For the past seventeen years, I have been passionate about telling the story of the city of Detroit. In 2003, I began conceptualizing how to connect catastrophic historical events with modern-day social crisis. This investigation led me to create the “Ten Plagues of Detroit” series in which I drew oversized portraits of Detroiters who I interviewed and photographed. Titles in the series include: “Plague of Racism,” “Plague of Violence,” “Plague of Poverty,” “Plague of Arson and Fire,” and “Plague of Illiteracy.”

There isn’t a simple narrative that can fully tell the story of Detroit. To interpret these realities, I use multiple mediums (photography, collage, assemblage, drawing, painting, and fiber) to tell stories about people, places, and personal experiences. The interplay between materials, texture, color, subject, and concept is critical to the creation of my work. I often employ the underappreciated power of the figurative form to reclaim a vision of people whose bodies are not accounted for, nor treated with care and attention.

In 2012, I took the first photograph in the “Tenuous Equilibrium” series. In the photograph, my daughter is walking on a fallen electric pole in the middle of winter. After five years and hundreds of photographs later, she, my family, and the city continue to walk the tenuous line of progress, hope, brokenness, and division. Now, I have taken some of these photographs and digitally manipulated them to create mixed media pieces on wood as part of the “Community Conversations” series. This series explores conversations we have with one another about race, faith, education, health, and other social concerns. Recent interactions and collaborations with performance artists have inspired me to introduce movement and sound in my mixed media work as I continue these conversations about the city of Detroit.


Yvette Rock received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Cooper Union in New York City and a Master of Fine Arts in painting from University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.  She spent one year as a Visiting Scholar during her post-graduate stint at U of M. It was during this time that Rock conceived of Detroit Connections, a program that fostered collaboration between U of M and Detroit schools and organizations. She has worked as artist-in-residence with InsideOut Literary Arts Project, founded a local after-school program, is a community activist, and collaborates with artists of various disciplines. Rock has exhibited throughout southeast Michigan, including the Carr Center, Detroit Artists Market, Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center, Ellen Kayrod Gallery, and National Conference of Artists. She is the founder, owner and director of Live Coal Gallery, L.L.C., a social venture whose purpose is to foster a passion for art, community, and learning. Rock lives and works in Detroit.

Photo by Julie Pincus

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