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Detroit gets a 'Human Atlas' through portraits and DNA ancestry of 100 people – Detroit Free Press



Julie Hinds
| Detroit Free Press

Wearing a “Black Girl Magic” T-shirt and jeans, Crystal Bernard looks straight at the camera in a photograph, right hand on her hip, a keychain dangling from her wrist that seems ready to open doors to better, more equal worlds.

“I knew what being Black, or a Black child in America was before society could define it for me,” said Bernard, a Michigan State University student, in comments printed on the page opposite her portrait in “i.Detroit — A Human Atlas of an American City.”

Bernard’s words share her passion “to educate others of color, and beyond, on what the racial dynamics really are, what it is to be Black, how do we define it … putting the power back into the people.”

Powerful art. Powerful thoughts. Describing the emotional impact of British artist Marcus Lyon’s latest project is relatively easy. The heart and soul of the Motor City comes alive in “i.Detroit” through the pictures and comments of 100 men and women who represent an American city known around the world as a symbol of resilience. 

There are photos of first responders, community organizers, entrepreneurs, ministers, poets, storytellers and educators. There are well-known names like founding Four Tops member Abdul “Duke” Fakir and U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib. There’s a parent advocate for the deaf community, a social justice warrior and a certified nurse midwife.

But what exactly is a human atlas? And what was the process behind this three-year art project that combines photos, oral histories, ancestral DNA, maps and music in an attempt to understand Detroit on a deeper level?

You can find out directly on Thursday during a free virtual book launch for “i.Detroit — A Human Atlas of an American City” that is being hosted by WDIV-TV (Local 4) anchor Rhonda Walker. Lyon will be appearing from London for an online panel discussion that includes Shirley Stancato, the leader of the project’s curatorial committee; journalist and Detroit historian Ken Coleman; entrepreneur and genealogist, Kenyatta Berry; and educator and activist Osvaldo “Ozzie” Rivera.

“At every step of the way, the spirit of Detroit has always been its residents; from the retired woman who volunteers as a school crossing guard to the business mogul who’s worth millions,” writes Coleman in an introductory essay for the “i.Detroit” book, which tells the stories of its 100 participants through the portraits, app-based image-activated oral history and ancestral DNA.

The goal of this human atlas is to reflect the people of Detroit and encourage others to think about their own lives and obligations to the places and people who make up their own towns or cities.

More: Notable Detroiters to star in I.Detroit: a Human Atlas of An America City

As an art project, “i.Detroit” has produced a massive, limited-edition art book that would be at home on coffee tables in affluent pockets of the region in and around the city. But the overarching goal is to reach everyone possible, regardless of income.

Lyon said he used his own money, about $20,000, to build a website for “i.Detroit” that will contain all of the photos and more. And he wants to incorporate “i.Detroit” into future curriculums of Detroit schools.

A celebrated artist whose works are part of museum collections (including the Detroit Institute of Arts), Lyon has photographed Queen Elizabeth II, four British Prime Ministers and enough famous people to fill a shelf of magazines. But it’s his massive Human Atlas projects that have occupied him in recent years. Lyons has done human atlases on Brazil and Germany and is slated next to tackle Silicon Valley.

To make a long, three-year story short, the Detroit project was sparked by a random meeting at a 2017 leadership conference in England between Lyon, who’s been interested in focusing on the Motor City since the mid-1990s, and Mark Davidoff, the CEO of the Fisher Group. When Davidoff heard about Lyon’s human atlases, he felt instantly that Detroit would be an ideal location for one.

That led to a June 2018 meeting at the Detroit Athletic Club with 50 local leaders who would be key to the six-month nomination search for 100 people.

“There was an unwritten agreement that if we couldn’t make it fly with a group of community leaders, then what was the point?” recalled Lyon, who vividly describes the healthy skepticism that greeted him. 

“It was very Detroit. They really gave me a grilling. I mean, I was like, whoo! I was in the spotlight and I was being asked some really difficult questions about race, and why you, and why a white man from England was a relevant person to tell this deeper story about the change agents of Detroit.” he said.

After an hour of fielding questions, Lyon said, “I must have said something right. I just answered as me. I didn’t try to be clever about anything. I just spoke my mind, spoke from my heart, spoke about what I’d done in other places. They came back and said, ‘We’re in, Marcus.’”

The idea was to narrow recommendations down to 100 people who would depict a cross-section of diverse people dedicated to the city in their own unique ways. Knowing that there inevitably would be gaps of who wasn’t represented, Lyon and his team spent time poring over Excel spread sheets and looking for who had been excluded.

Once 80 people were chosen, he says they were put metaphorically around a table with 100 chairs, to answer the question “who is missing from those 20 chairs?,” according to Lyon. 

Lyon and his crew spent six months in a studio in the former Durfee Elementary-Middle School, which has been repurposed into the Durfee Innovation Society by the nonprofit group Life Remodeled.

“There’s a lot of emotional work that goes into the beginning of those portraits,” explained Lyon. “We probably spent between half an hour and an hour with each of those people before I asked them to step in front of the camera. And then most of them were probably not in front of the camera for much more than ten minutes at a time. I don’t really over-egg that bit. I feel like if I’ve got it, I’ve got it. I say I’ve got it , that’s it, great, let’s carry on with our conversation.” 

The project also involved tracing DNA ancestries with the help of Family Tree DNA in Houston, Texas, in order to create some of the graph and maps that accompany the portraits. Each participant’s DNA ancestry is charted on a graph accompanied by a map outlining DNA origins.

“I believe that what the DNA really effectively says is we’re all interconnected and we’re all human beings and we all share some common ancestors … If you just go flip, flip, flip, you see that we’re all interconnected.”

But in a predominantly African-American city like Detroit, the DNA ancestry of contemporary Black men and women — and its links to countries in Africa and Europe — also speaks to the brutal reality of America’s original sin of slavery. 

“There are deeply disturbing back stories to almost all of the African-American DNA you witness,” Lyons said. 

The photo profiles also use maps to show an individual’s place of birth, Detroit neighborhood and intersection — a geographic tracer that goes from a world map, to a U.S. map to a city grid to a closeup of streets.

To honor the musical history of Detroit, each participant chose what’s called “an inheritance track” featured on a 100-track Spotify playlist. And Lyon collaborated with Brian Eno and Detroit’s own techno music trailblazer Derrick May to create a 45 rpm single that’s include with each of the “i.Detroit” books. 

It’s a bittersweet irony that this deep dive into the human experience is coming out at the same time that safety measures for the COVID-19 pandemic are limiting physical contact. Lyon had hoped to be in Detroit for the “i.Detroit” launch, but the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a shift to a virtual celebration.

”Right now, I’m crying inside the whole time,” said Lyon about life during the pandemic. On Thursday, at the virtual book launch, “I’m going to be here, sitting in my studio, everybody else will be there.” His consolation is that the online launch can accommodate hundreds of guests.

Lyon and his family spent a summer in Detroit and lived in a rented loft in Eastern Market. “My kids support the Tigers, they love the Lions.” he said says with a laugh. “My wife was like, ‘wait a minute, why don’t we move here? I really like this place.”

The “i.Detroit” project has made Lyon proud to be accepted by Detroiters. “I felt very connected to people (there) as a Brit and very understood, which is a lovely feeling emotionally,” he says. 

And that, ultimately, is the best way to think about a human atlas. When it works, it’s a map of people that promotes more understanding.

Contact Detroit Free Press pop culture critic Julie Hinds at

Virtual book launch for “i.Detroit — A Human Atlas for an American City”

11 a.m. Thursday

Panel discussion with artist Marcus Lyon and others hosted by WDIV (Local 4 News) anchor Rhonda Walker

To register for the free online event, go to Eventbrite.

For more information on the project and the book, go to the “i.Detroit” website.

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New Downtown Public Art to Support #MississaugaMade – City of Mississauga – City of Mississauga



Those travelling through Mississauga will notice new public art in the form of light pole banners stretched throughout the City’s downtown core.  This temporary installation by Mississauga-born artist and illustrator, Pranavi Suthagar, celebrates Mississauga’s diversity and cultural identity.

Much of 2020 has been spent reacting and adapting to a new reality brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The new street banner public art also helps to promote local businesses, products, artists and activities through the City of Mississauga’s #MississaugaMade online initiative developed by Tourism Mississauga.

“Being born and raised in Mississauga, I am grateful to be a part of this campaign,” said artist Pranavi Suthagar, who was commissioned by the City’s Public Art Program to create new artwork for the Mississauga Made campaign. “I remember seeing all colourful banners decorating the city growing up and I always wondered who created them. To be selected for this campaign, and given the opportunity to share my perspective on how I view the city is a full circle experience.”

“Tourism Mississauga is very proud to be a part of this year’s street banner campaign, in collaboration with the City’s Public Art Program. Not only are the banners a great way to show our support within the community, but they also offer us an opportunity to celebrate and showcase the work of a local artist”, said Tej Kainth, Manager of Tourism Mississauga. “Mississauga Made is a campaign that supports all our local businesses and the arts, and we encourage residents and visitors alike to join the movement and support our local talents, and all Mississauga has to offer.”

The street art was installed on Friday, Oct. 16 and will remain on the following streets until mid-January 2021:

  • Living Arts Drive
  • Duke of York Boulevard
  • Prince of Wales Drive
  • Princess Royal Drive

“Mississauga Made is a great local initiative that supports our small business community. During these difficult times, more than ever, we need to stand together and support our entrepreneurs and our local businesses”, said Bonnie Brown, Director of Economic Development Office.  “During the month of October, the City has been celebrating Small Business Month, and the Mississauga Business Enterprise Centre continues to offer free webinars and events to celebrate entrepreneurship and help people start and grow their business.”

The next time you visit Mississauga’s downtown, take a closer look at this important artwork and reflect on your own connection to Mississauga.

Media Contact:

Bryan Sparks
Advisor, Communications
T 905-615-3200 ext.3253

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How travel restrictions are impacting art – The Globe and Mail



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Art galleries on the brink as pandemic lays waste to plans –



By Barbara Lewis and Will Russell

MUDDLES GREEN, England (Reuters) – This was to have been the year that an art gallery deep in the southern English countryside took the United States by storm with exhibitions of the extraordinary Lee Miller, a 1920s fashion model, surrealist and World War Two photographer.

Filming for a biopic starring Kate Winslet was also meant to have begun at Farleys House in Muddles Green, where the American-born Miller recovered from documenting the horrors of war and entertained guests including Pablo Picasso and fellow surrealist photographer and her former lover Man Ray.

Instead, the pandemic has put almost every plan on hold.

“It’s like a wasteland of tumbleweed,” said Ami Bouhassane, Miller’s granddaughter.

She curates the Miller archive with her father, Antony Penrose, Miller’s son with the surrealist artist Roland Penrose.

COVID-19 has compounded the uncertainty created by Britain’s departure from the European Union (EU), with a transition period ending on Dec. 31. That has left galleries anxious about how complicated it might become to stage shows and transport artworks abroad.

For more than a decade, Farleys House and Gallery has averaged four international exhibitions a year, loaned mostly around Europe, accounting for roughly a third of its revenue. Other income comes from rights relating to the 60,000 negatives in the Miller archive and from visitors to Muddles Green.

This year, it was planning on seven and to expand into the United States as part of a strategy to cope with Brexit. Two have gone ahead – one in Germany, traditionally one of its most important markets, and another in non-EU Switzerland.

A third show, intended for Europe, is being shown instead to Farleys’ trickle of socially-distanced visitors, while the other exhibitions are in storage.

Such problems are shared to varying degrees by art institutions great and small as visitor numbers no longer justify large-scale exhibitions and planning is fraught.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the entirety of the arts and culture sector,” said Arts Council England in an email. The body is helping to administer a government 1.57 billion pound ($2.04 billion) Culture Recovery Fund.

London’s Wallace Collection, which includes works by Rubens, Van Dyck and Titian, has also seen a 90% fall in visitors and has deferred exhibitions to next year.

“Financially it doesn’t make sense to do blockbuster shows at the moment,” Xavier Bray, director of the museum, told Reuters.

Commercial revenue from events, a shop and restaurant has dropped by 1.5 million pounds and the museum faces “a massive deficit” this year, Bray said. “Any help is going to be crucial to the survival of institutions like the Wallace Collection.”

($1 = 0.7717 pounds)

(Reporting by Barbara Lewis in Muddles Green and Will Russell in London; additional reporting by Gerhard Mey and Carolyn Cohn,; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

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