Detroit artist on new mural: “I didn’t paint Malice Green as a man. I painted him as a monument.”
When Detroit artist Sydney James set out to create a mural of Malice Green, a Detroit man killed by police in 1992, she wanted to represent him not as a man, but "as a monument."
In James' mural, titled "Way Too Many," a black-and-white Green is pictured holding a long makeshift scroll. On it are the names of other Black Americans who have died at the hands of police. The list, too long for one piece of paper, spans multiple sheets that wind around Green and the entire 3,500 square foot wall. Written in bold at the bottom of the final page is the phrase “& Countless Unnamed."
“I didn’t want to just paint Malice, because it’s not about Malice. It’s about the malice that has been done to our people, even since then, and since 1619,” James said.
Malice Green was a Black man who was killed by two white Detroit police officers in November of 1992. James, who was thirteen at the time, says she remembers the story being all over the news. And to her, Green's death was indicative of a larger truth.
“I knew back then that it was gonna be a challenge to be Black in America," James said.
Shortly after Green’s death, Detroit artist Bennie White Jr. Ethiopia Israel painted a mural close to the spot where he was killed. It depicted Green as a Jesus-like figure. The building was demolished in 2013, and the mural went with it. James says reading about the original mural’s destruction made her angry.
“If nothing else, it should exist just because it's like another piece of us being erased,” James explained. “Because just like him dying was a historical moment, him being resurrected in the painting was also a historical moment because it showed media, it showed police, it showed the world, that we remember. We're not just gonna let this go, we're not gonna forget."
James says she wanted to make sure the same thing does not happen to “Way Too Many.” That's why she painted it on the side of The Hamilton Tucker Art Gallery, which she co-owns. That way, James says, she has control over its preservation.
“I think that's important, because a lot of the issues with erasure, appropriation, gentrification, all of these things, the main issue is we're not owners,” James said. “If you don't own, you really don't have a real say.”
The mural’s formal unveiling ceremony will be this Friday on Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating when Black people in the West finally learned of the end of slavery, two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. While there will be many joyous celebrations that day, James hopes that the mural offers a chance for more solemn reflection.
“It's not gonna be a party, it's really just to honor the dead.” James said. "Bring flowers if you want, lay them at the wall if you choose, and really acknowledge the names."
Support for arts and culture coverage comes in part from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.
This post was written by Stateside production assistant Lia Baldori.