Oakland Street, running north from East Grand Boulevard in Detroit, has seen better days. Despite the few remaining liquor stores and other nondescript businesses, commercial abandonment and blight stretches for blocks. Bicycling south from Caniff Street on this rough and tumble stretch, I came across a nicely designed, bright orange metal sculpture of three, tall, lean walking figures, all carrying poles.
Judging by the luster, the newness of the cement base and the clean sand used to support it, the piece appeared to be a recent installation. Each figure had the word Jesus written on the sides of its head. The well-crafted sculpture seemed to be strategically placed on a slight angle, across the field, as if they were walking on a path to freedom or perhaps off to war.
Just beyond the peculiar sculpture, on the same side of Oakland near Bethune Street, stands a modest, well-maintained brick building. The vintage structure features a series of wall paintings similar to the orange sculpture, except they were done in black and white. The works of art had similar lean bodies and long thin legs, reminding me of stilts. A few of the painted figures included details, such as jewelry, making them easily identifiable as paintings of African women. Another image featured a mother figure watching over four children as they stood in line. Standing guard over the place was a small wooden sculpture of an elephant, painted blue.
It wasn’t clear to me what this out-of-the-ordinary place was. It could have been a number of things. Maybe an art gallery, design studio or possibly a day care center? I’m not certain. Adding to its mystique was a painting on the north side of the building of a large, faded question mark and the words “who is Detroit”. Was that part of the overall design that included the sculptures and other wall paintings? I couldn’t help but wonder.