taken" (above), painted on a wall at 27344 Michigan Ave. in August year to launch the Cultural Arts District in Inkster. It was commissioned by GreenPath Financial Wellness, a nonprofit consumer counselor in Farmington Hills.

Norman Rockwell's 1940 painting, shown on a magazine cover, gave James an idea 77 years later.

The creator, who says she "was given a brief history lesson" at a project discussion with the city's Downtown Developoment Authority, posts this backstory with an Instagram image of the work:  

"No Census Taken" emulates the Norman Rockwell painting, "The Census Taker."

Led by the exploration of the themes of identity and invisibility of the African American, this piece is inspired by the history of the black population in Inkster.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the black people that were employed at Ford Motor Company in the city of Dearborn were not allowed to reside in Dearborn or the surrounding cities such as Wayne, Romulus or Dearborn Heights. Inkster was the city where those people could own and build homes, live and thrive.

Soon after Ford Motor Company closed shop in the area, Michigan divested state funding from the city of Inkster.

This painting portrays a census taker (Michigan government) not taking any data. The mother (Inkster) standing beside him seems to be hiding her children (the population) behind her dress.

In fact, the children are not hiding -- the census taker just doesn't see them.

-- Sydney G. James | Aug. 20, 2017

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