Lonely Planet Writer

Detroit’s newest mural on the infamous 8 Mile Road marks the city's comeback

Lying roughly eight miles from the shores of the Detroit River, 8 Mile Road has long been a physical and psychological symbol of the division between Detroit’s majority black urban center and majority white suburbs, and gained worldwide recognition thanks to local rapper Eminem. But as Detroit’s downtown is making a comeback, so too is this infamous thoroughfare.

The latest proof? Detroit artist Ndubisi Okoye has just completed an 80-foot mural at 7115 W. 8 Mile Road, ‘Detroit Is a Black Woman’,  as part of the ‘Art on 8’ project.  The title of the piece, says Okoye, ‘comes from ‘a poem that I wrote about Detroit. I compared it to a black woman because they’re resilient, beautiful, strong, just everything that I see in Detroit.’

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Funded in part by a grant from Mercedes-Benz and completed with help from the community – Okoye sketched the design and encouraged neighbors and volunteers to color it in — ‘Detroit Is a Black Woman’ is an eye-catching, radiantly colorful installation with a psychedelic vibe that recalls Jimi Hendrix album art. Okoye chose the music motif intentionally: it’s a homage to nearby Baker’s Keyboard Lounge. ‘That’s the oldest jazz club in the world, so I think that’s very important to use in the piece,” Okoye says. This is Okoye’s fourth mural in Detroit, and his largest yet. He’s best known for the mural on the side of Our/Detroit vodka micro-distillery.

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What is the Mile Road System?

Several cities and counties in Michigan use the ‘mile road system’ of road labeling, counting distance from a major intersection, body of water or landmark. In metro Detroit, these labels are applied to east-west streets, start at 5 Mile and go to 37 Mile. They mark the number of miles from the city’s central intersection at Campus Martius Park. Eight Mile Road stretches across the state and, outside Detroit, is known as ‘Baseline Road’ since it sets the northern and southern boundaries of several different counties.