I was talking last week about Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, an event that, according to a number of recent think pieces, “redefines the boundaries of literature.” So too does a recent project by the artist Ryan Mendoza continue to redefine art in general.

Civil Rights activist and icon Rosa Parks’ former home in Detroit was facing demolition as family members were unable to raise funds for its preservation. Based on some of his prior work, Mendoza was approached by Parks’ family and asked to work with the home in the context of an art project. Mendoza dismantled Rosa Parks’ former home and transported it to his studio in Germany where he plans to use it to create installations that speak to the historical importance of Park’s part in the American Civil Rights movement.

Some of Ryan Mendoza’s work brings to mind that of the late artist Mike Kelley, who in 2012 built a faithful mobile replica of his own Detroit childhood home. It also makes me think of Rachel Whiteread, whose ghostly casts of the interiors of building preserve a kind of sense-memory of the histories of such spaces, and of the way in which artists of color such as James Baldwin and Loïs Mailou Jones emigrated to Europe in search of artistic freedom, before returning to the United States. It is Mendoza’s hope that the Rosa Parks house eventually returns to the U.S.

In speaking about the Rosa Parks project, Mendoza said he wanted to, “Make the building into a work of art without violating the building as a document.”

While he described himself as an “imperfect candidate” for the project and said, “It should be somebody in the black community doing this,” he noted that the Parks family had a difficult and timely choice to make between the building being preserved or demolished. How this project will function in the interstitial space of historical remembrance and art remains to be seen.

However, in both the case of Bob Dylan and Mendoza’s project with the Rosa Parks house, we see artists pushing their public toward new understandings of how the arts can speak to humanism in all their permutations.

Douglas Rosenberg
Chair of Art