Arts

The past is present for Tylonn Sawyer

Player utilities

Listen to the story.

“Walls: Baldwin,” by Tylonn Sawyer

“Walls: Baldwin,” by Tylonn Sawyer

Credit:

Courtesy Tylonn Sawyer

In today’s national political climate, where the story can change with a tweet, how is an artist with political intentions supposed to respond? That was the challenge faced by Tylonn Sawyer, a painter in Detroit, when he set out to create work for his current show at the N’namdi Center for Contemporary Art.

“Post Hope,” by Tylonn Sawyer

“Post Hope,” by Tylonn Sawyer

Credit:

Courtesy Tylonn Sawyer

“Pieta,” by Tylonn Sawyer

“Pieta,” by Tylonn Sawyer

Credit:

Courtesy Tylonn Sawyer

Sawyer, who draws and paints fellow African Americans with an eye for realistic detail, decided to address today’s high-anxiety extremism by looking back a half century. He calls the exhibit “American Gods,” and it consists of large-scale paintings of African Americans dressed in the crisp white shirts and sharp black suits of the 1960s. In front of their faces they hold masks of Civil Rights figures like Martin Luther King and Nina Simone. 

“Class Photo #2: Class Convening,” by Tylonn Sawyer

“Class Photo #2: Class Convening,” by Tylonn Sawyer

Credit:

Courtesy Tylonn Sawyer

“Congregation, MLK,” by Tylonn Sawyer

“Congregation, MLK,” by Tylonn Sawyer

Credit:

Courtesy Tylonn Sawyer

"It’s like a contemporary totem to try and commune with our ancestors, to try and figure out some of the madness that’s happening today,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer walked through the gallery with Ryan Patrick Hooper, a producer at public radio station WDET, talking about the work. 

“American Gods” by Tylonn Sawyer is on view at the N’namdi Center for Contemporary Art in Detroit until September 8.

“Cut: Kara Walker,” by Tylonn Sawyer

“Cut: Kara Walker,” by Tylonn Sawyer

Credit:

Courtesy Tylonn Sawyer

Related Stories