It’s has been a little over 10 years since Sydney G. James, returned to shift Detroit’s resurgence. Proudly hailing from the East side, the fine arts painter and muralist elevates the city that raised her with images spanning from Highland Park to Hawaii. Much of her work reflects our beauty and capture our struggles, while other pieces exude joy. Yet, they all celebrate our Black heritage. James announced the return of BLKOUT Walls festival, returning this September as a visual display of some of our most talented artists.

The BLKOUT Walls Mural Festival was conceived by James, Thomas “Detour” Evans of Denver, Colorado and Max Sansing of Chicago, Illinois as a direct response to their shared history of participating in mural festivals throughout the country, where there is no remuneration for the participating artists and where there is limited racial diversity among the artists represented. These artists agreed to return to James’ hometown of Detroit, Michigan.

“Being a girl raised or even a person raised in Detroit, it’s a special place. Black love resides here; the work ethic resides here, that hustle resides here,” James says. “No matter what it looks like, it can look dilapidated or it can look built up. But the common thread is the people; you’re gonna feel welcomed and you’re gonna feel like family.”

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Photo provided by Sydney G. James taken by Lamar Landers

The BLKOUT Walls Festival

Conceived as an annual, family-friendly event, the BLKOUT Walls Mural Festival is set to return for two times in, 2023, in the spring and during Detroit Month of Design in September and will occur over a span of ten days. The murals will be created by the twenty selected artists during that ten-day window of time and painted on private and commercial structures throughout Detroit.  

“That’s the beautiful thing we got to see during our inaugural BLKOUT Walls Festival, last year,” James recalls. “People came from out of state just for the festival. People drove in from Richmond. People came from Boston, people came in from as far as California to experience it. I want people to be on the look out for what BLKOUT Walls becomes.”

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Sydney G. James. Photos taken by Lamar Landers

Once you engage with James, 43, it becomes clear why her spirit draws such a collective community of fellow artists. She is unapologetic about her message and represents the ‘Girl Raised in Detroit (G.R.I.N.D)’ moniker given by photographer and filmmaker, Lamar Landers, who she affectionately describes as her “life partner and lover.”

James has made her impact from grass roots to corporate collaborations that include PepsiCo, Ford Motor Company, Detroit Pistons and the Detroit Lions. Her work often portrays current affairs and Black people’s experiences and interactions with the world with family and friends often serving as her muse.

“My peers inspire me more than anything, people that I have legit access to inspire me in different ways. Sabrina Nelson, her son, Mario Moore, Shirley Woodson Reid and Hubert Massey, who was my painting teacher in high school. he’s still a mentor now.” 

Sydney G. James
Sydney G. James Elevates Art 1
Sydney G. James

It’s true that artists are sensitive about their s—, but James protects her peace by disengaging from the negativity spewed by trolls. “I make a point to make if none of my business. There’s a million different perceptions. Every time you meet someone, another perception of you is created. The same goes for art or anything subjective. I can’t control what you think of my work, it’s none of my business.”

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Girl With the D Earring by Sydney G. James; photo taken by Lamar Landers

Success

The pandemic taught James to redefine success as the opposite of traditional beliefs. Her keen response to what success looks like reflects how people from Detroit are different, in a great way.  “We’ve been taught that success looks like stuff: What kind of car you drive, what kind of home you own. It looks like possessions,” says James. “We never talk about what success feels like. Somebody’s therapist told them that the weight of success and the weight of failure, are the same. It just depends on how you work through that weight. Being able to enjoy peace and quiet in your personal space, is success to me.”

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