Detroit Artist Lisa Waud Uses Flowers to Inspire Reflection and Conversation
Nature and time are forces that shape our world, made even more precious by their transience. Detroit-based artist Lisa Waud embraces this reality in her art, exploring the theme of beauty in brevity through the short-lived medium of flowers. Her larger-than-life floral installations have garnered attention throughout the Midwest and beyond, as has the artist's commitments to activism, community and sustainability. Nearly all of Lisa's materials are recycled, repurposed or composted, so even as her living artwork begins to decay, there is little waste.
If you watch Danny Brown's music video, "Best Life," it's nearly impossible to miss Waud's eye-catching work, like this car bursting with exuberant blooms. She created the floral set design for the video in 2019. Throughout the video, Waud's flowers play a key role in Brown's storytelling. The song is a commentary on Brown's childhood that juxtaposes his rough upbringing with the "best life" he is currently living.
What do to with an abandoned home in Hamtramck, Michigan? Invite nature inside. That was Waud's approach, anyway. In 2015, she worked with a team of 37 designers and more than 100 volunteers to convert the vacant dwelling into a spectacular display of colorful, cascading blooms. Flower House drew more than 3,000 visitors; after the installation was deconstructed, the land was repurposed as a public park.
In the years following Flower House's immense success, Waud contemplated how her privilege as a white woman may have influenced the Flower House project. In 2020, she donated the property to the Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund, who matched the property to a community member interested in developing a children's sensory garden. The Flower House Instagram account is now used to highlight the work of Black florists, gardeners, landscapers and others working with plants and flowers.
For this installation, Waud blanketed a former party store (a Michigan phrase for a convenience store) with locally grown flowers. These flowers—all made of compostable and repurposed materials—filled aisles in place of plastic-wrapped goods, creating a visually stunning ensemble that prompted viewers to ponder their own consumptive habits.
Big Flower Friend
This series of weekly outdoor art installations around Detroit in the summer of 2020, all designed to be observed from a vehicle or virtually, raised money for Michigan flower farmers impacted by the pandemic. In response to the murder in Minneapolis of George Floyd that June, the project evolved, with locations selected to prompt learning and reflection about racism.
Week two, truth, was located at the Birwood Wall at Alfonso Wells Memorial Park. This wall, originally built in 1941 to prevent the co-mingling of Black and white families, is a nearly half-mile long remnant of redlining. According to Waud, the purpose of this floral installation was not the installation itself, but rather, "getting you to visit and learn about this artifact which still stands today—a physical, visible embodiment of racism."
Constructed on the corner of West Warren and 23rd in Detroit, honor featured a collection of photos of Black people murdered by the police, surrounded by flowers. Malice Green, an unarmed Black man, was killed by two white police officers at this site in 1992. "I put some flowers there so you have a soft landing," Waud wrote. "But allow yourself to imagine blood on the pavement."
Detroit Flower Week
Florists and enthusiasts met in the spirit of learning and connection for this event in 2016. Guests participated in workshops and attended conferences hosted by 19 internationally acclaimed designers, tastemakers and disruptors in the floral design world. "My goal with Detroit flower week," Waud says, "was to bring everyone together, but with more time to inspire one another."