Exploring our identity as Detroiters

The holiday season is a time when some go home to be with family and friends. We take a trip each year to Spain to see my family and celebrate the New Year. Now that I am a U.S. citizen, I enjoy having two homes, and I am sad when I leave Detroit. Throughout my life, I have been fortunate to travel to different countries. If you think about it, growing up in Spain, one can take a plane to get to France, Italy or Portugal in an hour or so. All these European countries are crammed together in a small territory. Even Spain is a country made up of people from different countries or old Iberian kingdoms speaking a variety of languages. All this diversity is a cultural wealth, built throughout many centuries of coexistence and that is simply excellent and inspiring.

Because I lived and worked in several countries during the course of my life, some people ask me what my favorite cities are. Of course, I have my favorites – Rome being on the top of the list, a place I especially connect to because of its artistic beauty and history. However, I often remember cities not for their amenities and historical significance, but for the people who live in them. As a matter of fact, the appeal of a city comes, in my opinion, from their citizens, their faces, smiles, warmth, kindness, stories, the ways they share, come together and laugh – to name a few traits. Cities are their people.

These thoughts and others came to my mind when I was enjoying one of our current exhibitions, Lost and Found: Photographs from the DIA’s Collection. From our own holdings, the galleries show a variety of images taken by amateur photographers since the mid-1800s, mainly from Detroit but also from other places. We call this art form “vernacular photography,” and it includes images from everyday life by people whose names are often lost in the past and are representative of the hopes and dreams of a time. Looking at this work is like opening a window with a view into our city’s history, which has been patiently shaped by the innumerable stories of its citizens. The work is poetic for its directness and lack of artifice and presents a real and frank image of the time, the space, and its people. There is a beauty in the truth that emerges from the anonymous individuals and their ordinary lives. We can all connect to that experience and to our interest in exploring identity. It is then when the ordinary becomes extraordinary as it manifests and pervades all aspects of our living.  

A unique understanding exists in looking at our amazing Rivera murals that speak about an immense and universal power of creativity. An equally unique understanding exists in looking at a hand-colored portrait taken in Detroit sometime around the 1920-50s of a young lady holding a bouquet of flowers. It speaks of our city and of our people in an intimate way that connects with our hearts. The Rivera murals will illustrate books, and these images will stay with us in our common memory as a witness of Detroit and its history. Detroit, too, is one my favorite cities.  

Categories:  From The Director