The artists featured in “Skilled Labor: Black Realism in Detroit.”

The artists featured in “Skilled Labor: Black Realism in Detroit.”

Photo by Sarah Blanchette

Cranbrook presents ‘Skilled Labor: Black Realism in Detroit’

By: Mary Genson | Birmingham-Bloomfield Eagle | Published November 17, 2023

 Joshua Rainer’s piece in “Skilled Labor: Black Realism in Detroit,” titled “Blessed Quietness (Nannie).”

Joshua Rainer’s piece in “Skilled Labor: Black Realism in Detroit,” titled “Blessed Quietness (Nannie).”

Photo by Joshua Rainer, provided by Cranbrook Art Museum


BLOOMFIELD HILLS/ BIRMINGHAM — Until March 3, Cranbrook Art Museum will be showcasing art from the local community of artists through the exhibition “Skilled Labor: Black Realism in Detroit.”

All work in this exhibition is realism created by artists who have worked in Detroit over the last decade. All pieces are paintings and drawings that demonstrate Black culture and life through each artist’s lived experiences.

“I really want people to see the incredible skill and ingenuity that is coming from the Detroit art scene,” Cranbrook Art Museum Chief Curator Laura Mott said.

This is a multigenerational show where roughly three generations are represented, including some younger artists for whom this is their first museum show.

Some of the artists are familiar with the Cranbrook Art Museum and have been featured in their collections before, and some are past or current members of the Cranbrook community.

Artist Joshua Rainer attended Cranbrook Schools in the ninth and tenth grade. Since his high school years, this is the first time his work has been shown at Cranbrook as an adult.

Rainer learned to oil paint in 2012 at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center and now teaches at the art center. At the time, he had recently transferred out of Cranbrook to a Detroit charter school, and he received a scholarship to attend classes at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center.

“That was my first introduction to oil painting, and the versatility and just openness and freeness that the medium allowed was just something very liberating and brand-new to me,” Rainer said.

In 2021, Rainer received second place in the Michigan Fine Arts Competition, hosted by the BBAC.

Rainier has two pieces featured in “Skilled Labor: Black Realism in Detroit.” His piece “Blessed Quietness (Nannie)” is oil on canvas. This is a portrait of Rainer’s maternal grandmother. He said it was special to him to be able to paint a loved one and to honor his grandmother. His grandmother was able to see the painting for the first time at the opening of the exhibition.

The other piece of Rainer’s in the exhibition is titled  “Archenemy No. 2,” charcoal on paper.

“The piece is essentially about recognizing one’s own power and agency over one’s own life,” Rainer said.

Rainer thanked Cranbrook and the curators of the exhibition for the opportunity. He said it was an exciting experience to know everyone in the exhibition personally as colleagues, friends and mentors.

“I think it’s really exciting to highlight Detroit artists,” Mott said. “Something unique to where we live is this kind of incredible skill and high concept that’s coming from those artists, so I want everyone to learn more about the city where they live.”

Mott and internationally acclaimed artist Mario Moore co-curated “Skilled Labor: Black Realism in Detroit.”

Artists in the exhibition include Christopher Batten, Taurus Burns, Cydney Camp, Ijania Cortez, Cailyn Dawson, Bakpak Durden, Conrad Egyir, Jonathan Harris, Sydney G. James, Gregory Johnson, Richard Lewis, Hubert Massey, Mario Moore, Sabrina Nelson, Patrick Quarm, Joshua Rainer, Jamea Richmond-Edwards, Senghor Reid, Rashaun Rucker and Tylonn J. Sawyer.

Admission is free on Thursdays, and it is open until 8 p.m.