Collective memory care: honoring the Our Land Till Death mural
Since 2015, the Our Land Till Death mural at 4641 Grand River has stood as a testament to lives lost to racist violence and police brutality. Featuring images of Malice Green, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Vincent Chin, Crazy Horse, and Elijah Muhammad it has commemorated spiritual leaders and ancestral forces in the ongoing struggles for liberation and justice.
According to the artist, Sintex, the intent of the mural is “to teach who these people are, what they meant to us, what their struggles were… so then their legacies will be passed on through future generations to live within us.”
On December 7th, 2020 the building that holds this iconic mural will be demolished. Shortly after AMP purchased the properties at 4641 and 4731 Grand River, we learned that the building had been deemed a dangerous structure by the city and required demolition. Knowing the significance of the mural to our community of social justice activists and the city as a whole, we began researching ways of preserving the mural, even if the building needed to come down.
We commissioned a study by public art preservation experts at the architecture firm Quinn Evans to evaluate our options. This study showed that preservation would cost up to $110,000 and even with that cost, there was no guarantee that the mural would not crumble off the wall when the building came down, due to the fact that it is painted on a plaster surface.
We decided that our limited resources would be best spent commissioning Sintex to recreate the mural. Once that difficult decision was made, we began to see exciting opportunities in the possibility of re-creating the mural. We could expand upon the theme of memorializing our ancestors to include other people of significance to our community and our movements– people like Grace Lee Boggs, Charity Hicks, David Blair, Ron Scott, Lila Cabbil, and more. We could also honor the stories of historical figures from the surrounding Core City neighborhood.
Beginning in December of this year, we will embark on the journey to re-envision and re-create this beloved mural. We will be working closely with Sintex, as well as with two advisory bodies– the LOVE Building Neighborhood Advisory Council, comprised of residents of Core City, and an Art & Archive Advisory Council, comprised of Detroit movement activists, and participatory public art experts.
While the prospect of re-creating the mural in collaboration with this incredible group is thrilling, there is still grief in the loss of the original artwork. We originally planned to hold a memorial ceremony to honor the mural before it was demolished but the COVID-19 pandemic makes that plan impossible.
Instead, we commissioned two forms of memorial documentation: large-scale photographs by Erik Howard, which will be hung inside the LOVE Building once it is complete and this short video, by the Aadizookaan. May the Our Land Till Death mural rest in power.