A community discourse on what it means to live, work, attend school in, or visit Dearborn, MI.
One of the first things anyone who regularly attends art exhibits should notice when they enter the Sisson Gallery’s “We Are Dearborn” exhibition is that there are a lot of big photographic portraits. While two of the photographs actually measure in at 31” tall, the rest are even bigger, measuring at least 44” tall. These are not photographs you would put over the couch in your living room, but are photographs large enough in size that they confront you. While some of these photographs are taken from a reasonable distance, some of them are direct, with the face of the figure looking back at you being larger than your own. And there are 42 of these large portrait photographs making up the “We Are Dearborn” exhibit.
When one looks around the room, they should notice immediately that none of the work is identified. There are no labels stating who took the images, or who the person in the picture is. While there are some galleries that have a very minimal approach to displaying art, placing a tiny letter or number near each piece, forcing the interested viewer to walk around with an “identification/price list” in their hands, the Sisson Gallery has not done this as none of the works on display are for sale.
So what is behind all of this?
Over the past half dozen or so years, the city of Dearborn, has received a lot of “strange” press coverage. Pastor Terry Jones has made a couple of “pilgrimages” from Florida in an attempt to disrupt the Dearborn community. Representative Michelle Bachmann (MN), among others, insisted that Sharia Law had become the “law of the land” here in Dearborn. Still another internet rumor claimed that a KFC in Dearborn, “uses separate lines for men and women, a menu written in Arabic, and abides by Sharia Law.” Really? Maybe the menu written in Arabic has a bit of truth to it, as there are restaurants in Dearborn that do have part of their menu in Arabic, but then there are Mexican restaurants in the region with menus in Spanish, and Asian restaurants with menus partially in Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese or Thai. In reality, I think that most of the residents of Dearborn take pride in the fact that our community has become one of the biggest “melting pots” in the region, if not the country.
Europeans, new to the US, historically settled Dearborn, Michigan, looking for work in the automobile plants. Not long after that, there was an influx of Middle Easterners, coming here for the same reason. While Dearborn does have a dark history over the course of a generation or so, the melting pot has since been joined by Latin Americans, Blacks, Asians and Jews. These are all the people who make up 21st century Dearborn, and make it what it is; a vibrant, culturally mixed, peaceful, and friendly community. These are the people who live, work, attend school in and visit Dearborn on a daily basis. Hence, the people one sees on the wall are the people who make up Dearborn.
To label each portrait would give each person an individual identity. To label who took each image could put a stamp of ownership on the groups who took part in creating these photographs. As curator of this exhibition, I did not want either of these to get in the way of a viewer seeing these people as “the people” of Dearborn. Consequently, there are no identification cards accompanying the exhibited work. I will say that the photographs are from three sources; there is a group of “stock” photos owned by the Dearborn Community Fund, a group of photographs taken by students of the Arab American National Museum’s SURA Project, and a group of photos taken by Henry Ford College’s Digital Photography class. Beyond that, I would like to keep the artists and subjects in this exhibition representing daily life in Dearborn anonymous. In this way, the exhibition truly represents the idea that, “We Are Dearborn.”
To take the idea of “We Are Dearborn” a step further, we asked the public if they would like to display their Dearborn selfies as part of the “We Are Dearborn” exhibition. Those send in were displayed on the “We Are Dearborn” wall in the NW corner of the Sisson Gallery. The audience participation was an integral portion of this exhibition.
A sincere “Thank You” from Steve Glazer has to go out to each of the following for making this exhibition happen:
EmmaJean Woodyard, Executive Director of the Dearborn Community Fund for her ideas and support, AND getting the original version of this exhibition idea off the ground! Several of the photographs in this exhibition are part of the Dearborn Community Fund’s collection.
David Serio, Educator at the Arab American National Museum for his help when needed, AND for the SURA Arts Academy student photography program that the Arab American National Museum runs. Several of the photographs in this exhibition were done by SURA Project students.
Dr. Michael Nealon, Vice President for Academic Affairs at Henry Ford College for his continuous support for my Sisson Gallery ideas.
Karen Larson-Voltz, Photography Instructor at Henry Ford College for adding my crazy idea to her already busy class schedule, and getting her students to take some awesome photographs as part of a class lesson on photographic portraiture. Additionally, I also have to think Ms. Larson-Voltz for preparing all of her students work for printing large scale. You put in a lot of hours to make this happen, and I sincerely thank you!
Patty Goodell, Ceramic Tech and Gallery Assistant at Henry Ford College, who seems to make time available “on call” to get exhibitions hung, cards sent out, etc… Whatever needs to be done to make the exhibition successful, Ms. Goodell seems to always be there to help.
Dr. Jennifer Ernst, Dean of the School of Liberal Arts (SoLA) at Henry Ford College for her continuous support. I hope I don’t drive you nuts with my ideas…