“American Gods” in Detroit: Artist Tylonn Sawyer’s New Exhibition Paints the Political

Sawyer wanted to create a politically-charged body of work that remained poignant as national moods change “moment to moment, tweet to tweet.”

Tylonn Sawyer

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Detroit-based artist Tylonn Sawyer wanted to create a body of work for his new exhibition at the N’namdi Center for Contemporary Art that was both personal and political.

With “American Gods,” Sawyer accomplishes that concept via a mix of drawings and paintings of prominent civil rights figures — Martin Luther King, Jr., James Baldwin, Nina Simone — wearing black and white cut-out masks to challenge the idea of collective identity.

Sawyer says that, throughout the years, those figures have reoccurred in his work because they’ve influenced him on multiple levels.

“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,” says Sawyer.

Sawyer will host a discussion about his work at the N’namdi Center on Saturday, July 21st at 2 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

“American Gods” is on display at the N’Namdi Center through September.


  • Ryan Patrick Hooper
    Ryan Patrick Hooper is the award-winning host of "In the Groove" on 101.9 WDET-FM Detroit’s NPR station. Hooper has covered stories for the New York Times, NPR, Detroit Free Press, Hour Detroit, SPIN and Paste magazine.