When Detroiters are feeling themselves

“I definitely have mad respect for artists who haven’t forgotten about their communities and keep hold of the ethics of their culture.”

In 2019, Absolut Art invited twenty-two artists to pay tribute to one of the greatest hip-hop groups of all time: the Wu-Tang Clan, the legendary outfit that put the New York borough of Staten Island on the map and blazed new trails for the genre. Curated by Oliver “Power” Grant, the co-founder of Wu-Tang Productions and Wu-Tang Brand, and independent curator Diya Vij, the collection brought together established and emerging contemporary artists that have been inspired at some point in their lives or careers by the group’s legacy.

For Detroit artist Tiff Massey, Wu-Tang’s uniqueness lies partly in their ability to stand out as individuals while also combining their talents into nothing less than a movement. She deeply respects their commitment to their community, which she mirrors in her own deep connection to the Motor City. The rawness of Wu-Tang’s delivery finds a parallel in the work she’s contributed, which represents a work of hers, which, she explains, had to “scream.”

What is it that makes Wu-Tang Clan special for you?

It’s the diversity that always attracted me to them. I appreciated the collaboration of different members. ODB has always been one of my favorites because of the rawness of the delivery. I was privy to an event in Los Angeles where they played music in conjunction with visuals. My practice is interdisciplinary and I like to combine different genres for an impeccable experience. In the Showtime documentary on them, it’s mentioned they came together as a group though they had their own followings. They exist as a movement.

Has the Wu-Tang Clan influenced you directly in any ways you can name, or have you been more generally inspired by them?

It’s their raw, in-your-face, unapologetic nature. I think it’s indicative of my growing up in Detroit as well. They were bringing their own flavor to the mix.

You’re outspoken about Detroit as a place that belongs only to people who have really lived there, and Wu-Tang has a particular association with Staten Island. Is that something you see as a point of commonality? Has their Staten Island pride informed your Detroit pride?

It’s not just me. Any Detroiter would say that. It’s definitely how I got involved in style and jewelry, and a lot of the trends of hip-hop have come from Detroit. I definitely have mad respect for artists who haven’t forgotten about their communities and keep hold of the ethics of their culture.

Tell us about the work you’re contributing to the Wu-Tang exhibition.

I am contributing a print that says “Bitch don’t touch my hair.” It’s an image of a neon sculpture of mine. The piece is basically kind of a self-portrait, not only of me but probably every person of color that has curly hair, so that people touch them without asking. Why are you touching me? The head is an intimate space. There’s a sense of agency that white people have. Since I made the neon, people have said, “Thank you. I feel seen.” So my piece is an empowering statement. It needed to be something that screams, so it had to be neon.