Domestic dreams and disturbances explored in ‘Making Home’

By: K. Michelle Moran | C&G Newspapers | Published February 16, 2018

 This photo, from Carrie Mae Weems’ “Kitchen Table Series,” is one of several from that series on display now as part of “Making Home: Contemporary Works from the DIA.”

This photo, from Carrie Mae Weems’ “Kitchen Table Series,” is one of several from that series on display now as part of “Making Home: Contemporary Works from the DIA.”

Photo provided by the Detroit Institute of Arts

 Artist Abelardo Morell photographed his own children for “Laura and Brady in the Shadow of Our House,” a 1994 print that’s part of the exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Artist Abelardo Morell photographed his own children for “Laura and Brady in the Shadow of Our House,” a 1994 print that’s part of the exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Photo provided by the Detroit Institute of Arts

 This 2003 painting by Clinton Snider, “Willis,” is one of the artworks in the “Making Home” exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

This 2003 painting by Clinton Snider, “Willis,” is one of the artworks in the “Making Home” exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Photo provided by the Detroit Institute of Arts

DETROIT — Home sweet home. Home is where the heart is. There’s no place like home. Colloquial expressions generally portray home in idealized terms, but artists recognize that real homes are more complex than that.

In “Making Home: Contemporary Art from the DIA,” dozens of artists explore domestic spaces and the idea of home, uncovering places that range from dreamlike to dark. On display at the Detroit Institute of Arts until June 6, “Making Home” consists of roughly 40 to 50 artworks, including photos and mixed media pieces. Admission to this exhibition is free with regular museum admission, which means it’s free for residents of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.

“We selected works that spoke to the idea of home as a complicated subject and a nuanced subject, and works that would engage (audiences) in dialogue,” explained Lucy Mensah, assistant curator of contemporary art at the DIA.

The exhibition is organized into eight thematic sections: Childhood Imagination, Home and Community, Urbanization, Displacement, (In)Security, Domesticity, Melancholy, and The Sublime.

Some of the works deal with exile and oppression, sometimes in relation to the experiences of African-Americans. Mensah said the curators also considered questions of instability and what home means. For some, “home” is something that’s constantly in flux.

“We wanted to show how home varies in terms of the type of security it provides to children,” said Mensah of some of the works in the exhibition. “It’s not one single thing.”

Home doesn’t necessarily mean four walls, a roof and a door.

“We’re also presenting uncommon spaces that people call home that may not seem safe to someone else, but (where) they have found safety and shelter,” said Taylor Aldridge, an associate curator of contemporary art at the DIA.

For example, “To Disembark: Billie Holiday,” by Glenn Ligon, features a wooden box made to resemble the shipping crate that real-life slave Henry “Box” Brown shipped himself in from Virginia to Philadelphia as a way of obtaining his freedom. Brown had to remain silent and still for the 27-hour journey, and had to make sure that the tiny space had enough air holes so that he could breathe. Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” accompanies the artwork, adding poignancy to the already powerful piece. Although the tight confines of a sealed wooden box wouldn’t strike many as home-like, the box represented Brown’s home as he traveled toward — and finally reached — freedom.

The curators said other works show home as whimsical and magical.

Some of the most famous works include selections from photographer Carrie Mae Weems’ “Kitchen Table” series, which Mensah said is one of the artist’s “most popular and influential series.” As the name of the series suggests, all of the works feature Weems — playing the subject — at or near her kitchen table.

“It tells a narrative of all of the domestic scenes you’d expect, but she’s also dealing with gender (and) identity — what does it mean to be a mother, a partner?” Mensah said. “She’s really politicizing a space that’s not associated with (politics).”

“Ultimately, she’s subverting what you see women doing in these domestic spaces,” Aldridge said. “She’s empowering herself in this space.”

Other artists also tackle domestic spaces. A portrait of actress Helen Hayes at her home represents a place full of warmth, family and memory, while Eugene Richards’ photograph of a bridal party, “Puerto Rican Bride,” shows an unhappy-looking young bride and family members dwarfed by the fire escape that looms above them. Weddings are commonly associated with joy, but Mensah said those feelings can be “conflicted with feelings of loss, of leaving one’s family.”

“We wanted to provide these different points of view,” she said.

Visitors will find works by some well-known Detroit artists as well, including Tyree Guyton and Charles McGee. 

The DIA is located at 5200 Woodward Ave. in Detroit. For hours or more information, visit www.dia.org or call (313) 833-7900.