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Behind the Art: the Artists' Perspectives

Hear from ArtPrize Seven award winners about their inspiration for and message behind their work.
Monroe O'Bryant - Head Photographer of "Realistic Neglects"

Monroe O'Bryant - Head Photographer of "Realistic Neglects" /Kaitlyn Peterson - (K) Kaitlyns Camera Photography

Monroe O'Bryant - Head Photographer of "Realistic Neglects"

Monroe O'Bryant - Head Photographer of "Realistic Neglects" /Kaitlyn Peterson - (K) Kaitlyn's Camera Photography

 Emily Kennerk - Creator of "Whisper"

Emily Kennerk - Creator of "Whisper" /Kaitlyn Peterson - (K) Kaitlyn's Camera Photography

ArtPrize has made a name for itself in the art community as a revolutionary model for an art competition, attracting hundreds of thousand visitors to view the entered pieces and vote for their favorites. As the public and juror vote category winners were announced last Saturday, it became clear that ArtPrize Seven honored many pieces that carried a strong social justice message, setting the precedent of ArtPrize being a stage for social revolution as well.

One piece that powerfully captured this message was the Jurors Two-Dimensional category winner, The Fearless Brother Project Presents: Realistic Neglects—A Graphic Series by Monroe O’Bryant. The piece is comprised of a series of framed photographs of reenactments of violent crimes that affected the African-American community.

“I was pissed off by the fact that it was happening on a regular basis, and no one knew who was doing the killings. As people who have value of human life I just couldn’t stand that. And that charged me,” said O’Bryant about his motivation for creating the piece.

“I wanted to have a purpose as a photographer. Being a black photographer…I wanted to have something that could represent the community.”

O’Bryant stated that he depicted the crimes that pained him the most in his photographs. “I saw families being hurt and crushed by it, and you don’t recognize it until it happens to your family, but I wanted to do something about it. I wanted to change the dynamics of the community.”

Another piece that “set the table” for a discussion on social justice was the winner of the Time-Based Public Vote Whisper by Emily Kennerk. The piece featured a table set with dinnerware, a microphone, and a blown out speaker that made the table vibrate, shaking plates off the table to crash to the floor. The catch was that only a whisper into the mic triggered the effect while yelling or speaking normally did nothing.

“I’m trying to say, hey guess what? Your voice, you can whisper, and it’s gonna move something, it’s gonna break something, it has an impact, even if we don’t hear it,” said Kennerk about her piece.

Kennerk noted that choosing to display the piece at ArtPrize not only had an obvious effect on the public, as a category winner by public vote, but that the public affected the piece itself. “You’ve heard that there is a Grand Rapids effect on this piece, where people are pushing the plates back on the table because they don’t want them to break…but it’s been charming, that people want to save things.”

Kennerk describes inspiration for the piece sparking in her mind while yelling for her dog to come back as it ran across a plain where “the sound just dropped like lead balloons. I think that was the first time that I understood sound as an object. And with my background as a sculptor, that was fascinating. I started to think, wow, this is a physical shape and a form. “ Kennerk adds, “Shortly thereafter I had the opportunity to work with some kids who were working on apps for the visually impaired, using sound as a mapping tool. So these two things collided in my mind and that was kind of where this piece started.”

Two pieces that carry the message that speaking up can change the community, neither using actual words; one shows the ripple affects that speech can have and the other lets facial expressions and images say more than words alone could.

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