When I first met Olayami Dabls under the warm summer sun, his lilting words drifted on the breeze underneath the trees that canopied his outdoor studio. We walked out onto the field of vacant lots that had become his canvas and he began to tell me the story of “Iron Teaching Rocks How to Rust.” What lay before us was a sea of sculptures made of iron rebar, rusted paint cans, an old car, school desks, reclaimed wood, chunks of concrete and rocks, and other found materials. He stopped at each sculptural installation and added its significance to the growing fable. Like the greens, yellows, and reds splashed and painted upon planks of wood, and rocks, the stories were laid out upon each other in an assemblage, a collage – overlapping and refusing sequence or linearity.

Dabls created a place that has its own time, what Octavio Paz would call “mythological time.” Mythological time, Paz writes, is “impregnated with all the particulars of our lives: it is as long as eternity or as short as a breath, ominous or propitious, fecund or sterile.” Mythological, or poetic, time is set in opposition to chronometric time, which marches on despite individual experiences, or the particularities of our lives. Thus, it is all the more significant that Dabls chose rocks as the metaphorical index of the African experience. Rocks, the stable timepieces of geologic time, mark the ever-flowing present in layers of “now.” Their sedimentary calendars inscribe temporalities that far exceed human experience. Yet, through his elaborated cosmology, Dabls’ rocks are thrust into a mythological time that remains forever relevant to today’s present.

– Excerpt from Iron Teaching Rocks How to Rust

The excerpt above is from How to Rust, a 25-minute film inspired by Dabls’ work.

More info at http://howtorustfilm.com/. Non-theatrical distribution: Cinema Guild

Film credits:
Featuring Olayami Dabls at the MBAD/ABA African Bead Museum
Drums – Efe Bes
Iron Pouring – Carbon Arts
Video – Rachel Yezbick, Julia Yezbick
Super 8mm – Ben Gaydos, Julia Yezbick
Audio – Rachel Yezbick, Julia Yezbick
Editing – Julia Yezbick


Made in collaboration with Detroit artist and storyteller, Olayami Dabls, Iron Teaching Rocks How to Rust is both an allegorical fable and documentation of Dabls’ sprawling seminal art installation on Detroit’s westside. A book within a book, and a companion to both the installation and film by Julia Yezbick (excerpt below), Iron Teaching Rocks How to Rust encourages free association between various aspects of Dabls’ story.

Words and images by Olayami Dabls. Edited by Maia Asshaq, Benjamin Gaydos, and Julia Yezbick. Photography and design by Benjamin Gaydos/goodgood (detroit). Risograph printing and production by Issue Press Grand Rapids for Flint Magazine, Issue No. 1.

Iron Teaching How to Rust is available at Dabls’ MBAD African Bead Museum in Detroit and online from Flint Magazine and Issue Press.