Tiff Massey forging her future in Metalsmithing: New exhibit ‘7 Mile + Livernois’

The birthplace of the modern automobile, the home of Motown musical phenomenon, and the first to be designated as a “City of Design”, Detroit has yet another trailblazer ready to showcase their talent. Tiff Massey’s current exhibit “7 Mile + Livernois” is at the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum (DIA) until May 11 next year. 

Massey is an interdisciplinary artist who embodies the intersection of Black culture and artistic expression. She was the first Black woman to receive a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in metal smithing at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Massey's work is a testament to following one’s dream even if the odds aren't in your favor.

 “I was the only Black woman on campus. There were only, like, three of us on campus, total. And then I was the only Black woman, so I knew when I got to Cranbrook what I wanted to talk about, I just didn't know what the materiality was that was going to match the conversation.”

Massey creates other forms of art such as jewelry, sculpture, performance, videos, music, and immersive art environments. Her work has been featured in solo and group shows around America and internationally. She has earned numerous awards such as the United States Artist Fellowship, the Michigan Chronicle's 40-under-40 award in 2014, the Kresge Artist Fellowship, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Knight Arts Challenge.

Iris Eichenberg, the Artist-in-Residence and Head of Metalsmithing at Cranbrook Academy of Art says Massey is a "force" she rarely encounters.

"She was not intimidated to embrace a new technique to make what she needed to get done. Although Tiff became this unstoppable maker, she also created a persona over the last 10 years. I think she is the main character of a film we watch, where the main character, our hero, keeps surprising us with unbearable suspension.”

Representing Detroit through Black Design

Massey named the exhibit “7 Mile + Livernois” to pay homage to the two streets she grew up in. It is a nod to her city, to her family and fellow Detroiters who understand what it means to be born and raised in the city. 

“It's a pinpoint where we grew up," says Massey. "My grandma lives over here. I went to church over here. I went to school over here, I got my fashions from over here, and so it's very much like a language for Detroiters building how we communicate on a regular basis, either west side, east side or whatever. I wanted to write it in the title because this is for them. I'm representing Detroit." 

The exhibit highlights the concept of self-adornment as a lens through which to examine the African diaspora and contemporary issues of race, class, and popular culture. With pieces like “Baby Bling” and “Whatupdoe,” Black design is the focus of the exhibit. Massey wants to show the world Detroit’s presence in art, not just to the Black audience but to everyone. 

“I'm really just trying to outdo my last idea. What are the materials that we can utilize to be able to achieve the overall look? How Black is it? Should it exist, why doesn't it exist? These are a lot of the concepts that I think about. Can people see themselves in it regardless if they are black or not,” says Massey. “I think that actually focusing in on Blackness is making the work actually more appealing to other cultures, interestingly enough.” 

Creating new pathways

"7 mile + Livernois” will be shown at the DIA until  May 11, 2025. Massey spent over a year planning for the show and the day is finally here. She’s excited to hear the feedback from Detroit because it is a representation of the city and the talent that resides in it.

 “I really can't wait for the feedback and what people are going to say about this exhibition,” says Massey. “I hope Detroiters see themselves and are proud and want to pull up and bring their Mama, their Grandmama, their kids.”

Massey is the second Black woman and the youngest artist to exhibit at the museum. She is creating new pathways not just for fellow artists but for fellow children that have a dream in pursuing the arts. Since 2017, Massey has been working towards her goal of creating an institution where students can learn about and have access to art.

 “One of my much larger goals that I do have is to create an institution where I would like to hire multiple artists and residents per department to teach high school kids really. I want the students to have access to studios and access to black professors or other professors from other places in the world. I'm hoping in the next couple years, we can really put something behind it to make it move.”  

The Detroit Institute of the Arts is closed on Mondays, open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays- Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s located in Detroit’s cultural corridor, at 5200 Woodward Avenue.

General admission is always free for members and residents of Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne counties with ID. For non-residents, tickets for adults are $18, Senior and/or college students for $10, youth (6-17) for $8 and free for members and children 5 and under.

“I really want Detroit to pull up on me," says Massey. "Your sister has an exhibition, pull up.”

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