From Detroit with love

An uprooted piece of civil rights history or a conceptual art piece? Opening on April 8, The Rosa Parks House begs the question, exhibiting the civil right's leader's midcentury Detroit residence, dissembled and conveyed to Berlin via freighter.

Image for From Detroit with love

Rosa Parks’ house, mid-Berlin reconstruction. Photo by Fabia Mendoza

At the bottom of an unassuming cul de sac near Wedding’s Pankstraße station, sandwiched in between the usual low-slung, boxy concrete apartment buildings, there’s a shabby two-storey black and white wooden house pulled straight from the decaying American Midwest. Its presence there is jarring, all the more so once you learn that this is the 1957-1959 Detroit residence of US civil rights leader Rosa Parks, most famous for refusing to give her seat up to a white woman on an Alabama city bus. She moved to Detroit with her husband when she was in her mid-forties, two years after the bus incident.

What’s going on? A conceptual art project, of course, spearheaded by Berlin-based American artist Ryan Mendoza. The 35-year-old had already gained notoriety last year for relocating a neglected house from Detroit’s inner city to a museum in Antwerp in a project called The White House. The work caught the attention of Rosa Parks’ niece, Rhea McCauley, who was determined to save her aunt’s former home from imminent demolition after prior requests to preservation agencies fell upon deaf ears. She contacted Mendoza, who put up the money to buy the house off of the demolition list and, naturally, bring it to Berlin.

And so the derelict house was deconstructed piece by piece, its every eave and slab of siding loaded into a shipping container and conveyed across the Atlantic via freighter. You can visit the finished reconstruction this month, with McCauley herself attending the April 8 opening. There’ll also be a screening of Mendoza’s wife Fabia’s documentary on The White House at Babylon and a photo exhibition of Mendoza’s prior works at Mitte’s CWC Gallery. Although the house stands barren on the inside and visitors are prohibited from entering, at night it glows ethereally from within, complete with a minimalist sound installation evocative of 1950s America.

The Rosa Parks House, Opens April 8, Wriezener Str. 19, Wedding, 14-17 and 20-22, The White House documentary by Fabia Mendoza, screening with Rhea McCauley Q&A, Apr 8, 18:00, Babylon Mitte.