Trio Charged With Murdering French Street Artist in Detroit

His body wasn't identified for months.

One of Berreni's works in Tunis Photo via: Chezmaya

Three Detroit men, aged between 17 and 20, have been charged with the murder of 23-year-old French street artist Bilal Berreni, also known as Zoo Project, Michigan Live reports.

Berreni’s body was found in July 2013 in a derelict building. He had been shot in the face. He remained in the morgue, unidentified, until March 2014.

“It sickens me that a young, talented artist who had traveled the world to pursue his passion was murdered here, thus reinforcing the stereotypes for many about our city of Detroit,” said Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy in a statement. “We will do everything that we possibly can under the law to bring the killers of Mr. Berreni to justice.”

Born in Paris, Zoo Project started painting murals as a teenager. “Zoo Project was inspired by pigeons,” he once said of his chosen moniker. “They’re there, but everyone rejects them. A little bit like me, who paints on the walls. People used to tell me: go and paint elsewhere.”

Bilal Berreni, family photograph Photo via: Detroit Free Press

Bilal Berreni, family photograph
Photo via: Detroit Free Press

He traveled to Tunisia at the start of the Arab Spring “to see a revolution.” Once in Tunis, he painted portraits of that revolution’s anonymous martyrs. The project hit a nerve. But Berreni staunchly resisted any form of appropriation. When the Tunisian authorities offered him money to continue on a grand scale, he left for a refugee camp at the border with Libya, where he continued to draw.

“From what I understand, he was interested in what can be born out of chaos,” Berreni’s father, Mourad Berreni, told Detroit Free Press when his son’s body was finally identified. “For him, it represented the failure of capitalism and [he] believed that from that chaos something can be born.”

He told Le Monde that his son’s desire to create art with a social resonance was what led him to Detroit, a city notorious for its crime rate. The street artist first went there in 2012 upon his return from North Africa.

The three men arrested for Berreni’s murder are also charged with armed robbery. “More specific facts and evidence that led to the arrest of the adult defendants will be presented in court at the preliminary examination,” said Worthy’s office in a statement.

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
Article topics