Public art installation tour stops in Detroit to raise awareness about immigration

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Forget Census figures. Detroit's rich diversity came to life with an outdoor photo collage Thursday as part of the world's largest participatory public art installation to make a statement about immigration.

More than 100 images of Detroiters of all ages, ethnicities and walks of life were snapped in a special photo booth, printed in a large size and then pasted to the ground in a collage for the "Inside Out 11M" project. The collage at the north end of The Belt, an art-infused alley between Gratiot and Grand River in Detroit, will stay in place for a week.

Thursday's stop in Detroit follows visits to Grand Rapids and Lansing earlier this week for the "Inside Out 11M" tour, which uses art to raise awareness about the need for immigration reform, especially for the nation's 11 million undocumented workers.

From left, JG David, 28, of Detroit looks over the portraits as From left, JG David, 28, of Detroit looks over the portraits as Alexander Pierre, 28 and Jaime(cq) Scatena both of Los Angeles, glue down the portraits with wheat paste at the Belt Alley off Library Street in Detroit on Sept. 2, 2021.  “Inside Out 11M” is a traveling art project visiting 16 cities, taking portraits of people showing the diversity of the nation and drawing attention to the 11 million undocumented people in the country.

"It gives a sense of the magnitude of the movement," said Damariz Damken, a member of the "InsideOut" team. "...These are all people that stand behind this message and believe there should be a pathway to citizenship. With every photograph, we're showing the faces behind this movement."

JG David of Detroit stopped by The Belt, which is curated by the Library Street Collective which partnered with "InsideOut" on Thursday's stop, to have his photo taken. After stepping into a mobile photo booth, within minutes, his photo was printed out on a large piece of paper to be added to the collage with wheat paste.

"Anything that brings awareness is always going to be a win in my book," said David.

From left, Marshall Symons. 39, of Detroit takes a look at the printout of his portrait with Talal Slabdali, 26, of Los Angeles and Damariz Damken of New York at the Belt Alley off Library Street in Detroit on Sept. 2, 2021.  "Inside Out 11M" is a traveling art project visiting 16 cities, taking portraits of people showing the diversity of the nation and drawing attention to the 11 million undocumented people in the country.

The "Inside Out" movement was created 10 years ago by French photographer and street artist JR. Since then it's been used to create collages in cities and countries around the globe to make statements about a variety of issues, said Damken.

It's now the largest participatory art project in the world with 400,000 participants, she said.

"It's about bringing art to the public," she said.

The Detroit collage features people of nearly every ethnicity, age and race. Some stuck their tongues out. Many smiled.

"This is all about the diversity of the community," Samir Salem, field coordinator the Emerson Collective, the project's sponsor. 

Talal Alabdali, 26, right of Los Angeles, watches as Josh Awrey, 37, of Detroit, left, gets ready to be photographed as part of the Inside Out 11M project nat the Belt Alley off Library Street in Detroit on Sept. 2, 2021.  "Inside Out 11" is a traveling art project visiting 16 cities, taking portraits of people showing the diversity of the nation and drawing attention to the 11 million undocumented people in the country.

Josh Awrey, 37, of Detroit stopped by to have his photo taken after seeing the collage take shape not far from The Skip, a bar on The Belt, where he works. He said the collage is different than giving someone a pamphlet about the need for immigration reform.

"It's effective," said Awrey. "It's very attention-grabbing. It's a way to draw someone in."

"Inside Out 11M" travels to Pittsburgh next. The tour ends in Washington, DC on Sept. 14.

mfeighan@detroitnews.com

'Inside Out 11M' Detroit collage

Where: Located on the Belt, an alley between Gratiot and Grand River in Detroit.

When: Collage will likely stay in place until Sept. 10.