A dilapidated, two-story clapboard house saved from demolition in Detroit might seem like an out-of-place addition to a backyard in Berlin-Wedding. But for American artist Ryan Mendoza, importing this little white house from the Midwest to his property in Germany was the only solution to save this piece of Civil Rights hero Rosa Parks' legacy.
"The house was bought by Rhea McCauley. She donated it to me so that I could bring it overseas and restore it," Mendoza says. "And the end goal is to find an institution that will buy it, so that Rhea McCauley’s Rosa Parks Family Foundation can finally get some money."
Mendoza typically splits his time between Naples and Berlin, but he was working in Detroit to preserve another soon-to-be-demolished house and move it to Belgium, when he met McCauley, Rosa Parks’ niece. She was in the process of trying to prevent her aunt’s former home, which Parks had lived in from 1957 to 1959, from being demolished by the city.
"She tried to get help from every major institution that she could write to in America, and nobody was interested. And that is confounding."
McCauley paid the city $500 to take control of the building in 2016. Mendoza had it sent to Berlin in two shipping containers, reconstructing it in his yard over four months beginning in October last year.
"When the trucks were initially opened, I noticed that people really didn’t understand what the hell this stuff was. It looked like a mountain of debris. It looked like stuff that they would have thrown away really," says Mendoza. "And that’s the question. That question has always been a persistent one. Is this house worthless, or is it priceless?"
For Mendoza, the answer is an easy one.
"This is a house without a home. We are like foster parents. And maybe not very good ones either; I mean we are doing the best we can."
The artist hopes that an American institution will take an interest in displaying the house, and donate to McCauley’s foundation in order to do so. In the meantime, Berlin serves as a haven.
"The ideals that we had during the Second World War, those are the ideals that we find now in Berlin. The idea of being the good guy; and being the good guy means being tolerant, it means not being oppressive," expresses Mendoza.
The house will go on view April 8th, although its interior will remain closed.
"It’s interesting because people really want to go inside the house. But the house needs to have its dignity restored for a second."
Further insight can instead be gleaned from the artist’s wife Fabia Mendoza’s film, The White House Documentary. It premieres at Babylon Kino on April 8th. Opening the same day is a complementary exhibit at Mitte’s CWC Gallery, with photos by the artist and from Civil Rights-era photographer Steve Schapiro. Finally, Mendoza will bring the house’s interior to viewers via audio, with an on-site sound installation of theme music from movies and television shows made between 1957 and 1959.