Colombian artist finds home in Detroit

Oct 4, 2017 at 1:00 am

Starting on a motorcycle in Colombia at age 17, Vannessa Circe has been traveling around the world for the past five years, selling her art. The 22-year-old Colombian artist's latest stop was Detroit, where in only two short months she managed to finish a mural.

Drawn to Detroit for an art residency, Circe says she saw it as a place where she could focus on her artwork and make a difference. "I applied to the Forge because I've been interested in Detroit from way before, but I wanted to have a bigger reason to come," she says. "I wanted to connect with the communities and understand more about the city and be able to live Detroit instead of reading about Detroit. ... You see many things about Detroit and it's all negative, but then you have the other side which is beautiful, with the music and culture and everything."

Once here, Circe didn't waste a moment before immersing herself in the local arts and culture community. Amazed by the abundant cultural environment in Detroit, Circe wanted to make something that brought all of these unique cultures together, the inspiration for her project, Unity in Diversity.

"The project is all related to what I'm doing with my art. I feel very connected to the city because it reminds me of my home in Colombia and Latin America in many ways," she says. However, it is also a response to problems she saw here.

"Detroit has so much culture and diversity in one little place, but then there are problems as well," she says. "There are Muslims, African-Americans, Hispanics, all kinds of people, and when you have so much culture in one place, you have an amazing creative environment. But sometimes, because of the history of the place, things get segregated."

Circe says her mission with Unity in Diversity is to celebrate the vibrant cultures of Detroit and bring all of these communities together to create a harmonious, collaborative environment.

The kickoff to this project is a mural in Artist Village, an abandoned warehouse-turned-art studio in Northwest Detroit. "The whole point with the mural is to show our roots and understand first where Michigan came from," Circe says. "The people that were here first, the Natives... how it started with the Potawatomi and expanded to the new communities and immigrants, which is everybody who's here now. And then, when you understand your roots, you can understand the future, because you're not lost anymore."

With the help of Artist Village founder, Chazz Miller, Circe completed the mural in just four days before leaving for another residency in Portugal. The mural is based on a Potawatami legend about three Native American chiefs of warring tribes who encountered each other while wandering in the forest. Brought together by the roots of a beautiful tree, they concluded that they should live in peace. In Circe's mural, each culture is represented by a symbol and connected by the roots of the tree.

The meaning behind the mural is a testament to the intensive research Circe does before beginning any of her pieces. In fact, she says everything she knows is self-taught, inspired by her innate love for nature and culture. "Art gives me the freedom to do what I want to do, which is show cultures, nature, and history," she says. "It's kind of a ticket for me to go all around the world. It's what I need if I want to do bigger things."

By "bigger things," Circe means making a measurable difference within communities, which she has already begun to do in Detroit. "If you see my paintings, it's all about nature, history, cultures, traditions. It's because that's what I've been doing for five years, and that's where I found myself as an artist," she says. "I want to make art for a purpose."

That being said, Circe says her work in Detroit is nowhere near finished. "I have to say, I've been around the U.S. and I've never felt this way with a city. I never felt that I wanted to come back and do huge things with the communities," she says. "The mural is just an introduction."

Artist Village Detroit is located at 17336 Lahser Rd., Detroit;