The Detroit artist is preparing to start work on a new mural that reimagines one of history’s most famous paintings while paying homage to the North End and Black women.
Detroit-based artist Sydney G. James will began work on a new mural on the Chroma building, a developing creative hub in the Milwaukee Junction neighborhood, on Sept. 2. “It plays homage to Detroit, it plays homage to Black women and it plays homage to the North End – all in one image of a woman,” says James.
This new mural, named The Girl with the D Earring, is a modern twist on the renowned portrait Girl with a Pearl Earring by Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer.
James says, “my main focus in my work is Black women, and it has been that way for years.”
The woman featured in the piece is her longtime friend and community activist Halima Cassells, who is well known for her work throughout Detroit – specifically in the North End neighborhood explained James.
“With this one, I went a little further back into history to find my inspiration,” says James. “I went to my art history books and found one of my favorite paintings: Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. And I thought, I can paint Halima like this.”
The piece will trade in the pearl earring with a prominent Old English dangling “D” earring, which was influenced by Yolanda Nichelle’s designs, says James. “(Nichelle) gave me a pair of these pink earrings for my birthday, and they are literally my favorite earrings, which is crazy because I hate pink. I replaced the pearl earring with the ‘D’ because nothing says Detroit better – especially if you’re from out of town – than the Old English ‘D.’”
James says she had just finished her Malice Green piece in Highland Park when Peter Cummings, executive chairman and CEO of The Platform, Chroma’s developer, called her to discuss painting the wall to replace the existing damaged mural.
“I’m honored to be afforded such a task, especially during this time in history. The world right now is experiencing so much chaos, yet, stillness simultaneously. Many of us, myself included, may be feeling ‘small’ right now while coping and grieving,” James says.
Once finished on the west side of the nine-story building, onlookers will also see Cassells’ likeness wearing an old army jacket adorned in patched logos of historic North End businesses. “Culture and innovation creates figurative and literal chroma – the purity and intensity of color,” says James. “Though, this piece is North End specific. It captures the personality of Detroit, the city.”
Highlighted by a stark black backdrop, the woman’s eyes are fixed ahead, with sharp cheekbones and purple hair, which is tied back with a scarf and traced with dropping neon rays of color. “I hope this piece will offer a little hope, comfort and pride to any and all who view it,” says James.
“I hope they feel love when they see it because that’s indeed what it’s created with – my deep-rooted love for Detroit city, and the passion and love I have while making the work.” The piece is set to be completed by mid-September.
In 2019, The Platform began renovating Detroit’s 107-year-old storage space into Chroma. The 75,000-square-foot hub will include creative offices, entertainment and event spaces, and food and beverage vendors.
“Sydney’s stunning mural is the perfect celebration of our city and its people,” says Cummings. “We are proud to partner with her to bring new life to this prominent canvas and create a powerful and enduring landmark that will be at the heart of the neighborhood for years to come.”