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Art display honors Black lives lost to violence

By Jennifer Raptoplous
On March 15, 2023

Next month, the University of Detroit Mercy will host a dedication ceremony for Panel Five, an art installation that remembers victims killed in acts of racially-motivated violence.

The ceremony will take place April 26 at 4 p.m. in the Briggs Building and will include prayer, a vocalist and a poetry reading.

Community is at the center of Panel Five, one piece of artist Carole Morisseau’s interactive art project known as “The Healing Wall.” Each panel of the wall is made using ribbons Morisseau collected from communities impacted by the suffering that Black and brown people have faced against police brutality and other violent oppressors.

Panel Five includes ribbons col- lected from UDM students in 2020.

“The Healing Wall calls us to remember those African Americans whose lives were taken from them by those charged with protecting all of our citizens,” said Jocelyn Bory- czka, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Education. “Seeing, in the main hall of Briggs, the ribbons with the names of those lost will stand as a constant reminder to us all that we must engage in the everyday acts necessary to create the beloved community. I imagine that Panel Five will catalyze other transforma- tive projects for social justice that will further advance the University of Detroit Mercy and College for Liberal Arts & Education’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, anti-racism and belonging.”

Acts of violence against people of color are not historically new.

It is important to recognize that victims of police brutality are not martyrs for a cause. They had families, friends and members of their communities who loved them. Panel Five of “The Healing Wall” celebrates the lives of victims, not their deaths, and is dedicated to the impact they have had across the nation.

Morisseau was awarded a Fulbright-Hays Fellowship Group Project Abroad in 2018 to Brazil, studying Afro-Brazilian art and culture. “The Healing Wall’s” inspiration came from the “Igreja Nosso Senhor do Bonfim” cathedral in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, where people of African descent were not allowed inside and instead were forced to pray outside at the gates.

They would tie colorful wish ribbons (known as bencaos in Portuguese) onto the cathedral fence. 

Each ribbon represents an individual prayer, yet once tied on the fence, they moved together as one. Morisseau wanted to depict the organic and fluid nature of the tied ribbons in her artwork.

“I call it a kinetic piece because it responds to the environment. It flutters in the wind, it flows, it makes sound how trees and leaves make sounds,” Morisseau said.

“The ribbons over time will decay and fade. In my vision for the piece, I see that as time marches on, and these instances still occur, more ribbons would be added, and it

would freshen it, allow it to breathe, and be a part of our environment, so I see it changing with time.”

The spirit of healing together as a community inspired Morisseau.

Even though they were not allowed inside the cathedral, the Afro-Brazilians continued to pray together. After her fellowship, she met with different groups within Detroit who were impacted by the violence, inviting them to write names of loved ones who were lost to police brutality, or racially-motivated violence.

Each panel of “The Healing Wall” is made up of 1,200 to 1,500 collect- ed ribbons. Morisseau thought that if these groups can grieve together, they might be able to heal together, too.

“The Healing Wall gives me an opportunity to give voice to all of these individuals who have died or suffered and not been able to respond accordingly,” she said. “I feel like I’m hopefully giving them a voice or a platform. I hope my art can do that and make people who are not aware, aware. And keep badgering it every time a black man is killed in this manor; here it is again. Look at all of these others. This is what you have ignored.”

Also awarded the 2018 Brazil fellowship were representatives of the University of Detroit Mercy, including Lara Wasner, the Director of Language & Cultural Training. Wasner is currently facilitating the program to Brazil.

The dedication of Panel Five is close to her heart as she knows Morisseau personally, and was present at the time of her inspiration behind the project. “Solidarity – I return to this word often when I think about The Healing Wall, a reminder of the necessity of how solidarity calls us to work together, calls us into action, calls us to quiet reflection,” Wasner said.

“Having the panel in the Briggs Building means it will be seen. The ribbons will be seen as a collective. We want to have a closer look. But for some, the discovery will be painful. It is a reminder of the lives lost and the problems not solved.”

She said the panel can serve as a bridge, connecting “experiences lived by the excluded, those marginalized, those profiled, not just by police, but through policies, or im- plicit bias, those communities who are continually targeted and violated through unjust acts, unjust systems throughout the globe.”

More information about Moris- seau can be found on her website, morisseauart.com.

Morisseau is a Detroit native and works out of the Scarab Club in downtown Detroit.

 

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