The Buddha of Heidelberg Street

Pink Car

When we recognize and acknowledge our own suffering, the Buddha – which means the Buddha in us—will look at it, discover what has brought it about, and prescribe a course of action that can transform it into peace, joy, and liberation” -Thich Nhat Hanh

On a grey and chilly afternoon in Detroit, a friend and I decided to take in some art. We began our day at the Detroit Institute of Art, with its grandiose industrial frescos by Diego Rivera and bright pop images by Andy Warhol. As we wondered the galleries, we came upon a twisted street sign with the words “Rosa Parks.” Something about that sign pulled us in. We looked closer to see the name of the artist – Tyree Guyton – A local artist from downtown Detroit. We learned that more of his art could be seen on a particular street in the city, so we hopped in our car to take a look.

Rosa Parks Sign

When we arrived at Heidlelberg street we were speechless. Simultaneously hopeful and despairing, colorful and grey, it felt at first like a war-torn carnival of a neighborhood, with every kind of object, from shoes, to baby dolls, to washing machines placed about a three-block area in organized chaos. At closer look, it was clear that each of the thousands of items was intentionally and craftfully placed.

IMG_3475As we walked about in wonder, we saw a group of children and adults standing about a man who was pointing out different features on the street. We joined the group and learned that the man was indeed the artist himself, Tyree Guyton. Tyree was talking to the children about his art, and glad to hear that they were willing to donate their old shoes and toys to the exhibit. He led them through to view the “baby doll tea party,” and then asked them to place a baby doll nearby. They were proud to do so.
We began to talk more about his work. As we talked, I became aware that the themes in our conversation and in his art were expressions of many of the mindfulness tenets I have been recently studying: being aware and being present, impermanence (everything changes), interbeing (we are all connected), and compassion.

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Awareness and being present:

As we walked around, my friend noticed that in the next street over, a house had some old children’s toys on the second floor balcony. To many the house would seem old and dilapidated; the paint was pealing in large swaths, and the glass was long gone from the windows. My friend asked Tyree if that was a part of his art installation. “Ah,” he said “actually, no, but that is what I am trying to show people- there is beauty in these objects – beauty in the colors and the lines – you just have to look for it.” Tyree is present enough to notice the beauty of objects that many might dismiss as blight. He re-arranges and transforms them for us so that we can see what he sees – the messages and beauty in each of these objects.

IMG_3489Impermanence

In several of the houses the numbers 1, 2, 3 appear over and over. We asked Tyree what these numbers represented. He told us they represented 1: Life, 2: Death, 3: Life; that death is just a stage of transformation. This is one aspect of the idea of impermanence: the only constant is change itself. Another recurring theme are clocks. Clocks are everywhere. On the trees, on the houses, on giant pieces of cardboard. The clocks remind us of the importance of time, but I also found that this concept was embedded in all the old and formerly abandoned items around us. At one point each of those items held a special meaning to someone or some family. As time went on, the meaning changes. Now, as Tyree has placed them in new poses and new places, they take on entirely new meanings. Meanings change with time. Emotions change with time. Every day is a new day and a day for new possibilities and new hopes and meanings.

photo 2Interbeing and Compassion

Tyree gathers objects. Objects that come to him from near and far. He connects us to the people and places those objects are from by gathering them together. One of the first things he said to us when we arrived was “everything is connected.” Of course, my first cynical reaction was “sure, everyone says that…” but as I looked about, I realized that he was telling us that through his art as well. He was connecting us and exploring the connections that exist. His art in its location was also bringing people together. The Buddhist concept of inter-being is that we (people, objects, world) are all connected. The idea is, we can become more compassionate when we realize that we are all connected. And yes, Tyree is cultivating compassion for this place and this city through his work of connecting us.


Please look closely at the images I share here. You’ll notice the ways in which Tyree connects us, makes us aware of beauty, and acknowledge the power of change (and the present moment) in each of his monuments; through which he cultivates a joy and enlightenment for us all.

If you want to support this artist, I learned that you can donate money and supplies to: https://heidelbergorg.presencehost.net/get_involved/donate.html

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