Dabls’ African Bead Gallery and MBAD Museum is located at and around 6559 Grand River Ave. on Detroit’s Near Westside. The outdoor installation spans a block of buildings, empty land, and the exteriors of two more buildings beyond, which are visible from I-96.
At the risk of stating the obvious, I have to point out that this reminds me a bit of the more famous Heidelberg Project, also in Detroit — assemblages of refuse covered in bright paint, even with some polka dots, smaller than Tyree Guyton’s trademark element, but familiar to anyone who knows that artist’s work.
I don’t mean this as a criticism — the two installations complement each other and, if you’re visiting the Motor City with an eye toward public art, check out both.
Dabls’ African Bead Gallery and MBAD Museum is the work of Olayami Dabls, an artist, curator and historian with extensive knowledge of African art and craft. The installations [and the museum, which is open by appointment only, and which I didn’t get to visit] focus on articulating both the African and African American experience.
Wandering a bit further from the street, one encounters a painted wall whose mirror mosaic glitters in the sun:
Again recalling the Heidelberg Project, discarded objects are arranged in thematic groupings, here, a row of windows at attention:
The N’kisi Iron House apparently includes letters spelling out Where ‘African Town’ Begins — as a type nerd, I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t notice any lettering:
Back on the street and looking closely at the exterior of the buildings, barbed wire seems to hide in plain sight:
It’s amazing how much the streetscape has been transformed with only paint, discarded objects and the desire to visually tell a story:
The bead store is actually a very small part of the whole, situated in this modest row house:
The interior is densely packed with displays of beaded jewelry and jars of beads, some up to 400 years old. Made of stone, bone, wood, or glass, the beads can tell a story to anyone familiar with their symbolism and arrangement on a strand:
Incredibly, Dabls’ African Bead Gallery and MBAD Museum is not the only bead museum around — there are several more in the world, with different areas of focus. This one, though, tackles its location in true DIY fashion that’s emblematic of Detroit and, even if you don’t especially care about the subject matter, the exterior installations are definitely worth a visit.