Sacred Spaces “Solvent”

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“Solvent” an exhibition by Halima Afi Cassells and Shanna Merola invokes the world between memory, history, collective storytelling, and liberation at the water’s edge.

“Mama Lila” Cabbil – October 23rd, 1944 – February 23rd, 2019

A founding member of the People’s Water Board and the Detroit People’s Platform, Lila Cabbil or “Mama Lila” as she was affectionately known in Detroit spent her life bringing awareness to the causes and symptoms of greed, racism, hate, and environmental injustice. She was a fierce advocate for access to safe and affordable water and it was no secret that she hated the exploitative practices of the Nestle corp and their bottled water. Her name is regularly invoked as a guiding example of bravery and determination in standing firm in one’s conviction to fight injustice anywhere. 

Charity Hicks – June 30, 1969 – July 8, 2014

During her life, and perhaps even more so with her passing, visionary water warrior Charity Hicks’ name became synonymous with love, justice, and the work to dismantle the oppressive systems which degrade the lives of the Poor. Founder of the Detroit People’s Water Board, she is often referred to as the “Mother of the Detroit Water Movement” and credited with popularizing the saying “wage love.” Though she is gone her memory and spirit remain a source of resilience and wisdom for those whose lives she touched through her work.


Halima Afi Cassells is an award-winning interdisciplinary community-engaged artist, mom of three, and avid gardener with deep roots in Waawiiyaataanong/Detroit, MI. As an advocate for all artists and cultural practitioners, she has spearheaded many community processes that uplift cultural capital from often-exploited communities and continually creates in a collaborative context. She is a core partner of Arts in a Changing America, the Waawiiyaataanong Arts Council, Equitable Detroit Coalition, Oakland Avenue Artists Coalition, and a longtime National Conference of Artists member.

Shanna Merola is a visual artist, photojournalist, and legal worker. Her sculptural photo-collages are informed by the stories of environmental justice struggles past and present. Traveling to EPA designated Superfund sites, she has documented the slow violence of deregulation – from her own neighborhood on the Eastside of Detroit, to Chicago’s Altgeld Gardens, and Love Canal, NY. Her collaborative projects include Detroit Resists: A Digital Occupation of the U.S. Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2016), Oil + Water: Photography in the Age of Disaster Economies with Kate Levy (2017) and Swan Song with Halima Afi Cassells at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (2022).