Detroiter’s work is the latest to be added to the DIA’s permanent collection

The latest work of art to be added to the permanent collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts comes not from Paris or New York City but Detroit itself.

The DIA’s latest acquisition is “White on White: Stone Mountain,” a painting from Detroit artist Tylonn Sawyer. Born and raised in the city, Sawyer studied at Eastern Michigan University and the New York Academy of Art, exhibited at home and abroad, and currently works and lives back home in Detroit.

“It was one of my dreams to have a piece of art in the DIA, considering it's one of the best collections in the country and it’s right here in my hometown, Detroit, Michigan,” Sawyer says. “It really feels like an honor to be chosen by a panel of people from my own city.”

Sawyer’s “White on White” depicts the Stone Mountain monument in Georgia, a massive stone carving that honors leaders of the Confederacy. As described in a release announcing the acquisition, Sawyer’s painting “deconstructs this homage to the Confederacy by juxtaposing images of Black men reclined about it, wearing white suits. They are depicted tossing and turning as they struggle to find physical comfort and some measure of peace, all while pressed against a massive rock that glorifies their oppression.”

“White on White: Stone Mountain” was completed in 2019.

The DIA’s acquisition of “White on White” is the first work purchased as part of the museum’s African-American Art Acquisition Fund, which was established in 2020. The fund itself was established by the Founders Junior Council (FJC), a group of young professionals working to introduce young adults to the DIA. The FJC has designated $250,000 to purchase works of art from Black Detroiters.

“Historically, Detroit has always been a global pipeline for Black artistic talent and progressive voices,” says Nathaniel Wallace, president of the Founders Junior Council. “Creating a fund that will live within the DIA's permanent collection, exposing generations of museum-goers to the richness and brilliant work of our Black Detroit artists, was paramount to the board and important for the culture.”

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MJ Galbraith is Model D's development news editor. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.