Olayami Dabls is a local legend in Detroit, transforming other peoples' garbage into a massive metaphorical art installation. The artist, museum curator and historian first set up Dabls’ African Bead Museum at this site 14 years ago, and it has since expanded with multiple installations made from recycled materials donated by community members. The sprawling open-air sculpture park acts as a narrative of colonialism and suppression, rendered in abstract pieces made from broken mirrors, metal scraps, concrete blocks, construction waste and other donated materials. The public is invited to explore the site whenever they want.
The site which is now Dabls’ impromptu outdoor sculpture park was just an illegal dumping ground. Seeing more potential for the disused space, Dabls decided to create an outdoor art installation dedicated to African American history. Using donated and discarded items only, he began to build outdoor sculptures that together formed a narrative – a metaphor for social and political commentary on African American history.
The sprawling installation called “Iron Teaching Rocks How to Rust” is rife with racial innuendo and cultural appropriation. Through cement blocks, metal scraps, old file cabinets, broken mirrors and reclaimed wood, Dabls draws metaphors about one social group (iron) trying to force its cultural beliefs on the other (rocks).
The narrative may seem a little heavy, but with Dabls’ beautiful story telling and use of recycled sculptures, the story of years of racial oppression become easier for the visitor to stomach. The harsh truth, rendered in repurposed cast off materials, becomes a story of promise and rebirth. Dabls welcomes anyone to stop by, hear the tale, and check out his unique installations.
Images ©Lori Zimmer for Inhabitat
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