Detroit Resists

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Digital Occupation of the U.S. Pavilion, 2016 Venice Biennale

Text of Detroit Resists





    Curation Bryce Detroit, Gloria House, Stephanie Mae

    Images Kate Levy, Shanna Merola

    Augmented Reality Sara Dean, Emily Kutil

    Catalogue Andrew Herscher, Ana Mara Len


    Detroit ResistsA Call to Action

    Grace Lee BoggsA Time for Resistance

    Gloria House Detroit Resists: A Legacy of Art, Culture, and Political Struggle

    Tawana Honeycomb PettyA Time for Visionary Resistance

    Detroit ResistsMap of Digital Occupation of U.S. Pavilion

    Detroit ResistsStatement on the U.S. Pavilionat the Venice Biennale

    Sara Dean & Andrew HerscherDigital Occupation: Augmented Reality as Contested Space

    Detroit Light BrigadeProtest in Front of Michigan Central Station

    Andrew Herscher & Ana Mara LenArchitectural Melancholy: Diego Rivera in The Architectural Imagination

    Raiz UpFree the Water

    Tawana Honeycomb PettyDetroit: The City We Wont Let Die

    Lela Whitfield, Feedom Freedom, Detroit Eviction Defense, and community membersEviction Defense Fence













  • MAY 2016


    Detroit Resists is a coalition of activists, artists, architects, and community members working on behalf of an inclusive, equitable, and democratic city. We came together to respond to The Architectural Imagination, an exhibition at the U.S. Pavilion in the 2016 Venice Biennale.

    The Architectural Imagination appropriates contemporary Detroit as a place for visionary American architectural practices to develop new speculative architectural projects with far-reaching applications for cities around the world. Detroit Resists understands the city differently. We know Detroit as a place where Afrikan, indigenous, and activist art communities have been architecting resilience through culturally-literate design. Our architectural imagination creates and activates spaces for Detroiters historically and systematically omitted from conventional architectures imaginings.

    The digital occupation of the U.S. Pavilion uplifts the rich legacy of grassroots design-based activism in Detroit. In this catalogue, we present an introduction to the legacy of art and activism in Detroit; we guide you through our occupation of the U.S. Pavilion; and we offer a few images from the many recent and contemporary instances of resistance. This is resistance to mass water shut-offs, mass foreclosures, mass evictions, unconstrained gentrification, and other examples of spatial racism. These dynamics are playing out in cities across the globe in distinct but related ways; we invite you to join us in resistance.

    Detroit Resists

    May 2016




    A spirit of resistance is growing in Detroit, echoing acts around our country. Every day, we endure attacks from a corporate elite determined to remake our city into a place where the wealthy can live, work, play and be served by the rest of us.

    Corporate interests are grabbing land while people are unable to pay escalating utility bills and property taxes and mortages are forcing people out of their homes. Speculators are buying up apartment buildings, evicting long-term residents in hopes of attracting newer, wealthier tenants.

    As some people, desperate and despairing, turn against one another, looking for a quick fix, a moment of relief, our neighborhoods have become war zones, with private police forces and federal agencies uniting to impose control.

    These assaults have challenged us to deepen and grow our resistance. Drawing on our experiences as a movement city and the depth of relationships we have woven, we are struggling to recreate life in the face of abandonment.

    We have mounted petition drives and court cases, challenging the legality of emergency manager laws and privatization. We are organizing peoples conventions, neighborhood councils, peoples law schools, forums and teach-ins.

    We are demonstrating in Lansing, being arrested at city hall, marching in front of federal, state and city office buildings and the banks that are responsible for much of the pain in our city. We have moved people back into homes and challenged foreclosures. We are developing nonviolent ways of problem-solving in communities, turning to one another to resolve


    differences and to provide for our own safety and security.

    These are more than acts of protest. They are reassertions of our humanity, acts of resistance to the immoral policies of vicious forces bent on the destruction of all that we cherish in the pursuit of profit and power.

    We will not be silent as schools are closed, and people go hungry and lose their homes. We will not be silent as our land is taken for private gain and used as a dumping ground for the waste of the petroleum industry. We will not be silent when we are told we must kill other people to protect our way of life. We will not be silent when we are told there are no alternatives.

    Enough is enough! This is our city, our state and our country. We can and will create a new worldbeloved communities that heal ourselves and our earth; and cities that value our children, reconnect our generations, provide for our needs, and promote sustainable, productive and peaceful ways of life.

    We are doing it every day. Some of us are creating new schools based upon a commitment to redefine, respirit and rebuild our communities. Others are creating Peace Zones for Life, engaging in restorative justice.Muralists, writers, spoken word artists, musicians and artisans are sharing visions across our city. Detroiters are creating food security, healthy food, urban gardens, and new policies that will allow us to feed ourselves and one another.

    Others are committed to digital justice, exploring new forms of work and culture. Cooperatives,

  • MAY 2016


    neighborhood businesses, technology centers for children, and new forms of local production and self-sufficiency are emerging in our neighborhoods.

    We resist the cynicism and hopelessness spread by the corporate media about our city. Detroit is not a city of ghosts. It is not a city of decay. It is a city of vibrant, resilient people, calling upon a deep legacy of struggle to create the relationship and values for a better future. Join us this summer as we unite to resist the mushrooming assaults on our humanity that we cannot accept.

    Excerpt from text originally published as A Time for Resistance: Detroit 2013 June 23-30, The Michigan Citizen (9 June 2013). Thanks to Shea Howell and Alice Jennings for the permission to republish.




    Considering Detroit from a distance, the Euro-American elite art world sees a vacant landscape upon which to project an imagined reality. How reminiscent of the European settlers who found nothing on the North American continent they were constrained to recognize as living and realnot the Native Americans with whom they would not co-exist peacefully, nor the natural environment which they forced into submission, carving grids upon the land, and erecting the fences of private property. How disturbing that this colonial oblivion persists so many hundred years since first exhibited by the founding fathers, blind as they were to the cultures and ontologies of Native American peoples. Must the colonial imagination persist forever?

    Detroit: the city of approximately 700,000 residents, currently deprived of democratic governance by the state-imposed rule of emergency managers, marked for decades by crippling unemployment following the flight of corporations and White citizens to the suburbs, the South and abroad; where thousands have been forced from their homes by tax foreclosures, and traditional neighborhoods are being dismantled to make space for gentrification; where families in 30,000 homes have been forced to live without running water; where the public school system has been looted by private contractors and corrupt administrators, leaving the children stunned by the chaos they are being subjected to in overcrowded classrooms and unsafe, neglected facilities. This is the Detroit where City assets are being systematically extracted from the commons and rendered to private interests, and where people of color and the poor are resisting this ruthless corporate dispossession.

    This resistance has deep roots in Detroits working class history, its legacy of militant immigrants and African American abolitionists who took to the streets, picket lines and strikes to win greater freedoms and a better standard of living. Art and all forms of cultural production have been integral aspects of this highly sophisticated working class heritage. This rich sediment of working class agitation, self-determination and courage inspires contemporary artists while undergirding Detroits contemporary movements for justice and equality. From this milieu of ongoing political struggles to create a city where everyone can enjoy a good life has sprung one brilliant artist after another.

    Beginning in the 1940s, there emerged an impressive group of African American artists in Detroit. These men and women, born in the 20s and 30s, included visual artists Harold Neal, Charles McGee, Shirley Reed, and Oliver La Grone. Decades later, this generation of artists began to win recognition for their work in the exhibits and collections of mainstream galleries and museums. T