Meet the Makers: Sydney James

For muralist Sydney James, the city of Detroit is her canvas. Matters of the country are her muse


In a metropolitan area full of visual artists, illustrator and muralist Sydney James makes the case for strong pieces symbolizing the black experience. She began taking art classes when she was 7, and eventually moved to Los Angeles to work as an artist for the Freeform television series Lincoln Heights.

“I knew there was going to be a resurgence back home, and I wanted to be a part of it,” says the artist, 39, who returned to her Conant Gardens hometown in Detroit in 2011.

From her skillful techniques — James uses a projector or freehand illustration — to her mission-based concepts, everything she creates is thoughtfully planned. Take her 2016 Murals in the Market piece, depicting a black woman holding a protest sign while a pigeon tugs at her hair.

“It’s a message to the whole embodiment of the piece,” James says of the bird. “We either have to fly away, or elevate. If I don’t display us the way I feel we should be displayed, we’re going to be oppressed forever.” She hopes that passersby — especially young girls — are inspired when they see her painting around the city. Catch her work this month at a Detroit Artist Market gallery show.

Visit for more information on James.


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