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Why Is an Artist Rebuilding Rosa Parks' Home in Berlin?

Artist Ryan Mendoza has taken the cultural preservation of Rosa Parks into his own hands after the city of Detroit failed to do so.

Rosa Parks may have been a prominent icon of the Civil Rights Movement, but the cultural strides she made while alive have not prevented the post-mortem demolition of her old residence. Her 1950s home on Detroit’s South Deacon Street was demolished last month as part of an ongoing campaign to cure the "blight" (older buildings that don’t fit the city’s "new narrative") of Detroit. Rather than preserve what is arguably a cultural landmark, demolishing and moving on was a simpler and more convenient solution. But an artist by the name of Ryan Mendoza has intervened, transporting the remains of Parks’ Detroit home to Berlin, where he plans to reconstruct her destroyed dwelling.

Although it may seem strange that Mendoza, a white artist based in Europe, was the one to salvage Parks’ home, the artist’s practice often involves interventions in abandoned urban architecture, frequently in Detroit. For his project White House, Mendoza transported and rebuilt a Detroit house to The Netherlands for Art Rotterdam. Earlier this year, the artist conducted The Invitation, where he painted two abandoned Detroit houses white and lit them up to read “Clinton” and “Trump” respectively, extending an invitation to both presidential candidates to sleep a night in unkempt America (which they both promptly declined).

Photo courtesy of Rhea McCauley

 

It isn’t surprising then, that Rosa Parks’ niece Rhea McCauley approached Mendoza to salvage the home: “Not having found anyone through the usual channels to help her finance the restoration of the house, Rhea approached me after having seen the White House project where I saved a different house from demolition,” Mendoza tells The Creators Project. “I worked quietly to get the Rosa Parks’ house into a shipping container, as I suspected the city of Detroit would prefer to demolish a problem rather than to face it.”

The artist felt that Parks’ home would be best looked after outside of its own country, which refused to preserve it, although he does possess a sense of guilt for extracting it from its native land: “Detroit is for me the troubled heart of America. I feel guilty to have taken from it the walls that housed Rosa Parks, the doors she opened and closed, as well as the very floor she walked on, a wooden parquet floor pried piece by piece of the dipping, warped structure she lived in,” adds Mendoza. “But I hope one day, after the house is fully reconstructed in Europe, that it will go back to America, its dignity restored.” 

The house has only recently arrived in Berlin, where Mendoza will spend the next few months rebuilding it. In the meantime, he hopes echoes of its removal resonate across seas: “I hope either President Obama or his successor becomes sensitive to the issue (I know Michelle Obama is) and, in this instance, will catch word of the house that is held hostage across the world—a monument to Rosa Parks’ legacy that was purposely kidnapped in order for America to recognize what it has lost. If the POTUS recognizes that I have absconded with a national monument, deemed mere blight by his governing associates, what will he do? How will he react?”

For more of Ryan Mendoza’s works of urban intervention, visit his website.

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