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French Street Artist Whose Work Told Stories of Social Chaos Murdered in Decaying Detroit Project

Bilal Berreni “was interested in what can be born out of chaos,” his father said. “For him, it represented the failure of capitalism …”

French street artist Bilal Berreni, whose body was found in a vacant Detroit housing project and was unclaimed for months, used painted on buildings to make social statements. (Screenshot: ekosystem.org)
French street artist Bilal Berreni, whose body was found in a vacant Detroit housing project and was unclaimed for months, used painted on buildings to make social statements. (Screenshot: ekosystem.org)

French street artist Bilal Berreni, who transferred the chaos of conflicts and what he believed to be the failure of capitalism to makeshift canvasses, took his last breath on the streets of Detroit.

The 23-year-old’s body lay unclaimed and unidentified in a morgue for months after it was discovered last July in the crumbling, crime-ridden, graffiti-tagged Brewster-Douglass Projects on Detroit’s east side, the Detroit Free Press reports. He had been shot in the face.

He was finally identified this month after a Michigan State Police decetive ran his fingerprints through a federal database.

During his brief career as an artist – he was 15 when he started painting – Berreni became known for  images with a deep social message, whether of people who had fallen during the revolution in Tunisia, refugees in a camp on the Libyan border or on streets throughout Europe where his “Zoo Project” took form in large-scale black-and-white images painted on the sides of buildings.

“From what I understand, he was interested in what can be born out of chaos,” Mourad Berreni, speaking in French through a translator from Paris, told the Free Press. “For him, it represented the failure of capitalism and (he) believed that from that chaos something can be born.”

That may have been what drew him to the gritty, raw streets of Detroit, a city he had visited at least one other time before returning in March 2013. One of the cities hardest hit in America’s Great Recession, Detroit is notorius not only for physical decay in areas, such as the area where Berreni’s body was found, but also social decay – creating the kind of canvas that had lured the artist in the past.

Mourad Berreni told the Free Press his son had been listening to blues music and he wouldn’t have been surprised if that’s what drew him to the city where the Motown sound – Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson and other Motown artists grew up in the projects where the young artist’s body was found – and a $1.1 billion music scene that includes hip-hop, soul, rock and techno ignites the local economy.

Detroit police spokesman Sgt. Michael Woody told the Free Press that at least one bullet casing was found at the scene before the last of the four towers in the notorious Brewster-Douglass project crumbled under the wrecking ball earlier this month. Exactly what drew Berreni to Detroit may never be fully explained, but Detroit police haven’t given up their search for answers in what is now classified as an unsolved homicide.

Anyone with answers is asked to call the Detroit homicide section at (313) 596-1616.

>>> See images from Bilal Berreni’s “Zoo Project.”


Duane Larkin March 28, 2014 at 12:38 PM
Wow. Note to urban spelunkers: stay OUT. Your 'ruin porn' may be someone else's killing field.
RON Ostrodamus March 28, 2014 at 05:43 PM
Had kind of a deja vu to a man known as "Frenchy" because of his mustache who was murdered in Pontiac years ago. From what I understand he also loved to paint.
Sherry Spehar March 29, 2014 at 10:23 PM
Another tragedy from Detroit took place.Until this stops,there is no hope for betterment.

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