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Ninth annual ArtPrize festival hits Grand Rapids with some politically charged art

Sep 22, 2017

Art is supposed to have a message – at least that's what several folks attending the annual Grand Rapids ArtPrize festival are saying.

The ninth annual ArtPrize festival officially starts today in downtown Grand Rapids. There are exhibits in more than 170 venues throughout the downtown area.

Several of the exhibits have politically charged messages at this year's open art competition.

One such piece,"Immeasurable Numbness" by Rachel Nanzer, illustrates the polarizing messages of "Black Lives Matter" and "All Lives Matter."

Phyiir Fly, a Grand Rapids resident who attended ArtPrize, says the Black Lives Matter movement is often mischaracterized.

“We know everyone's lives matter, but everyone's lives are not being taken away daily without explanation, without justification,” Fly said.

The piece was accompanied by two posters where people could write how they felt about each phrase, “Black Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter” respectively.

Poster next to "Immeasurable Numbness" painting that asks people how they feel about the phrase "Black Lives Matter"
Credit Bryce Huffman / Michigan Radio

Fly says this is important to starting a conversation about racism in America.

“I think the fact that you can see how people really feel with these anonymous replies is very telling, and it’s also necessary,” she said.

"Immeasurable Numbness", along with several others that deal with racial inequality, are in the lobby of Grand Rapids City Hall.

Poster next to "Immeasurable Numbness" painting that asks people how they feel about the phrase "All Lives Matter"
Credit Bryce Huffman / Michigan Radio

Stephen Edwardson is an art teacher from Battle Creek who attended the festival. He says art is at its best when it gets political.

“I think people see art as a very powerful tool to communicate important ideas,” Edwardson said.

A piece called “How Long?” by Brian Meuser is featured in the Fountain Street Church, a progressive nondenominational church downtown. Edwardson says this painting details topics most people in Western countries choose to ignore.

“This painting, to me, is all about what Western Europeans did to Africa. Most of the figures here are emaciated and look to have been starved, which is what [European countries] did to Africa for hundreds of years,” he said.

Edwardson also pointed out a piece in the same room called “Flint” by Ti-Rock Moore. It’s a sculpture of a water fountain that reads “colored” above a discolored stream of water.

“I think it just points to what the government did in Flint, poisoning a city with a lot of black people. Was that on purpose? I’m not sure, but the effects are there regardless,” he said.

"Flint" a sculpture by Ti-Rock Moore
Credit Bryce Huffman / Michigan Radio

The festival will continue through early October, but the first round of voting ends September 30.

People can vote on their favorite pieces or learn more information about the festival on the ArtPrize website and mobile app.