If you havenâ€™t memorized the name Sydney G. James, itâ€™s time to take notes.
James, a native Detroiter and College for Creative Studies graduate, returned to the city from Los Angeles in 2011 and immediately started making her mark on the local art scene. Youâ€™ve probably seen her paintings, larger than life, adorning buildings in Detroit — last year, she created 13 murals in just 10 months.
One of the standouts is â€œAppropriated Not Appreciated,â€ for 2016â€™s Murals in the Market Festival, with text by Scheherazade Washington Parrish that reads: â€œThe Definitive List Of Everything That Will Keep You Safe As A Black Woman Being In America.â€ The list, in Jamesâ€™ mural, is blank.
In her paintings, James explores black womanhood and often paints other black artists and leaders that inspire her. So itâ€™s no surprise that poet and writer Parrish is one of the subjects in her debut solo show, â€œSit Down Somewhere,â€ currently on view at Playground Detroit. Parrish will also moderate an artist talk with James on Oct. 24.
Parrish, James and artists Tylonn J. Sawyer and Rashaun Rucker make up the Vanguard Artist Collective — references to Sawyer and Ruckerâ€™s work are included in the â€œAppropriated Not Appreciatedâ€ mural as well. The group formed in 2011, and each member creates their own work – but influence and help each other.
â€œThe collective speaks more to the relationship that we have and how that feeds the art,â€ Parrish told the Free Press. â€œWe feed each other. We hold each other accountable… We are walking safe spaces for each other that allows us to be ourselves and not just the expectations of who weâ€™re supposed to be.â€
In 2016, James told me that her mural referencing police shootings of African Americans was intended to â€œbotherâ€ onlookers.
â€œI want you to be shocked, because I think it is shocking, but I want you to be educated at the same time,â€ she said.
Jamesâ€™ current collection is an extension of that piece, she told the Metro Times, but takes a more celebratory approach. Her most recent series of drawings and paintings feature female muses alongside their own inspirational figures and are meant to serve as a â€œcall to action for black women to reclaim their thrones.â€
â€œWhenever our mothers, mentors, and guides wanted to share wisdoms — they made us — literally — take a seat in order to share an err of caution, or offerings of life lessons, provide encouragement to move forward or, to stop and think, she said. â€œOften, these women had to â€˜stand upâ€™ so that others would have the ability to â€˜sit down somewhere.â€™â€
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Top image: Sydney G. James, studio portrait. Credit: Bre’Ann White for Playground Detroit.