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UCS students opine on art for DIA exhibit

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published November 4, 2015

 "Branded Head" by Hank Willis Thomas is part of the “30 Americans” exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

"Branded Head" by Hank Willis Thomas is part of the “30 Americans” exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Photo provided by the Detroit Institute of Arts

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When the Detroit Institute of Arts searched for students to offer their input on an art exhibit, it found a pair of budding art analysts at Utica Community Schools.

Utica High School student Sydney Wilcox and Henry Ford II High School student Justin Walters were two of 11 local students to have their comments on artwork recorded in tandem with a DIA exhibit called “30 Americans.” The exhibit runs until Jan. 18, 2016.

The 30 Americans referenced in the exhibit’s title refer to 30 contemporary African-American artists who have created artwork over a span of three decades. According to the DIA, artists include Jean-Michel Basquiat, Nick Cave, Robert Colescott, Glenn Ligon, Kerry James Marshall, Lorna Simpson, Kara Walker, Carrie Mae Weems and Kehinde Wiley.

More than 50 examples of the featured artists’ work make up the DIA exhibit, and those pieces — which include photos, sculptures and paintings — are supposed to raise historical, racial, gender and other issues, according to the museum’s website.

Walters, a Ford High senior, said he didn’t have much of a prior background in art analysis or the featured artists prior to participating in “30 Americans,” but Walters said he realized that the exhibit’s content and themes are important to history. He explained that some people today aren’t even aware of the history of the Ku Klux Klan or segregation in the South. But the memories of such events, while negative, need to be recalled in order to prevent such events from happening again, he said.

“We’ve got to be understanding of each other’s differences and how we’ve experienced things,” Walters added.

Wilcox, a Utica High senior, said she made the DIA recordings back in May after her principal, Thomas Lietz, asked her if she wanted to participate. She said she and the other participants saw examples of some of the exhibit’s artwork, and then she was able to comment on around five or six pieces.

Wilcox said one of the most memorable pieces was a photo by Hank Willis Thomas called “Branded Head” that depicts an African-American model’s head with the Nike logo on it. She said the image could be compared to how slave owners used to brand slaves.

“Kids my age, we wear certain logos to show where we come from,” she said. “But really, we’re doing that so we can be one of the cool kids. ... So the Nike sign shows how everyone in this society is branded.”

Wilcox said that while she is black and could relate to many of the paintings and photos, other panelists who were white or from other ethnicities “all saw the same thing” and agreed on their interpretations.

“It was like the most eye-opening experience,” she said.

Video clips on the DIA’s YouTube page also show students from Plymouth-Canton Community Schools, Bloomfield Hills Schools and Detroit Cristo Rey High School commenting on the “30 Americans” artwork.

“30 Americans” tickets generally cost $14 for adults, or $10 for tri-county residents. Tickets for minors ages 6-17 cost $9, or $5 for tri-county residents. Group discounts may also be available.

Find out more about Utica Community Schools by visiting www.uticak12.org or by calling (586) 797-1000. Learn more about the Detroit Institute of Arts, or buy exhibit tickets, by visiting www.dia.org.

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