WDET’s Artist Next Door Fellows Create Original Work Celebrating Culture and Community

Six Detroit-area artists have spent the past three months creating original work that celebrates their culture and heritage. See what they created.

Over the course of three months, six Detroit-area Artist Next Door fellows created original work that represents their individual heritage and communities. The pieces demonstrate the power of art to bridge cultural divides and unite communities. Check out their final work below.

Halima Cassells

City: Detroit
Seat at the Table (tentative title), 2021
Mixed media interactive installation using fresh fruits and vegetables, flora, heirloom ceramics and bulletproof glass

Photographs: Erik Paul Howard, Art: Halima Cassells
Photographs: Erik Paul Howard, Art: Halima Cassells

Interdisciplinary artist Halima Cassells used her Artist Next Door experience as a launch point for an interactive installation featuring a series of conversations between friends, families annd neighbors meant to explore how a community comes together to establish agreements. Cassells seeks to interrogate ““What brings us together? How do we create agreements? What are those rituals and what are they based on?” 

According to Cassells, her work for Artist Next Door will be part of something larger. “It’s the first in a series to … invite people to tea or to a meal to break bread and all of the tables are made from reclaimed bulletproof glass because although we don’t often realize it, most of our agreements are made under threat of violence or some threat to our survival,” she explains. “This is something that’s been in my head for a while, but this gave me a reason to start … this is the beginning of this series.”

She hopes that this work will serve as a means of building community and inspiring conversations. “I love sharing stories and learning from people all the time, so I hope this sparks conversations for folks in their own homes.”

Daniel Ross Michelsen

City: Dearborn
Untitled, 2021
Resin, live-edge maple, ceramics

Photographs: Erik Paul Howard, Table: Daniel Ross Michelsen
Photographs: Erik Paul Howard, Table: Daniel Ross Michelsen

This mixed-media table was new territory for multidisciplinary artist Daniel Ross Michelsen. “I tried some challenging things, I went out on a limb,” says Michelsen. “I did things I’ve never done before, mixing the mediums, ceramic with the wood and resin is a new thing for me.”

He describes pushing the boundaries of his art as an overall positive experience. “It gave me some trouble, but good trouble. Definitely a challenge, but overcome and turned out great, I think,” he says.

The three-dimensional landscape table features a ceramic mountain range, resin and a live edge slab of maple from Copper Harbor.

“I want people to see something different and break the mold of typical furniture,” explains Michelsen. 

Timothy Orikri

City: Detroit
A Tribute to Sisterhood, 2021
Mixed media

Photographs: Erik Paul Howard, Painting: Timothy Orikri
Photographs: Erik Paul Howard, Painting: Timothy Orikri

Nigerian-born Timothy Orikri grew up in a household of six women — his mother and five sisters. His mixed media painting, A Tribute to Sisterhood, pays tribute to the women in his life, celebrating care, joy and hope, while also calling attending to the lack of equality women face worldwide. “The painting reflects four things,” he says. “It’s got passion, it’s got pain, and it’s got progress and prospect.”

The piece includes popsicle sticks, matchsticks, rolled-up straws, corrugated paper and yarn, reflective of Orikri’s sustainable creative style. “I tend to find beauty out of nothing. I try to be resourceful and find something that has texture,” he says.

Both a reflection of his upbringing and a rumination on modern equality worldwide, the painting bridges the gap between Orikri’s heritage and the culture he’s found living in Detroit. “I have to be grateful that I’m here in a city and a country that appreciates art and gives artists the opportunity to create and produce what they think is best for society and themselves,” says Orikri.

Allison Scout Waite

City: Highland Park
Care, Love and Strife, 2021
Oil on canvas

Photographs: Erik Paul Howard, Painting: Allison Scout Waite
Photographs: Erik Paul Howard, Painting: Allison Scout Waite

Highland Park-based painter Allison Scout Waite aims to create a sense of solidarity through her work as well as celebrate the history and culture of the LGBTQIA+ community. When approaching her Artist Next Door piece, she explains, “I was really just thinking about how … I could encapsulate queerness and my relationship to it.”

Care, Love and Strife is an acknowledgment of the passing on of queer culture from one person to another. “I wouldn’t know any queer history if it weren’t for other queer people sharing it and keeping it from being stomped out,” says Waite. “Passing a candle or holding a candle together, sharing light, illuminating is a message that I would hope [people] take away from it. Just working together.”

To Waite, art is more than just a means of self-expression. “Art is a way of survival when life is weird or tough or complicated or hard to understand,” she explains. “We all either are drawn to it, or create it, or both.”

Xiao Dong Wei

City: Livonia
Autumn Thoughts 
Original composition

Xiao Dong Wei’s original composition “Autumn Thoughts,” named for an ancient Chinese poem with the same title, is a melding of both Chinese traditional instruments and modern elements. “Year ago, I did a piece like that and I always wanted to go back to it,” says Wei.

The multi-instrumentalist plays nine instruments on the track, including traditional Chinese instruments like the erhu, pipa, lute, zither and guzheng. Creating the sweeping composition instilled Wei with a sense of freedom. “In the music world, it really is like a big ocean,” she explains. “You can swim with your original piece and there’s no wrong, no right. I love that part about it. I can stay there hours and do anything without being judged.”

For Wei, music is both a celebration of her heritage as well as a way to transcend boundaries. “I’m speaking the most awesome language — music,” she says. “Everyone can understand, you can feel it. … People can easily talk to each other without learning all the characters.”

Photographs: Erik Paul Howard
Photographs: Erik Paul Howard

Danya Zituni

City: Dearborn
Untitled, 2021
Digital Illustration

Photograph: Annie Scaramuzzino, Illustration: Danya Zituni
Photograph: Annie Scaramuzzino, Illustration: Danya Zituni

Arab American illustrator and printmaker Danya Zituni creates work that is deeply connected to her heritage and culture. Her digital illustration for Artist Next Door, currently untitled, is inspired by Arab workers and peasants. “I wanted to honor Arab workers and peasants, especially because the role that they play in our society — they make everything run,” she explains.

“I was inspired by this quote in Arabic which translates to ‘Our workers and our peasants are the shield of our revolution,” says Zituni. “So it shows that they have a progressive role to play in promoting the rights and dignity of all people.”

Her piece depicts laborers and agricultural symbols that are indigenous to the Levant region, where Zituni is from. 

“When people see the piece, I want them to really feel the pride and dignity of coming from a working-class background and show that no matter what your conditions are, there’s a lot of beauty and a lot of dignity in what our labor produces,” she says.

Like her other work, this piece is deeply rooted in her community.  “I don’t just make things for myself,” explains Zituni. “I want to create and teach and learn how to do things with my community and promote art as a way to learn about our culture, learn about our history and also promote positive and dignified versions of ourselves that we don’t normally see in popular media.”

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  • Meta Stange
    Meta Stange is the Digital Content and Engagement Manager for 101.9 WDET, overseeing the station's digital editorial content. She enjoys reading, making bad jokes, and hanging out with her dog, Salmon.