Chloë Brown’s ‘Soft Rebellions’: ‘The Detroit Dinner Service’ and ‘A Toast to Detroit’

Welcome to the third in a series of researcher blogs detailing Chloë Brown’s Soft Rebellions. See the first here and the second here.

About the author

Chloë Brown is an artist and Senior Lecturer in Fine Art at Sheffield Hallam University, UK. She has an MA in Sculpture from Chelsea College of Art, London (1994), and a BA in Fine Art from the University of Reading (1987). She has exhibited internationally over the last 30 years including three international biennials (Istanbul Biennial, Mardin Biennial and the British Ceramics Biennial) with work recently included in the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA).


Using a range of media including film, sculpture, book works and drawing, Brown’s research examining the relationship to sociopolitical questions that focus on the post-industrial city from an auto-ethnographic feminist perspective. She has become interested in how acts such as dancing, eating and applauding can be seen as a playful subversion, a form of liberation. This was explored in her exhibition ‘Dancing in the Boardroom’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) from January 15th to April 24th 2016 and has gone on to inform her ongoing research and practice.

The Detroit Dinner Service

This subtly subversive event/performance took place in one of the Lodges in the Masonic Temple in Detroit on the 4th of April 2016. The event comprised of a dinner party for 12 inspirational women – women who are responding to the negative situation in Detroit with positivity and creativity – and centred on a meal prepared by the Detroit-based chef and food activist Alison Heeres. The choice of location for the dinner party is significant – it took place in Palestine Lodge that included Henry Ford in its’ membership as well as other key figures of the industrial patriarchy in Detroit. The dinner-party-as-art questions the failure of this hidden exclusively male power in relation to the severe situation the city finds itself in, through an event that is exclusively female, in order to draw attention to the largely Do-It-Yourself initiatives that these women are developing, in response to this situation.

The guests included artists, poets, activists, filmmakers, urban farmers, journalists, writers, the founder of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD), Marsha Miro and the world famous Motown singer Martha Reeves of Martha and the Vandellas. The guest list was also designed to reflect the current demographic of Detroit, with a population of approximately 80% people of colour.

The meal was served on a bone china 36-piece dinner service that I designed, also entitled ‘The Detroit Dinner Service’. Made in Stoke-on-Trent, it uses my drawing ‘From Alfred Street to Temple Street, Detroit’ to decorate the dinner service, referencing the traditional use of images of classical ruins on china tableware. The set used during the dinner party is now in the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA).

Each woman was given an apron to wear throughout the meal that referenced the ceremonial regalia worn by freemasons. Rather than being made of leather, (the freemasons preferred material), I made the aprons from fine white linen, decorated with purple and green ribbons, the colours of the suffragettes.

A Toast to Detroit

During the evening the women were asked to deliver a ‘Toast to Detroit’. Audio recordings of each toast were made and the production of ‘A Toast to Detroit’ as a 12-track vinyl LP record, one track per ‘Toast’, represents the only document of the event that took place. Since it is a limited edition artefact this allows the work, and therefore the idea, and ultimately the voices of the women involved, to be disseminated to an audience outside the event itself.

Martha Reeves delivering ‘A Toast to Detroit’

I see the originality of the research in its interdisciplinary approach to the field of artistic research and place making, through a unique methodology that examines the role of community as a narrative voice in order to contribute and communicate new perspectives on how we constitute identity. The research situates itself in relation to particular works that examine the role of the female voice in narrative identity, particularly in relation to Judy Chicago’s seminal ‘The Dinner Party’ 1974-79. ‘The Detroit Dinner Service’ event sought also to highlight and question a number of historical and current issues relating to Detroit as a post-industrial city, echoing the experience of many post-industrial cities throughout the world.

The guests included:

Halima Cassells Artist and activist; Imani Foster Urban farmer; Kim Kozlowski Journalist at The Detroit News and literacy activist; Cornetta Lane Community activist at Pedal to Porch; Faina Lerman Artist and founder of Popps Packing; Tiff Massey Sculptor, rapper, designer; Marsha Miro Art critic and founder of MOCAD; Marsha Music Writer and Detroit advocate; Rola Nashef Filmmaker; Tawana Petty Poet; Martha Reeves Musician and ex Detroit City Councillor; Lori Sanders Literacy activist.

Other participants:

Alison Heeres Chef and food activist; Gwen Meyer Urban farmer; Christina deRoos Host, artist and deputy director of Kresge Arts in Detroit and former co-director of Spread Art; Grace Higgins Brown Artist; Chloë Brown Artist.