Photo exhibit by Detroit 'leftist legend' Leni Sinclair opens at MOCAD

February 05, 2021, 7:02 AM by  Alan Stamm

Leni Sinclair snapped this White Panther Party group portrait in Ann Arbor during the early 1970s. Four other images from her exhibit are below. (Photos: MOCAD)

Originally posted Feb. 2.

A photographer with a prominent role in Detroit's 1960s-70s cultural history is the focus of a 10-week exhibition opening Friday at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD).

"Leni Sinclair: Motor City Underground" is her first solo show at a U.S. museum. The 80-year-old artist, author and social justice organizer still lives in Detroit, where she married politically active poet and jazz critic John Sinclair in 1965 at a Cass Avenue church. Three years later they and a friend started the White Panther Party. (The Sinclairs had two children and divorced in 1977. He's also still a Detroiter.)

Fittingly, a promotional email sent on MOCAD's behalf calls her "a local leftist legend." 

Ann Arbor again, also in the '70s.

The photography display is on view through April 18 at the Midtown musuem, which says it presents "a set of lesser-known gems from Sinclair's rich portfolio."

Sinclair is both an activist and longtime witness to social justice organizing in Detroit. Her images are among the most iconic and thorough records of the city's countercultural history. ...

Accompanying the exhibition, MOCAD in partnership with Foggy Notion Books is publishing a 408-page monograph of the artist's work.

Sinclair, who turns 81 next month, was at the center of influential artistic and political forces that included a 1967 Belle Isle "love-in," the Detroit Artists Workshop, the MC5 band and Grande Ballroom psychedelic light shows she produced with poster artist Gary Grimshaw. (It's all sketched at her sizable Wikipedia page, where readers of a certain age can easily visualize beads, bells, hippie hair, patchouli oil and acid.)

Now MOCAD visitors of any era can see an insider's black-and-white artifacts frozen in time, including three below from the museum's media kit.

Exhibit details:

  • Artist talk (online): 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021 at | $5 suggested donation
  • Museum show: Open for in-person visits through April 18 | 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. weekends
  • Admission: $5 suggested
  • Address: 4454 Woodward Ave.
  • Email:
  • Phone: (313) 832-6622 

Detroit Youth Association members strike an undated pose.

Wayne Kramer of the MC5 in 1969.

White Panthers and Weathermen members meet in 1970 at Cass Corridor storefront offices of the Fifth Estate underground newspaper near Wayne State.



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