Judy Bowman’s ‘Gratiot Griot’ exhibit is straight up Detroit swag. And it’s all made out of paper.

The mixed-media collage artist’s first solo museum show is on view at MOCAD

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click to enlarge Judy Bowman, the master collage artist. - Photo by Daniel Ribar, Courtesy of Commissioner
Photo by Daniel Ribar, Courtesy of Commissioner
Judy Bowman, the master collage artist.

When God or whoever is out there made Detroiters, they sprinkled ingenuity on top of heaping amounts of creativity, grit, and talent. Our city is abundant with artists who fuel the city’s creative undertow, from painters to poets and performance artists and everything in between.

This revitalized Metro Times feature will highlight a different artist each week. Got someone in mind you think deserves the spotlight? Hit us up at [email protected].

Artist of the week: Judy Bowman

Anyone can make a collage with magazine and paper cutouts, but no one can do it like Judy Bowman.

The mixed-media collage artist has a knack for finding complex prints and swatches that perfectly match her subjects. She captures the scruffy texture of a man’s beard, the funky pattern on a jazz man’s jacket, and the swagger of a young father with illustrious paper sourced from all over the world.

She patches the cutouts together in a way that makes the viewer do a double take, as they ask, “wait, she made all this out of paper?”

Bowman was born and raised in Detroit’s Black Bottom neighborhood, just off Gratiot Avenue. It’s probably why her work has so much soul in its depiction of Black life, music, and culture.

Her collages recreate familiar scenes for anyone who grew up Black, like adults playing a spirited game of cards while the kids goof off on the other side of the room, or a group of old heads dressed to the nines with their suits, fedoras, and Rolexes like they’re heading to an Isley Brothers concert.

This piece, appropriately named “Detroit Swagger,” is one of Bowman’s newest works which debuted in her Gratiot Griot exhibit this October.

Surprisingly, Gratiot Griot is the art veteran’s first solo museum show and combines both new and older pieces.

click to enlarge Judy Bowman's "Golden Time of Day". - Courtesy of Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit
Courtesy of Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit
Judy Bowman's "Golden Time of Day".

And the work doesn’t just lie flat. Pieces like “The Golden Time of Day” (which we’re pretty sure was named after the Maze and Frankie Beverly song) hang off the canvas, almost as an invitation to viewers.

When you hear the word “collage,” you may think of something you’d make at a Friendsgiving craft party. But Bowman’s work is far from that. The depth of highlights and shadows she recreates in her subject’s skin alone sets her apart.

Bowman’s work appears in permanent collections at the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Historical Museum, Georgetown University Library, and the Flint Institute of Arts. Homegirl has also exhibited nationally with the Eric Firestone Gallery, was a 2018 winner of the Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series at SCOPE Miami, Art Basel, and is a 2021 Kresge Visual Arts Fellow.

In West African traditions, a “griot” is a storyteller who preserves the cultural legacy and histories of their people.

Bowman is the Gratiot Griot: an artist who uses collage to put the stories, sights, and sounds of the Blackest city in the country (that’s Detroit) on paper.

Where to see her work: Gratiot Griot is on view at the Museum of Contemporary Detroit (aka MOCAD) until March 25, 2023; 4454 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313- 832-6622; mocadetroit.org.

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About The Author

Randiah Camille Green

After living in Japan and traveling across Asia, Randiah Camille Green realized Detroit will always be home. And when she says Detroit, she's talking about the hood, not the suburbs. She has bylines in Planet Detroit News , Bridge Detroit , BLAC magazine, and Model D . Her favorite pastimes are meditating...
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