By Evan Hogarty, The Saint Reporter
Photo courtesy of Evan Hogarty
This past weekend, thousands of art admirers filled the streets of Grand Rapids in high hopes of this year’s ArtPrize festival. Many profound pieces were submitted, some of which include elaborate installations, intriguing sculptures and eccentric events that take place around the city center. At the heart of these festivities stood an underlying theme of human rights, activism and social justice.
One standout venue in ArtPrize Nine is Kendall College’s “Fed Galleries.” This year, the exhibition show was named “Society of Spectacle.” Within this showcase, many abstract representations of the human struggle were depicted. Accordingly, I was able to observe these pieces and open my mind to what a new decade of social justice entailed. One piece that stuck out to me was Brazilian artist Eva Rocha’s “Object Orientalis.”
Within her piece, Rocha challenges society’s view of women, and how they’re portrayed in male dominated relationships. Her piece is made of wood crates filled with different textures upon which are illuminated by the shape of a woman, curled up as if hiding in fear. As a result, her artwork questions the way women have historically been portrayed in visual arts, as well as hinting upon new ways in which we (society) can shape our social culture. When referring to “Object Orientalis” Rocha stated that it: “explores the correlation between the de-humanized commercial relationship we have developed with art objects and the ways we have allowed ourselves to objectify humans (often women). . . . it questions dehumanization in art, and subsequently, the dehumanization of the viewer.”
Gender inequality wasn’t the only social issue represented at ArtPrize Nine. Moreover, visions of racial discrimination also made their way into the DeVos Place Convention Center this past Saturday, Sept. 23. Among these galleries was Monroe O’Bryant’s “A Walk in the park in America.” This piece portrayed a contemporary interpretation of racism in America. Along with images of racial abuse and discrimination, “A Walk in the park in America” highlights the struggle involved with the eradication of so called “non-American” culture. This eradication of diversity in our country is a prime-mover for ignorance, close-mindedness and the “bubbling” that takes place when certain social groups don’t want to mix with others. O’Bryant’s images combat this by emphasizing the negative impact racism and bigotry have on American culture.
In conclusion, the social aspect of ArtPrize this year has reflected a country on fire, lit with passion and energy to dispel radical norms, and promote a welcoming environment for people of all affiliations. Moreover, it’s this ability of art to spark conversation about what’s socially acceptable that truly defines ArtPrize. In an age of “cultural polarization,” it’s the blending of people that allow for bright ideas and new opportunities to form. ArtPrize is a breeding ground for cultural engagement and progressive thinking, two assets that define the unique energy found in our Grand Rapids community.