Influential Detroit artist Aaron Ibn Pori Pitts died on Aug. 13. He was 80.
Declared by Metro Times to be “Artist of the Year” in 2007, Pitts was far more than an artist. He was also an activist, a musician, a poet, and a pillar in the Detroit community that has left a strong legacy. He influenced dancers, poets, and other artists through his work with the Ogun collective.
“I would call him a journey agent because sometimes the conventional ways of becoming an artist, for example, going to school, may not be one’s journey,” says Saffell Gardner, a close friend of Pitts. “Ibn would tell you, you already have the tools needed to begin your journey.”
Gardner adds, “He looked at the community at large as his own family. His mission was always to make people aware of things going on. He was constantly giving back especially to the youth in the community.”
In 2007, Metro Times arts editor Rebecca Mazzei wrote that Pitts “is an elder in Detroit's creative community who believes making art is a sacred act that reclaims spirits. He calls up Ogun, the Yoruban god of warriors and metalworkers (hey, same difference in Detroit too) when seeking the former life of a hubcap or fender.” The artist was known for his found object installations, in addition to collage work and printmaking.
“His ‘improvisational monuments,’ although suggestive of the African and African-American funerary traditions, are not about the end of life; rather, they are shrines for the constant beginning that is evolution,” Mazzei wrote in 2007. “Even the man's name — Aaron Ibn Pori Pitts — has its own rhythm that reverberates like the pulse in his drum beats and poetry, and the patterns in his collaged paintings.”
Born in 1941, Pitts was a Cass Tech graduate, and studied at Los Angeles City College and Odis Art Institute in California before returning to Detroit to obtain a bachelor of fine arts degree from Wayne State University. He founded Black Graphics International in 1969, a local press to publish his own and others’ work.
The son of an auto worker father, Pitts comes from a family of 10 children. He had two sons.
According to his family, Pitts worked for the U.S. Post Office and was also a member and plant leader of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers; a founding member, former president, and Membership Chair of the Michigan chapter of the National Conference of Artists; and artist-in-residence at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.
A memorial service is planned starting at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 17 on the Wayne County Community College northwest campus, 8200 Outer Dr. W., Detroit.