A special project to mark Detroit ‘67

by Bill Danaher

As we reflect on the 1967 Rebellion, the challenge is not merely to look back at what happened, but to build memories that can help us understand our present and negotiate our future. The philosopher Herbert Marcuse described the work of the artist as the “refusal to forget what might be.” If this is so, then the work of artists is spiritual work that all of us must do.

Over the past two years, I have been working with a Detroit-based artist, Oren Goldenberg, on a special project called Art as Ritual, which creates art performances that incorporate rituals in order to promote the work of social healing.

From 8:30 PM, July 23 through 10:00 PM, July 28, the Charles Wright Museum of African American History (https://thewright.org) will host a special art installation and series of performances by the Art as Ritual collective to commemorate the Detroit 1967 Rebellion.

People of the Infinite Fires, a project made possible through the generous support from the Erb Family Foundation, will take place during the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Rebellion in Detroit.

Beginning and ending on the same dates of the Rebellion, this project will create space for ritual catharsis and artistic performance around a sacred fire that will burn continuously for five days.

The fire will be kindled at the Museum’s entrance, on an altar fabricated by Ryan C. Doyle and decorated by Olayami Dabls of Detroit’s African Bead Museum (http://www.mbad.org/). Curated performances by local artists will take place alongside other rituals or remembrances provided by participating community members.

Although the history of the 1967 Rebellion remembers fire as destructive force, fires are also used in many communities to enter sacred space, to purify people, to convey an offering, to hold collective space, and to communicate a divine presence. By ritually keeping a fire, attended by trained fire safety monitors and volunteer fire-keepers, the project will transfigure the way we remember the role fire, and ritual, plays in our lives and memories.

“We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes” (Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus). This motto does not bear the false promise of a world without fire, but rather conveys the hope that fires can be part of a slow and sacred process of social healing and reconciliation.

At the end of the five-day period, the fire will be extinguished ceremoniously with water from the Detroit River. The ashes will give nutrients to a seed buried under the fire’s ashes at the beginning of the performance. As the 50th anniversary of the Rebellion passes, the seed will be a ritual reminder of what has taken place, a hopeful promise for the future.

More about the performances can be found at http://www.peopleoftheinfinitefires.com. The events will be live-streamed, and a bus is available to bring people from the church each night at 8:00 PM. Parking is also available at the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan

For more information, contact my new Executive Assistant, Meredith Skowronski, at 248.644-5210, ext. 26 or mskowronski@christchurchcranbrook.org.

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