Aretha SuperNatural: Tribute to the Queen | THE SHOW

The show, the whole show, and nothing but the show….

Curated by John Sims and Omo Misha, Aretha SuperNatural: Tribute to the Queen was organized in response to the passing of Detroit’s own, Aretha Franklin. The exhibition included representational, figurative, sculptural, conceptual and literary work from Detroit local and native artists, along with artists from New York, Philadelphia, Arizona, and California. SuperNatural Woman ran from September 21, 2018 –  January 21, 2019. Please feel free to inquire about any of the following exhibited works:

John Sims (Curator)
Hurricane Aretha: Reign of a Queen
Curatorial Video Project

“When I think of a powerful expression of nature and its complex beauty, I think of a hurricane, with its enormous reach, peaceful center, and capacity to transform boundaries of where land meets water meets air. After surviving Hurricane Irma and living to write about it, I have come to understand and appreciate the power and soul of nature and its capacity to express the harsh physics and loving spirit of the universe, unaccountable to the whims of human follies and intervention. When I think of the powerful expression of the human supernatural and its complex majesty, I think also of Aretha Franklin, a blessed hurricane of love, soul, and justice.

It has been not long since our Queen of Soul — force of nature, a gift from the heavens — left us. The loss is still fresh as we continue to mourn, reflect, and find our unique way to both collectively and personally celebrate her life, legacy, and greatness as an American legend and worldwide soul ambassador. She gave us so much. She taught us the power of respect, grace, and our responsibility to think. She inspired multiple generations from multiple places: spiritual, social, cultural, and political. Her voice led a grieving nation through our lowest moment with the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and to our most resurrective high with the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

The loss of Aretha Franklin is very deep and quite immeasurable, especially for us Detroiters. This was ever so evident with the epic nine-hour Greater Grace funeral fit for royalty. I never thought a funeral could be a conference, festival, and family reunion all wrapped into one space and time, with all of the media drama that comes with family. This event also caused us to think, talk, and write about an unforgettable woman, era, and the great city of Detroit and culture that produced her. In the piece, “Aretha Franklin: Detroit Conversation” I co-wrote with Alisea Williams-Mcleod, another Detroit native, we discussed the past, present, and future of our hometown city, our black community, our country, and what we can learn from the life and art of Aretha Franklin.”   — Read more: Hurricane Aretha | Detroit METRO TIMES

He has worked with a wide range of artists including Sol LeWitt, Karen Finley, and Dread Scott. Sims has lectured and exhibited widely including in Hungary, Spain, Israel and Argentina and most recently in Slovenia. In 2017, he made the National Coalition of Against Censorship’s list of Top Free Speech Offenders and Defenders, as a defender.

His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, CNN, NBC News, The Guardian, The Root, ThinkProgress, Al Jazeera, Guernica, Art in America, Transition, Sculpture, Science News, Nature and Scientific American. He has written for CNN, Al Jazeera, The Huffington Post, Guernica Magazine, The Rumpus, and The Grio.

Makeba Rainey
Original digital print
8 in. x 10 in.

Jason Phillips
Queen of Soul
Oil, Gold leaf on canvas $2,500
Giclée/Artist proof on paper $350
30 on. x 30 in.

Like many native Detroiters, Jason Phillips grew up in a home where Franklin was often coming out of his parents’ stereo. “I don’t normally do fan art,” Phillips told The Detroit News “but we lost a legend. So I stepped outside my box and paid tribute to Aretha.”

Phillips pulled the image of a young Franklin off the internet, a black-and-white picture in which she’s wearing a white hood that frames her face. The artist often adds 23-carat gold leaf to his oil paintings — and in this case changed the white hood to gilt. “I wanted to gold-leaf the garment,” Phillips said, “to give her an angelic look.” He succeeded.

Phillips did the portrait all in one day shortly after Franklin’s death. He said he was pleased to see how well it fits in with a larger series he’s working on which he’s titled “Black Girl Magic.” The portraits, mostly of non-famous women, he said, “has an Afro-punk, Afro-futurist slant to it.”

And why paint Aretha? “Aw man,” Phillips said with a laugh. “She was like the original diva for me. She definitely represented Detroit to the fullest. And you know, of course, her music touched the world.”

Adapted from Detroit News article, Aretha: a muse for fine artists
Michael Hodges | Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

Owner of the Detroit Ink Spot Tattoo Studio and Co-founder of the Black Tattoo Art & Music Expo, Phillips earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Wayne State University. His work has been shown nationally in galleries and museums.  The most recent addition to his public art collection is the 240 square foot oil painting located in the front lobby of Advantage Health Family Service Center in Warren, MI.  Jason’s illustrations have been published in University of Michigan’s “Michigan Project on Oral Language, Writing, and Reading” project, which resulted in a series of books created to assist with language development for school age children.

Artis Lane
Portrait of Aretha Franklin
(Courtesy of N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Arts)
Circa 1980
24 in., x 35 in., Pastel on paper

This rare Artis Lane portrait stems from the original artwork series developed for Who’s Zoomin’ Who? – the thirtieth studio album by Aretha Franklin, released by Arista Records in 1985.

Considered Franklin’s comeback album, Who’s Zoomin’ Who? became her highest-charting album since Young, Gifted and Black (1972) and her first and only studio album to earn a platinum certification from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), with over one million copies physically distributed. A top ten entry in New Zealand and Sweden, the album also went platinum in Canada and reached silver status in the United Kingdom. Freeway of Love, the album’s lead single, proved both a commercial success, as well as a career achievement for Franklin, earning her a Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance while holding the number-one position on Billboard‘s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart for five consecutive weeks. Artis Lane’s respected talent was sought to create the cover portrait for this recording, which would become one of Franklin’s seminal works.

Widely known for her sculptures, Lane’s commissions include a series of bronze portraits for the Soul Train Awards, a bronze portrait of Rosa Parks for the Smithsonian Institution and designing the original logo for the Dance Theatre of Harlem. She has created public sculptures of prominent figures, including former President George H. W. Bush, Bill Cosby, Walter Annenberg, Michael Jordan, Gordon Getty, Nelson Mandela and Henry Kissinger. The National Congress of Black Women commissioned Lane to create a bronze bust depicting women’s-right advocate and abolitionist, Sojourner Truth. The bust was unveiled in 2009 by First Lady Michelle Obama for permanent display in the Emancipation Hall at the Capitol Visitor Centre. Lane was honored in 2013 as recipient of the Women’s Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award. She currently resides in Los Angeles, California.

Lorna Colin Braxton
12 in. x 18 in., Glass mosaic on wood

Cyrah Dardas
36 in. x 36 in., Acrylic on Hardwood panel

“Through hardship I connect to my practice as an artist as a means of channeling the Divine Feminine energy. When feeling this connection to the higher power, I feel a strength and creativity in me that my body could not create on its own. In this way, I feel I am fortified by women around me and those that have come before me. I believe Aretha Franklin understood this power and channeled it with such mastery that she has become a symbol of feminine power.

Themes of Femininity are central to my work. My materials, as well as my method of employing them nod to traditional women’s craft. I often use fabric within my paintings or, use textile pattern to inform my aesthetic decisions. I am concerned with radical liberation and its connection to sexual liberation. I am interested in exploring intimate justice; the ability for women to be sexually and interpersonally satisfied. I exaggerate and amplify my color palate; to create vibrations within the viewer that symbolize, to me, the female body.
“Resilience” is a piece in homage to the fortitude that women are so often forced to exhibit and the beauty we exude despite. Even in inhospitable and potentially dangerous situations we somehow persist, grow and often are the means for growth of those around us.”

Cyrah received a Bachelors in Fine Art with emphasis in Education from Wayne State University in 2015. She has worked locally and internationally as an art educator; facilitating art classes, open studios and after school programming with youth. Cyrah, alongside co- facilitator Bree Gant, founded an Intersectional femme artist collective called Art Babes, a group dedicated to creating supportive spaces for femme creatives to make work, share resources, and promote themselves. Led by Cyrah and Bree, Art Babes have exhibited in 2 shows already and have more in process for 2018.


Amber Doe
Superwoman’s Cape, 2014
48 in. x 75 in., Cotton, asstd. fibers

“I read somewhere that she used to wear capes early on in her career. Capes symbolize something super and magical but they are also protective. They are an indication of something out of the ordinary, spectacular, and there is no doubt that Aretha, her voice and her being, were way beyond anything the world had ever experienced.

The material and composition of this cape speaks to Aretha’s power and perseverance as a black woman. I use cotton in my work as a reference and a reminder of the fact that African-Americans were at one point in American society considered a commodity or cash crop, like cotton.”

Our SuperWoman’s Cape is not gilded, shiny or red. It is not flowing in the great blue beyond. It is tattered and torn, shredded but whole. It is culled from the fields from which our foremothers toiled. It holds secrets and pain,  yet continues to nurture life. Its beauty is in its story; its sweat, tears, and purpose.

Aretha carried this burden and blessing in her voice,  lived this truth with her life, and privately wrapped herself this figurative cape when the dark of night descended….

Doe received a Bachelor of Arts from Sarah Lawrence College with a concentration in sculpture and filmmaking in 2002. She was raised on an Indian reservation outside Charlotte, NC and Philadelphia, PA, and currently lives in Arizona.

Amir Bey
She Brings the Gift of Music (Equinox Celebration Tarot Mobiles)
2017 – 2018
12 in. x 18 in. – 14 in. x 18 in., Sheet metal
$250 – $450

Mythology and history are foundations of Amir Bey’s work. The figures in the Equinox Celebration Tarot series have been evolving since 1976. Throughout these decades, Aretha Franklin has been a constant. And she, too, a work of art, was evolving.

There have been four series of these images: the original stone carvings, bronze casts, and two series of mobiles cut in thin sheet metal. Part of this final series, She Brings the Gift of Music, refers to the abundance that Queen Aretha brought to people. Aretha’s abundance, not only in music, but in character, in spirit, and in being, was a gift to mankind for decades – lifetimes, even. She was the gift that flowed through her music.

Bey collaborates with performers, creating costumes, and set designs, used in performances. He has performed with or had work in collaboration with Idris Ackamoor, Rhodessa Jones, Saco Yasuma, Lorna Littleway, Maria Mitchell, Tayuta Pilgrim, and most recently the Elevated Moon series with reed player and composer JD Parran. He has exhibited and collaborated internationally, including Japan, Turkey, Martinique, Spain, and Germany. Curating and organizing over 100 exhibits and events, he has often combined exhibitions and performances held mainly in the New York City area. In Berkeley, California, he was a radio program producer and broadcaster at Pacifica Foundation’s KPFA-FM, in shows such as The Souls of Black Folk, 3rd World News, and his own show, Black Air, in the early 1970s. Later, he broadcast Parallels between South Africa and the United States at Pacifica’s WBAI-FM in New York. Bey’s. The Procession of Folk #3, a series of twelve sculpted faces are permanently installed by the MTA, New York City’s transit system.

Noreen Dean Dresser
Earth Series
14 in x 18 in. ea., Soil, stone, acrylic on linen
$1,000 ea.

“There are few individuals who truly master their craft as did Ms. Franklin. As a visual artist I cannot describe her technical depths. I do know she was singular. The sound of her voice would echo in my depths before I could even bring my lived experience to her words. I heard Respect in my first year of High School, she would continue to shape for me the experience of my generation. Respect was followed by Think that pushed open a window to radically understand another. For me as a young activist in the community her voice was sound track for action raising a level of feeling that shaped a new way of listening. She was a vehicle of grace hard wrought from this earth that rescued despair with self-empowerment. She sang me through what I lived through decade by decade.

Many more knowledgeable will speak to her background in Gospel, I only know the tremors of my own soul stirring as I listened to her. She opened doors and made our worlds bigger and joined across color and fortune. She modeled a testimony of life that could wring love from rocks. She made us demand better of ourselves and each other.

Earth is source and richness for this series of work. Spinning out into the velvet blackness of mystery and power. Flashes of light emerge pushing the creative spark. The media here is simple tools of the foundational brown earth and soil, acrylic on linen.”

Ingrid LaFleur
(Untitled) Traveling to Turiya Series

Traveling to Turiya is a sculpture installation that outlines how to attain turiya – pure consciousness in Hindu philosophy. Commissioned by the Arcus Center for Social Justice at Kalamazoo College in Michigan and originally inspired by Alice Coltrane, the series includes thirty-one sculptures involving over twenty varieties of crystals – such as pyrite, black tourmaline, amethyst, and bismuth – that LaFleur believes can heal traumas and help us transcend the cosmos.

Through Traveling to Turiya: The Future Mapping Project, LaFleur investigates the theory that de-colonial futures can be created only when all trauma is cleansed from the body. Transcending the human experience is the only safe place where futures can be imagined freely without limitation. While the installation is based on Coltrane, it speaks about the ability power of the Black woman to elegantly and creatively transcend oppressive forces, which LaFleur believes Aretha Franklin embodies. Franklin transcended many traumas, known and speculated, found and protected own safe space from which to create, share and, ultimately, change the world.

As a recent Detroit Mayoral candidate and founder and director of AFROTOPIA, LaFleur implements Afrofuturist strategies to empower Black bodies and oppressed communities through frameworks such as blockchain, cryptocurrency, and universal basic income. Ingrid LaFleur is currently the co-founder and Chief Community Officer of EOS Detroit.

As a thought leader, social justice technologist, public speaker, teacher and cultural advisor she has led conversations and workshops at Centre Pompidou (Paris), TEDxBrooklyn, TEDxDetroit, Ideas City, New Museum (New York), AfroTech Conference, Harvard University and Oxford University, among others. She serves as board chair of Powerhouse Productions, a founding member of the Detroit Culture Council, board member of the Cooley Reuse Project and ONE Mile, and advisory board member of Culture Lab Detroit.
LaFleur is based in Detroit, Michigan.

Beau McCall
Pretty Bald
Buttons and mixed media

Pretty Bald addresses the issues African American women face with standards of beauty, particularly hair. The text at the bottom of the piece reads “Freedom” which an individual might attain when she accepts and has achieved her own personal standard of beauty; the line also references the powerful refrain in the Aretha song “Think”. Through her music and personal style, Aretha Franklin became an advocate for women’s empowerment and freedom, as well as a fashion icon, in her own right. She exuded confidence in both her beauty and power, whether she wore a press and curl, an afro, or a wig; whether she was big or small; whether she was in stellar health or in her final moments, unwell. Franklin donned many styles and looks over the course of her public life, and never seemed to hide behind any one of them. She exercised the freedom to change and to oscillate – musically and visually. The figure in my piece has removed her wig and found “freedom,” as Aretha sang, by embracing her natural hair. The piece urges us all to find the beauty in everything, naturally, that we are.

Donald Calloway
Find Me An Angel
24 in. x 10 in., Mixed media, acrylic paint, wood

Donald Calloway
You Hurt Me for the Last Time
Mixed media, acrylic paint, wood

Donald Calloway
Red Heart
Mixed media, acrylic paint, wood

Donald Calloway
Super Natural
24 in. x 60 in., Mixed media on bi-fold door

Aretha Franklin sang a pain and passion that stirred the whole world. She brought God to the ears of the unbeliever. She opened and lived within our hearts and became the Heart of Detroit. Nails, shackles, and other objects of subjugation and pain found in these works, in contrast to soft hearts, bring Aretha to mind – the stories of love, pain, desire and demand that she told; the loving spirit that kept her in Detroit, serving her family, church, and community, and; her tough as nails, scar-less exterior which served as a dynamic feminine vessel. The pieces are dedicated to Aretha, her interior softness, her woman-ness, her undeniable existence as a SuperNatural Woman.

Calloway’s mixed-media art specializes in oils, watercolors, pastels, drawings, paintings and sculptures. Although Calloway delve in numerous outlets, his meticulous constructions, intentional brush strokes, and bold use of colors erupt a unique and aesthetically dynamic vision that grabs his audience no matter what style or medium. Calloway has exhibited his artwork at the Charles H Wright Museum of African-American History, Arts Extended Gallery, Delta Sigma Theta, and the National Conference of Artists (to name a few). In addition, his art has also taken him to such cities as New York, Washington D.C., and Chicago, however despite Calloway’s out of state success, he proudly proclaims that Detroit is always considered home.

Calloway has been heavily dedicated to the Detroit community through his art mentorship program organized by The Arts League. He says, “Art fuels his positive attitude.”

Marsha Music
JOES RECORD SHOP: From Hastings to 12th Street
Essay and photostory

“I wasn’t literally born in a record shop, but I might as well have been, growing up as I did, the daughter of a legendary pre-Motown record producer – Joe Von Battle – and working and playing in our records shops during all of my young years.

I have had a unique view of America’s economic and musical explosion of the last half of the 20th century. I grew up in Highland Park –  a “city within the city” of Detroit – during its lush, green, prosperous days. However,  I spent a good part of my life around my father’s old Hastings Street and 12th Street record shops. I was witness to the intense “street life” and the excitement of music and life in the tumultuous 1960’s.

Hastings Street was the western border of and main thoroughfare of Black Bottom – the community to which most African Americans coming to Detroit from the South were relegated, due to segregation. After the demolition of Detroit’s Black Bottom, starting in the late 1940’s, Hastings Street survived until about 1960. The record shop was then demolished to create the I-375, aka Chrysler Freeway. After the destruction of Hastings, the record shop moved, with other surviving businesses, to the West Side of Detroit, on 12th Street.

Down Hastings Street was New Bethel Baptist Church, and Joe Von Battle began hearing about the extraordinary preaching of the Reverend C.L. Franklin (father of Aretha). Reverend Franklin’s church services were played live on radio and heard far and wide in the Detroit area and beyond; he was already regarded a phenomenon – “a preaching machine.” My father heard about Franklin’s gifts as preacher and singer, and he began visiting the church to hear “the man with the million-dollar voice.”

Soon, Joe was recording Rev. Franklin’s Sunday night sermons and songs, mostly on the Battle and Von labels. Joe Von Battle was the sole producer/recorder of the sermons of Reverend Franklin and this was a relationship – and friendship –  that was to last through 75+ albums and records, for many years. My father initially released and distributed the records himself, mailing them all over the country as demand for them increased. After a time, the songs and sermons of especially Reverend Franklin were mainly released and distributed by Chess records, where my father had numerous recording and financial arrangements.

My father would play Rev. C.L. Franklin records through loud-speakers onto the street, and passersby would gather in great crowds to hear the sermons and Psalms; the police often came to control the crowds. Joe’s recordings of Rev. Franklin’s sermons, done at the church, were clear and electrifying, capturing the excitement of Franklin’s choir and church services.

Many a night after church, Ms. Aretha, Reverend Franklin’s daughter, sat playing that piano and having a good time with my older half-brother and three half-sisters, who worked at the shop with my father (in later years, my brother and I surely plunked that old instrument out of tune). Joe Von Battle was the first to record her voice as she sang in the New Bethel Baptist church choir. He produced her first record, the gospel song, “Never Grow Old” when she was 14, and went on to produce many of her gospel songs before she moved to the larger record labels to sing secular music.

Musicians from far and wide found their way to Joe’s Record shop. Today, the remaining Blues and “religious” records that he recorded are repositories of an important part of the history of early R&B and modern Gospel. They are pure, raw and unadorned by later contrivances and techniques.”

Ms. Music is a self- described “primordial Detroiter,” and a “Detroitist”. She became an activist in her early teens in the social tumult of the late sixties, and was founding member of the iconic League of Revolutionary Black Workers. She was later a labor union president – the first Black, first woman and youngest in her local union’s history. Throughout all, she has been a writer, and has penned acclaimed essays, poems and narratives about the city’s music, and its past and future. She is a self-educated scholar, a noted speaker and presenter, and has contributed to important anthologies, narratives, films, oral histories, and an HBO documentary. In 2017 she was a narrator in the documentary film 12th and Clairmount.

Ms. Music was awarded a 2012 Kresge Literary Arts Fellowship, as well as a 2015 Knight Arts Challenge award; she was a 2015 Ideas City Detroit Fellow, and has received accolades for her One Woman Show, Marsha Music – Live On Hastings Street! In 2015, she was commissioned to create a poem about Detroit for the acclaimed Symphony in D, which she read in performances with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

A Detroit cultural luminary, Marsha was the opening speaker for the July, 2016 opening of the Detroit ’67 project at the Detroit Historical Museum, and was commissioned to create a poem for the Belle Isle Conservancy. She plans a book and a documentary film about her father’s record shop, with veteran Detroit film-maker Juanita Anderson, as well as a memoir of her own amazing life.  In addition to her writing, she pursues a life of fiberworks, cultural events, and style.

Steven Lopez
After Midnight Series 5: Aretha Franklin (Dr. EZ Remix)
Time-lapse video

“I cannot ignore the voice and sheer talent that Aretha Franklin has showcased. Let it be known that she is the quintessential Queen of Soul. I’ve always enjoyed her popular songs such as, Respect, Think, and Natural Woman. Such hits were created when she signed to Atlantic Records. Her albums, Lady Soul and Soul 69 show how deep the woman can go. When I got older I started looking back at her years when she was with Columbia Records. I was taken back to hear a different sound than what I was used to. I heard a strong jazz influence. I loved it! Songs like Nobody Like You and Skylark are some of her best songs from Columbia. A deeper appreciation for her music came from my soul searching of Aretha. It was her Columbia years that I chose the song for this episode. I was happy to have on board DJ Drez remixing her song, One Step Ahead. He gave it a little update that I find enjoyable and fitting to my style of painting. Drez has been a strong pillar in LA’s Hip Hop culture and continues to push the sound to new levels. Having him on the After Midnight series is a blessing and a new direction.”

Lopez’s work can be found within a myriad of corporate and private art collections both in the United States and abroad. His After Midnight Series is dedicated to African American women soul singers including Chaka Khan, Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keys, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott and, most notably, Aretha Franklin. The video series highlights audio collaborations with DJs and demonstrates his artistic process. Lopez currently lives and works in the City of Los Angeles.

Kim Hunter
don’t believe in royalty

Omo Misha (Curator)
Made in Detroit
48 in. x 48 in., Acrylic on canvas

“To be Made in Detroit is to have lived this great music, which lingers in the near and far reaches of the psyche like freshly baked bread. The legendary Detroit artists became a part and parcel of our identities: Aretha, especially, because her voice rang the purest, her spirit the most unbridled and, notably, because she stayed the longest. If you have lived Detroit you have lived Aretha – just as though you have lived a mother, aunt, sister, cousin, or best friend. She is a  family member n the hearts of all true Detroiters. She flowed through the atmosphere in your home, rolled off the tip of your mother’s tongue, and was intricately woven into the very fabric of this city. Even now, it is hard to imagine a Detroit without Aretha. At the same time I believe that a talent that rich, a spirit that strong, can never truly die.” 

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