Detroit's murals offer perspectives on America
Published: July 1, 2014
Another take on the character Captain America as a representation of the United States offers a more critical view of America. L.A.-based artist Sever painted this obese Captain America, whose shield has been replaced with a corn dog in one hand and a Big Gulp in the other. “It’s a political message, funnily enough, directed at those same people who might not understand it, who just sit back and drink their Slushy and complain about the Mexicans moving in,” says Detroit Beautification Project organizer Matt Eaton. It looks like someone wrote something on his stomach, but whatever it was, was painted over in blue.
“United We Stand”
Joseph Campau and Denton, Hamtramck
A simple, blocky American flag is painted with the words “United We Stand” scrawled beside it; tiny handprints around the flag suggest that children painted it. Locals say it went up shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. This painting has an innocent, naive quality that’s both cute and admirable.
“America United September 11, 2001”
Jeff Von Buskirk
Marquis Theatre, Northville, 135 E. Main St., Northville
This massive, photorealistic painting of the American flag was painted by local artist Jeff Von Buskirk and commissioned by Marquis Theatre owner Inge Zayti in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. The mural went up in summer 2002; ever since, it’s been one of downtown Northville’s most visible landmarks. There’s no political commentary here — just a stoic, straightforward memorial to one of the defining moments of a generation in American history.
Buskirk says great care was taken in creating the design. “There was this interesting chimney on the back, so there was this idea to get the flag to wrap around the chimney, and have depth to it,” he says. Buskirk also wanted something that would fit with Northville’s Victorian sensibilities.
After 10 years, the substrate it was painted on began to peel, and now the mural is slated to be updated this month after ongoing efforts by the community to raise the $19,000 necessary to refurbish it. Buskirk will once again paint it, and work is expected to take a month to complete.
Zayti died last year, but her mural lives on. “My wife has mentioned to me that she’s seen Vietnam veterans on Harleys pull up with a priest, also [on] a Harley, and they do a little service there in front of the mural,” Buskirk says. “It’s taken on a life of its own.”
Buskirk also remembers how three years after he originally painted it, the city wanted to build a parking garage in the lot behind the theater, which would render the mural invisible. “[Zayti] was this older German woman. She was really interesting — she’s such an important part of that flag,” Buskirk says. “We went to a council meeting with her. They were talking about the parking garage and she stood up, with her little tiny body, and said, ‘You will put this garage up over my dead body!’
“I think she really understood having freedom, and having free speech,” Buskirk says. “Every day she would park her car in front of her theater, and every day the police would keep ticketing her. She kept parking there, because she felt like it was her property. It’s interesting because now that she’s passed, you have all these people in Northville coming together to restore her flag. It’s like she’s exercising her free speech beyond her death.”
Check out a slideshow of a behind the scenes look at the creation of the cover art for this story here.
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