Community Art Series for Women and Girls Builds Common Bonds

“I love the community participation – the community of women.” Over the past month, more than thirty women and girls gathered around red onion skins, dried eucalyptus leaves and buckets of indigo dye to collaborate and create together. The results: beautifully printed silk scarves and vibrant blue canvas tote bags that cascaded the room at Olomon Cafe last Saturday to showcase the work of a community of women that connected with each other through a collective art project, Common Bond.


The series was hosted in Hamtramck and the adjacent Detroit neighborhoods of Banglatown and East Davison Village, which is home to approximately 15,000 immigrant residents (about half of the total population). Women in attendance hailed from Bangladesh, Yemen, Haiti and Barbados, as well as long time Detroit and Hamtramck residents with Polish and African heritage.

The Common Bond workshop series was designed to create a comfortable and fun space for women and girls of all ages, religions, cultures, ethnicities, and backgrounds to create, collaborate and connect. In an area where some women are primarily home-based, the community has expressed a desire for more female only opportunities. In some ways this is because of religion – about half of attendees were Muslim – but it is also about the inherent bonds between women. The series’ same-gender dynamic provided a different feeling for the group: the women who cover their faces in public with burkas or hijabs could comfortably remove them. “Men change the atmosphere,” one woman said, and the rest of them nodded. “…and this is something we all understand, this is our common bond.”

Held over three consecutive Saturdays and facilitated by Mandisa Smith and Najma Wilson of Detroit Fiber Works, participants learned not only to do but the how and why in the process. Why were some scarves darker in color, and why did some bags result in that pattern of blue? A highlight of the second workshop was the big reveal – scarves that had been rolled up and bound tight during the first workshop were opened and everyone marveled at their creations with intricate patterns and bold colors.

Global Detroit’s Gracie Xavier facilitated dialogue that drew out patterns present in everyone’s lives, from a love of food and cooking to maternal instinct and a sense of purpose found when being helpful to others. Participants shared what makes them feel most powerful: themes emerged of honesty and family, of asking for support and being active in faith. Throughout the day the shared excitement around the projects at hand was wrapped up in enthusiasm over meeting new people and making new friends.

The series concluded with a celebration exhibit at Oloman Cafe where scarves and bags hung from the ceiling, and photographs of the women working together lined the walls. The conversation revolved around ideas of how to keep the project going. Participants are eager to find more ways to spend time together and collectively create while learning new skills. Some women have offered up their talents, like sewing, knitting, or gardening, to teach the rest of the group.

Global Detroit is grateful to all of the women and girls who joined us for these events. We look forward to working with them to build upon the shared experience of the Common Bond series, and to find more opportunities to come together.

The project is one component of Global Detroit’s Opportunity Neighborhoods program in the geographical area that includes Banglatown, East Davison Village, and Hamtramck, which began in 2016 with inclusive community engagement and a neighborhood plan that is informed by the perspectives, ideas, and solution-oriented thinking of local residents. Since, Global Detroit has used the plan and continued engagement to work with residents towards community goals. One of the recommendations that came from residents was improved and expanded women’s resources, including spaces and opportunities for women-only activities and a women’s network.

Global Detroit was proud to partner on this project with Women of Banglatown, an all women’s community space offering free programming for neighborhood girls and income generating activities for immigrant women in Hamtramck.

By Beth Szurpicki, Global Detroit

Posted In: Banglatown

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