The American Riad

The American Riad

WE ARE RE-BUILDING THIS CORNER THROUGH ART & CULTURE
IN A 3 YEAR PROJECT OF SKILLSHARES AND PUBLIC ART
BETWEEN MOROCCO AND DETROIT
TO BUILD A COMMUNITY OF AFFORDABLE HOMES AND BUSINESSES WITH DETROITERS

Site for the American Riad - the vacant lot will become a courtyard linking homes and businesses

Site for the American Riad - the vacant lot will become a courtyard linking homes and businesses

Drawing of the Islamic Riad, a shared courtyard that will join repaired homes & businesses

Drawing of the Islamic Riad, a shared courtyard that will join repaired homes & businesses

Cardboard mockup and full-scale aluminum Riad tower (final courtyard construction in Detroit begins June 2017)

Cardboard mockup and full-scale aluminum Riad tower (final courtyard construction in Detroit begins June 2017)

Ghana ThinkTank, Oakland Avenue Artist Coalition, the North End Woodward  Community Organization, Central Detroit Christian CDC, and Affirming Love Ministries Church, have formed a partnership with a think tank in Morocco to rebuild this corner through arts and culture. The courtyard will be a public space for gatherings, workshops, gardening, performances, and the display of local and international art. As we build it, we will work with our neighbors to offer skillshares in art, home-renovation, and setting up your own systems for water filtration and energy collection. 

This art and architecture collaboration will transform abandoned buildings and empty lots into an Islamic Riad: communal housing surrounding an elaborate and beautifully designed courtyard. Rather than demonizing Muslims and immigrants as a threat to American culture and safety, this project instead looks at how we can adopt elements of Islamic and African Culture to solve American problems.

The think tank in Morocco felt that many US problems stem from an Architecture that creates social isolation. They observed that the American dream of the single-family home meant that neighbors are separated from each other. In contrast, they said, Moroccan architecture creates community.

The project will create 8-10 units of affordable - and beautiful - housing and 6 businesses.  By selecting businesses that serve the needs of the North End, and residents interested in preserving the North End’s history as a Black creative corridor, we hope this can be a positive contribution to a growing neighborhood.

Workshops in woodworking and in DIY water filtration led by the Morocco and Indonesia think tanks at the American Riad, in the North End of Detroit

Workshops in woodworking and in DIY water filtration led by the Morocco and Indonesia think tanks at the American Riad, in the North End of Detroit

Members of a think tank in Morocco providing North African solutions to North Americans problems

Members of a think tank in Morocco providing North African solutions to North Americans problems

Small scale manufacturing techniques to rejuvenate housing in the North End

Small scale manufacturing techniques to rejuvenate housing in the North End

Working on the American Riad with North End neighbors

Working on the American Riad with North End neighbors

Assembling the aluminum Riad canopy, Summer 2017

Assembling the aluminum Riad canopy, Summer 2017

American Riad Block Party with Oakland Avenue Artist Coalition and Detroit Poetry Society, June 2017

American Riad Block Party with Oakland Avenue Artist Coalition and Detroit Poetry Society, June 2017

This Ghana ThinkTank project is in collaboration with Central Detroit Christian Community Development Corporation (CDC),NEWCO (NorthEnd Woodward Central Organization), the Oakland Avenue Artist Coalition, and Affirming Love Ministries Church with support from Creative Capital, SUNY Purchase College, SUNY Buffalo, SUNY New Paltz, the SUNY Arts and Humanities Network of Excellence, Williams College Museum of Art, the Center for Learning in Action, and Eugene and Emily Grant. Thanks to Raphael Zollinger and Kat Ermant for all their time and talent in the digital fabrication of the project, and Rachel Owens and Reg Flowers for integrating Theater of the Oppressed techniques into community planning parts of the project, and Eric Wildrick for support in fabrication tests. And, of course, Ulysses Newkirk of OAAC and Roger Robinson of NEWCO, whose work and vision in the North End of Detroit founded the principles and energy for this land trust project.

The American Riad project is a departure from the way Ghana ThinkTank normally works. Rather than be part of a short-term arts exhibition, it is a long term commitment of resources and energy.  We are asking ourselves how opportunities garnered elsewhere (exhibits, performances, etc) can support this work in Detroit. To that end, we would like to thank the Williams College Museum of Art and the University of Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts and the Association of Performing Arts Presenters Building Bridges: Campus Community Engagement Grants Program, a component of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.

 

Climate Change

Climate Change

In 2016, the Williams College Museum of Art commissioned Ghana ThinkTank for a yearlong project focused on Climate Change.  A group of students formed an “Action Team,” who repaired Ghana ThinkTank’s mobile unit (a teardrop trailer built from scratch as a video-booth, meeting place, and mobile workshop) to collect responses to the question:

How does Climate Change affect YOU?    

Collecting "Climate Change Problems" with the Ghana ThinkTank Mobile Unit

Collecting "Climate Change Problems" with the Ghana ThinkTank Mobile Unit

Those problems were then sent to think tanks in Morocco and Indonesia, two countries already grappling with the effects of climate change. The think tanks provided solutions to these US climate change problems, and then travelled to the United States to help implement their solutions.  

Think Tanks in Morocco and Indonesia, two countries already dealing with the effects of Climate Change,  solving US "Climate Change Problems" submitted by Massachussets residents.

Think Tanks in Morocco and Indonesia, two countries already dealing with the effects of Climate Change,  solving US "Climate Change Problems" submitted by Massachussets residents.

This was a breakthrough project for Ghana ThinkTank, as it was our first opportunity to develop the Ghana ThinkTank Process as something external to the members of the Ghana ThinkTank artist collective, as a long term process that can live on without our continuous physical involvement. We worked extensively with Williams to integrate the process into their institutions – into their curricula, work studies, alternative spring break, conferences, and programming. Williams took on this project as their own, and it expanded the space of the exhibition into neighboring communities, and the museum’s collaborators into many different insitutions.  

The centerpiece of the exhibit is a Moroccan Vault, which will travel to Detroit to become a permanent part of the "American Riad Project" when the WCMA show closes in June 2017.

The centerpiece of the exhibit is a Moroccan Vault, which will travel to Detroit to become a permanent part of the "American Riad Project" when the WCMA show closes in June 2017.

Wall text presented solutions from the think tanks - including alternative food sources, tinder for 90-year olds, farming as a social activity, and lessons from Islam. 

Wall text presented solutions from the think tanks - including alternative food sources, tinder for 90-year olds, farming as a social activity, and lessons from Islam. 

Morocco advised us to find replacements for those foods that will disappear from our diets as their cultivation gets harder and harder on a changing planet. Preparing and eating crickets at the opening made us contend with aspects of our food that are usually hidden in a nicely cooked slab of beef.  

Morocco advised us to find replacements for those foods that will disappear from our diets as their cultivation gets harder and harder on a changing planet. Preparing and eating crickets at the opening made us contend with aspects of our food that are usually hidden in a nicely cooked slab of beef.
 

It resulted in an art exhibition that included:

  •  a 21 foot aluminum vault, perforated with Islamic patterns, designed to move to Detroit at the closing of the show to become a permanent part of the courtyard in the American Riad project.
  •  A 10 foot “purple bubble” (Williams school color is purple), squashed between the Islamic Vault and the Ionic Columns of the Williams College Museum of Art’s Rotunda
  • Vinyl type declaring the problems and solutions, ranging from tinder for 90-year olds to rebranding climate change into smaller initiatives acceptable to those who do not believe climate change is affecting (or caused by) them.
  • Videos of people in the Berkshires submitting their climate change problems (for some their climate change problem was that it does not exist) and of the think tanks in Morocco and Indonesia solving these problems
  • A series of tortured “grid walls” – easily modifiable shelving units that could be adapted to contain the changing contents of the exhibition as the think tanks’ solution were enacted

2016 was the year that Donald Trump was elected president. This added an urgency to the project, as the term “climate change” was struck from the EPA’s website and research, and our think tanks in Majority-Muslim countries struggled with the ramifications of Trump’s travel ban.

At this stage of the project, we have received all of the solutions from the think tanks, and are planning their trips for Spring 2017 as we begin to implement Indonesian and Moroccan solutions to U.S. Climate Change problems.        

Mobile Mosque

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Mobile Mosque

In 2016, at the CounterCurrent festival, Ghana ThinkTank built a cart that travelled through Houston asking people to respond to the question "What is your Houston Diversity Problem?" 

One of the problems caught the attention of a think tank of Syrian refugees at a camp in Serbia:
"Texas claims to be so "religious," yet I feel I have to hide five times a day to pray."

The Syrian Refugees came up with the idea of a Mobile Mosque - "he should be able to pray anywhere, in the park, in the street..."

So, in 2017, Ghana ThinkTank returned to the CounterCurrent festival with the Mobile Mosque, an elegant Islamic structure that travelled throughout Houston on flat bed trailers. For one wonderful week, the Muslim community in Houston took over this Mobile Mosque, offering a place for prayer, poetry, music, art, and a fundraiser for Syrian Refugees. The steel components will later travel to Detroit to become part of a long term project focusing on the role of Art in American Islamic relations and Housing Equity.

photo by DAB photo creative

photo by DAB photo creative


Ghana ThinkTank is presented as part of the INTERSECTIONS initiative. INTERSECTIONS is a program of the University of Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts, which seeks to build bridges between visiting artists and Houston’s Muslim and non-Muslim residents, with a focus on University of Houston students.

INTERSECTIONS is made possible in part by the Association of Performing Arts Presenters Building Bridges: Campus Community Engagement Grants Program, a component of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.

photo by DAB photo creative

photo by DAB photo creative

photo by DAB Photo Creative

photo by DAB Photo Creative

photo by DAB photo creative

photo by DAB photo creative

photo by DAB photo creative

photo by DAB photo creative

photo by Asad Ali Jafri

photo by Asad Ali Jafri

Photo by Asad Ali Jafri

Photo by Asad Ali Jafri

building the Mobile Mosque...

building the Mobile Mosque...


The Mobile Mosque would not have been possible without the efforts of these amazing individuals and organizations:

Zeinab Bakhiet
Asad Ali Jafri - http://asadalijafri.com/biography/
Poetry
Write about Now
Rumi Khan
illMuslims - https://www.facebook.com/illMuslims/
Asma Mirza
Pheramor - https://www.f6s.com/pheramorinc
Mashal Awais
Raviteja Nulu
Srajan Bhagat
Hannha Underwood
Tanvi Sharma
DJ Scoop - https://www.mixcloud.com/djscoopmusic/
Shayan Shah
Carrie Schneider
Sabiha Gire
Nadia Gire
Al – Masri Syrian Kitchen
Carmen Garcia
Michael Fares
Isbah Raja
Abeer Javed
Barkat Syed
Kimberly Meyers
Ahlul Bayt Student Organization at the University of Houston - https://www.facebook.com/absouh/
Shawn Jafri
Hussain Syed
Alaa Sallam
Zainab Ghwari
Shireen Haq
Inpowered By One Significant Act, A Yoga Based Charity - https://in-powered.org/
Zain Shauk - Grassroot Islam - https://www.meetup.com/Grassroots-Islam-Houston/
Asra Shah
Melanie Meleekah Villegas
Tamika Evans
Julie Bata
Nation of Islam Mosque No. 45 - https://www.facebook.com/pg/Mosque-No45-112803538816046/about/?ref=page_internal
Eric Muhammad
Monifa Muhammad
Samar Babar - https://www.facebook.com/paletteofstyleart/
Hamida Mitha
Mehreen Arshad
Marium Khan
Noora Alfaham
Tara Blagg
Astrid Sukur
Alia Scheirman
Elissar Saleeba
Muslim Student Association University of Houston - http://uhmsa.com/
United Muslim Relief University of Houston - https://uh.collegiatelink.net/organization/UMRHouston
Deena Habazi
Sixto Wagan
Rachel Afi Quinn
Nick Flynn
Lacy Johnson
Anjali Kanooja
Dina Alsowayel
Hadia Mawlawi
Emran El-Badawi
Claudia Issa Baba
Center for Diversity and Inclusion at University of Houston - http://www.uh.edu/cdi/
Niya Blair
Jaime Gonzales
Kenya Evans
Abdul Rahim Muhammad - http://www.masjidalrasul.com/tx
Preacher Moss - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preacher_Moss
Alan Schnitger - http://stationmuseum.com/
Art League of Houston - http://www.artleaguehouston.org/
Jennie Ash
Zachary Gresham
Aurora Picture Show - http://aurorapictureshow.org/pages/home.asp
Sarah Stauder
Camilo Gonzalez
Blaffer Art Museum - http://blafferartmuseum.org/
Katherine Veneman
Dab Photo Creative Services - https://www.dabfotocreativeservices.com/
Ibrahim Islamic Center - http://www.ibrahimcenter.org/
Imam Khalis Rashaad
Islam in Spanish - https://www.islaminspanish.org/
Levy Park Conservancy - http://levyparkhouston.org/
Doug Overman
Nichole Romano
MATCH - https://matchouston.org/
Rothko Chapel - http://www.rothkochapel.org/
Ashley Clemmer
Mitchelle Center for the Arts - http://www.mitchellcenterforarts.org/
Shawn Abdulla
Pia Agrawal
Karen Farber
Lanna Morris
Trinh Sari Nguyen
Project Row Houses - https://projectrowhouses.org/
Ryan Dennis
Eureka Gilkey
Rick Lowe
Charlie Perez - http://charlieperezmusic.org/
Thomas Helton - http://www.thomashelton.org/Thomas_Helton/Welcome.html
Roxanna Asgarian - https://www.houstoniamag.com/producers/roxanna-asgarian
Kat Ermant
Chandra Josette Giambrone
Michelle Bayer Hernandez
Eric Ling
Nick Moser
Gordana Ristik – NGO Generator - http://generator.org.rs/
Cecilia White
Raphael Zollinger - http://rzollinger.com/
Celina Carney
Oil City Valve Houston - http://www.oilcityvalve.com/
Troy Laser Detroit - http://www.troylaser.com/

 

 

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Mexican Border

Mexican Border

In 2013, Ghana ThinkTank received a Creative Capital Award for Emerging Fields, enabling them to begin the multi-year ThinkTank at the Border project. In this project, they are collecting problems from civilian border patrols like the Minutemen, "Patriot" groups, and Nativist organizations, and bringing them to be solved by think tanks of undocumented workers in San Diego and recently deported immigrants in Tijuana. 

PBS Digital Studios program 'The Art Assignment' followed Ghana ThinkTank to Tijuana to track the Mexican Border project

At this stage in the project, we have met with these opposing groups over 2 years to collect problems and solutions, and are beginning to strategize with the Minutemen groups to implement the solutions from the Immigrant think tanks. Because many people we are working with on this project are operating in precarious legal situations, most of what we are doing has had to remain anonymous, and sometimes even confidential. In an effort to create a public side to this important work, we have spearheaded two more visual and public-facing aspects.

Ghana ThinkTank is working with German designer Adrienne Finzsch to develop a “problem air drop.” Based on her design for international aid drops, we are flipping their intended purpose, dropping packets from an aircraft that ask Mexicans to help solve American’s problems.

In a collaboration with Torolab, an award-winning Mexican art and design group, we have worked with a variety of think tanks in Tijuana to create a border cart designed to help people cross the US/Mexican border. Outfitted with interactive screens, the cart allows people to present problems and give solutions pertaining to immigration and the border, creating a public think tank about the border, at the border.

 

Mitrovica

Mitrovica

As Ghana ThinkTank developed, the collective realized art could be used to create truly unlikely partnerships. The first of such projects was developed in Mitrovica. Subsequent projects include the partnerships across the US/ Mexico Border, African refugees seeking asylum in Israel, and links between the poorest and wealthiest members of Medellin, Columbia.

Mitrovica is a town in Kosovo divided by a river. To the North are the Serbs. To the South are the Albanians. In between is a bridge, guarded by international troops with military vehicles. Following the Kosovo war, Mitrovica became a symbol of Kosovo's ethnic divisions. When Ghana ThinkTank began a project there in 2011, they found people on both sides who had not crossed the bridge since the war began in 1999.

Ghana ThinkTank applied its process to Mitrovica, collecting problems on one side of the Ibar River, and sending them across to be solved.

Problems such as “I don’t feel safe to cross the bridge,” and “I feel like I am a guest in my own home,” demonstrated the war-torn isolation felt by the people on both sides. 

The experience was full of both hope and fear, but in the end, people who had not crossed the bridge since the war began came across to work with the other side.

We are grateful to CEC ArtsLink and SUNY Purchase College School of Art and Design for their support, and Aaron Krach for his invaluable help, as well as our Serb and Albanian counterparts.


 

Westport

Westport

One of Ghana ThinkTank’s earliest projects was based in Westport Connecticut, where they collected problems from this predominantly white, upper-class community and sent them to think tanks in Cuba, Ghana and El Salvador. The solutions proposed by the think tanks, no matter how brilliant or seemingly impractical, were taken seriously and implemented in Westport. 

One recurring problem submitted by Westport residents was about the lack of diversity. “We are mostly white and wealthy,” they complained. The think tank in El Salvador pointed out that there was likely plenty of diversity in Westport, when you consider who was tending their yards and doing their laundry - they just weren’t seeing it. As a solution, day laborers were hired at their hourly rate to attend social functions in Westport.

Other problems included barking dogs and pesticide use. The think tanks suggested renaming a dog "love" to get him to stop barking and a dandelion promotion campaign including dandelion recipe-books, replanting workshops and a dandelion festival.

The resulting art installation was presented during the Optimism show at the Westport Art Center.

 

Morocco

Morocco

In 2013 the U.S. State Department and Bronx Museum of Art selected Ghana ThinkTank to work as cultural ambassadors in Morocco. The project was part of smARTpower, which sends American visual artists abroad to collaborate with local artists and young people around the world on community-based art projects.

Ghana ThinkTank commissioned a local painter to depict his perception of American problems on a donkey cart that was then converted into a solar-powered media center and teahouse. Traveling through rural villages in the cart, Ghana ThinkTank asked locals to help solve problems that were submitted by Americans. 

Moroccans focused on Americans’ social isolation: “Your problem is your architecture,” some said. “Each family is separated from others.” Their solution: Stop the American obsession with single-family homes, and instead build Moroccan-style Riads, which are comprised of shared housing surrounding a common courtyard.

This project has become the most far-reaching of any of our efforts so far, turning into what will be a 5 year project in its own right as we implement the Moroccan think tank solution as an engine for stimulating cultural end economic rejuvenation in the north end of Detroit.  Click here to go view the Detroit project.

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African Refugees

African Refugees

Ghana ThinkTank projects in the Middle East focus on facilitating contact between groups that are historically or politically polarized. 

In 2014, Ghana ThinkTank was invited by ArtPort Gallery in Tel Aviv to collaborate with curator Maayan Sheleff to create an interchange between African refugees seeking asylum in Israel, and local residents who resented their presence.

Working with Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers along with local Israelis, they organized think tanks that collected problems from residents of the neglected neighborhood of South Tel Aviv as well as African refugees living in that same neighborhood. They asked each group to solve the problems of the other.  Community members, the organized think tanks, and local organizations created plans to implement the proposed solutions.  Solutions included an all female civilian patrol outfitted in uniforms of African cloth (image)

This effort to create constructive contact between groups was featured as part of a Tel Aviv-based art show “The Infiltrators.”

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China

China

During the 2011 Hong Kong/Shenzen Biennial, Ghana ThinkTank assembled an octagonal wooden tube meant to be a knock-off of a pneumatic fender for a shipping freighter, clad in 32 chained tires. 

Each tire had a screen with videos of Chinese citizens voicing their problems. On the tail end, visitors were able to add their own problems through a video booth. The pod was surrounded by satellites that presented Ghana ThinkTank’s work in other cities.

This project provided an anonymous way to discuss the issues Chinese citizens face today, in a country where speaking out politically can have serious repercussions.

 

Germany

Germany

As part of the show “The Global Contemporary | Art Worlds After 1989” at ZKM, problems were collected from the citizens of Karlsruhe, Germany and sent to think tanks in Ghana, Mexico, Serbia, Cambodia and the Gaza Strip for resolution. 

The solutions involved hiring Africans from a charismatic church to attend German social functions, pitting neighboring yet disconnected communities against each other in street chess, organizing a real-life telenovela that included a cheating husband, a bitch slap, and a jello fight, and arranging Parkour lessons to show the citizens of Karlsruhe that no city lacks topography.

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The installation was built in a former equestrian training center in the suburbs of Karlsruhe, piled onto a trailer built to transport small airplanes, and towed by a bright orange vintage Ford Transit to the ZKM Contemporary Art Center. 

The installation involved a landscape-like series of bevels crafted from synthetic aged wood, populated with a vintage cassette player full of funny, dirty stories told by elderly Germans, manikin-tops in t-shirts, and a machine for collecting problems that asks “WAS IST DEIN PROBLEM?”

 

Netherlands

Netherlands

Ghana ThinkTank was invited by the Museum De Lakenhal to travel to the Netherlands to spark a dialogue about the problems and concerns of the citizens of Leiden in regards to globalization. The project coincided with the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris and the problem most-mentioned was the discrimination of Muslims and the rise of intolerance in the Netherlands. 

Solutions proposed by several of the think tanks in Islamic countries called on the Dutch to reconnect with their history with Islam and how it helped foster tolerance during the nation’s founding. (A crescent moon sits over the top of city hall).  Ghana ThinkTank sought to bring the tolerance represented by Islam and merge it with a symbolic beacon of tolerance in the Netherlands. They found it in the Anne Frank House.

The result was Monument to the Dutch, an installation that was part of the Global Imaginations exhibit at the Museum De Lakenhal. The centerpiece was a re-creation of the Anne Frank House, depicted as an Islamic prayer room, and featured a video of the think tanks discussing Dutch problems and historical placards linking Islam and the Dutch history as a tolerant nation.

 

Austin, TX

Austin, TX

In 2015, The Fusebox Festival, working with the City of Austin and thinkEast Developers, through a grant from ArtPlace America, commissioned Ghana ThinkTank to help interrogate people's assumptions about the roles they play in the gentrification process.

After several months of interviewing people concerned by, or involved in the process of, gentrification - including developers, community activists, new residents, long-term residents, city-councilors and small business owners – Ghana ThinkTank devised a way to activate this process publicly. We built a candy-looking folding cart mounted on wheels taken from a girl’s bicycle, with two benches facing each other. Each bench was labeled with an obnoxious LED screen in bright green pixels, giving audiences two options of where to sit: "GENTRIFIERS!" or "GENTRIFIED!" and linked to its own custom app.

Those who identified as GENTRIFIERS sat at the “What’s your Austin Problem?” app, where they were instructed to record their personal problems with Austin.

Those who identified as GENTRIFIED sat at the “What’s Your Solution?” app, where they could swipe through a growing list of 100+ problems people had submitted about Austin. 

This was an attempt to apply the flipped power dynamic, central to the Ghana ThinkTank process, to Austin in an accessible and localized way.

The cart traveled to parts of Austin known for gentrification. Some neighborhoods were on the verge of gentrification, and others had entirely been changed over to craft beer, lattes, yoga, and prix fixe farm-to-table menus. 

It asked neighbors who are unwittingly competing against each other, sometimes despite their best intentions, to recognize the effects of their housing decisions.