COLLAGE ON VIEW
Judy Bowman: Gratiot Griot
at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit, Michigan, USA
29 October 2022-26 March 2023
“Gratiot Griot” is the first solo museum exhibition of mixed media collage artist Judy Bowman. This exhibition presents new works alongside older collages by the artist that invite viewers to engage with the rich cultural tapestry of life across the African diaspora.
Born and raised in Detroit’s legendary Black Bottom neighborhood, just off of the iconic Gratiot Avenue, Bowman creates visual works inspired by stories of African American life. Collaged images depict and highlight the intimate landscape of neighborhoods, homes and gathering places–the iconic Belle Isle, cozy and colorful living rooms and popular street corners filled with small local businesses–that encouraged Bowman’s development as a griot. In West African tradition, a griot is a storyteller who, through creative performance, preserves and shares the cultural legacy and histories of their people. “Gratiot Griot” highlights Bowman’s extensive career as a storyteller.
Bowman’s family moved from Georgia to Detroit, Michigan in the 1950s so that her father could work in the factories and provide a middle-class lifestyle. When they first moved to the city, friends opened their arms and their home in Black Bottom to Judy’s family, which quickly set the tone for the soulful relationships their community would always stand for. Friends became like relatives, living together for years at a time. When Bowman’s father purchased their own house, they continued to pay the support and generosity forward, over time welcoming 21 different families to live with them. This infinitely influenced the artist, whose collaging is reflective of the familial assemblage. Like the members of the community depicted in her work, the handmade archival paper she combines comes from many places.
Sourcing paper worldwide has lent itself to Bowman’s ability to depict “Detroit swag.” She recreates mixes of colors, textures and patterns attributed to local fashions and home interiors that are as vibrantly decorated as the outfits her family and friends are known for wearing. It was of great importance to her father that everyday the family would make a ritual of bathing after work or school and dress in their finest for dinner. This custom led her siblings and cousins to express themselves through style, and the future artist applied it to her collages, coordinating paper in the same way that everyone else was coordinating their apparel.
Like the cultural traditions of craftsmanship, the bond and importance of family is understood internationally like an unspoken language of its own. As such, Bowman’s body of work, though specific to Detroit’s historical Black Bottom and the generations that now make up the city’s community, bonds an audience with emotive storytelling.
“Gratiot Griot” is organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. This exhibition is supported by the Ford Foundation and Karen Bacon.
(text adapted from materials provided by the museum)
Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit
4454 Woodward Avenue
Detroit, Michigan 48201 USA