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Grand Rapids artist garners finalist position on Jurors' Shortlist

Monroe "Akibang" O'Bryant makes the Jurors' Shortlist for 2-D with a thought-provoking graphic series of photos re-enacting crimes in the Grand Rapids area in 2012-2013 at the GRAM.

/Tiffany Szakal

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Akibang's graphic series is localed on the second floor of the GRAM. 


See more of Akibang's series "Realistic Neglects" at and search vote code #61292

/Tiffany Szakal

/Tiffany Szakal

Only one local Grand Rapids artist, Monroe Aki O'Bryant, also known as Akibang, was selected to be featured at the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) for this year's ArtPrize Seven.

The Jurors' Shortlist announced his graphic series entry, "Realistic Neglects," as one of the top five pieces among the 940 entries in the two dimensional category. O'Bryant's entry consists of haunting photographed images of re-enacted violent crimes, depicting real events that occurred in the Grand Rapids area.

Viewers often respond initially in shock at the unsettling photos, until understanding the story behind the series and why he chose to share it. Fearless Brother Project, O'Bryant's production team, live and work through their motto.

"You have to have a fearless vision, to create a perfect project," the motto proclaims.

He hopes to one day pass this on to his son, as it is derived from his name: Jabari, meaning fearless or courageous in Swaziland, and Aki, meaning brother in Arabic.

Through video and photographic productions, the "Realistic Neglects" series consisting of five chapters, and O'Bryant says it has grown to be perhaps the most impactful project yet. O'Bryant based this series off of murders, sex trafficking and gang violence from the Grand Rapids area in the African American community during 2012-2013.

From watching the media during this time, he noticed a great number of these crimes were going unsolved, as police hit dead ends on leads and community members remained silent rather than helping to gain information. Filled with a desire to take action, O'Bryant began using photography and videography in hopes to educate the community on these events in a way that portrays the human aspects of each situation.

"I couldn't understand why people had such little regard for human life," O'Bryant remarks. Each series of photos has a story behind it. One image, showing the emotion and shock on a girl's face from the viewpoint of her killer, is presented as she opens the door of her home before being shot. This story in O'Bryant's photos is based off the true story of a gang rivalry, in which one of the main members threatened the man whom he believed to be responsible for getting him arrested. He warned that he would get the first person who opened the door where the man lived. The first person to open the door happened to be his girlfriend, who was shot and killed in front of her two year old child.

"These are for the voices of the voiceless. When you watch media they only show it in two minute segments; it's really perplexing. You can't value the horrific of it," O'Bryant says. "I wanted to bring it in your face, to imagine being this victim."

O'Bryant believes people from all different backgrounds can benefit in truth and understanding from the series, as many forms of violence occur in all communities. "Realistic Neglects" provides thought provoking perspectives into the GRAM's Nature/Nurture theme.

"It is not in our nature to be violent, racist or evil," O'Bryant says. "It is our duty to be nurturers to the children in our communities and make sure they grow up to be beautiful flowers and not wild weeds." O'Bryant actively practices this idea in daily life. He works to bring in speakers around the Grand Rapids community to speak on subjects of  manhood, fatherhood, human trafficking, domestic violence and black on black crime. He also teaches photography and video production to teens at the Kentwood Detention Center.

O'Bryant's goal is to not only increase awareness of these violent situations, but to promote peace and encourage people to create an environment of working together in mutual respect as a community to make change a reality.

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