Sunday, January 22, 2012

Grafitti...or Art? Corktown, Detroit, USA

On a recent trip to Detroit, Michigan, I had an opportunity to visit some areas that most tourists don't get to see.  My insatiable curiosity tends to take me off the beaten path and I have the occasion to see art in it's more primal form.  Some areas of Detroit shall I delicately say this?  I won't mince words, but some areas are blighted.  Ironically, those same areas give rise to an urban art form that at the least expresses frustration and despair, and yet often presents a defiant hope in a colorful palette on an otherwise dreary canvas. 

It is easy for us to dismiss such as mere gangland scribblings or the  rantings of frustrated residents.  Yet in the context of urban decay often brought about by economic downturns or the mismanagement of municipalities, it can also be a ray of hope or an exhortation to do the right thing...or perhaps even to praise the good things of a community.  At the very least, it can provide a measure of brightness and color on an otherwise neglected wall of an abandoned building.

"The Dream is Now"

These are seen in an alleyway in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit.  This area was originally founded in of Detroit's oldest neighborhoods.  Now it is given over to abandoned buildings, empty lots...and possibly among the best urban art I have seen.'s not all pretty.  Despite the color and artistry there are also the ubiquitous gang tags amidst the detritus of urban decay

As the sign says, this area dates back to 1834.  To put it into a historical context, this was a community before Lincoln became president and before the start of the Civil War...and before Oregon became a state.  The skyline of downtown Detroit can be seen in the background.

This is the Michigan Central Station, built in 1913 and designed by the same architectural firm who designed Grand Central Station in New York City, also in 1913.  During its heyday the station had an immense waiting hall, shops and restaurants, and an 18-story office/hotel tower.  The advent of the automobile led to the demise of the bus and interurban service, and rail travel decline eventually led to this grand old building being abandoned in 1988.  It has sat empty ever since.  This shot is taken from the same spot as many of the grafitti images above.

Yet despite such reminders of bygone times and present decay, hope still springs forth.  Colorful expressions remind us that people have not given up.  Such is urban art.

For more on my visits to Detroit, see my other blog entries:

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