ArtPrize artist uses his work to probe race relations in America

ArtPrize veteran creates buzz with controversial piece

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - Over the past nine years, artists have been known to use ArtPrize to tackle controversial and socially relevant topics. Local artist, and ArtPrize veteran, Monroe O'Bryant, is certainly doing that this year with his entry "A Fearless Brother Project Presents: A Walk In The Park In America."

'Bryant's work is a graphic 2-D series comprised of photographs that have provoked conversations throughout West Michigan. His work has also generated a lot of buzz on social media from those who love it and those who hate it.

"We've gotten like 56,000 views on social media," said Bryant. "Some people have been talking about boycotting ArtPrize because of my piece. Others have talked about coming to damage it. Some have talked about whether it can be considered art. There are people that are for it and there are people that are against it."

That's not surprising. In the true spirit of ArtPrize, O'Bryant's work is generating dialogue and thought. This time it is about an issue that can certainly be divisive at times -- race relations.

"I want people to understand what racism really looks like in America. I want people to have an empathy for what it is to be Black," said O'Bryant, who considers his work a social experiment as much as it is a collection of images.

O'Bryant can often be found giving a brief walk-through and presentation, to ArtPrize visitors, in front of his work at DeVos Place. It is there, he's received validation from people, from all walks of life, that his work was worth the risk.

"People say they respect it. People understand. Some people are crying. People have developed an empathy. If they didn't understand before, once they take the walk they understand after," he said.

The project is divided into what O'Bryant calls four chapters. Each chapter has photographic images depicting a painful struggle in the African-American community. The collection takes on topics ranging from discrimination against those embrace their ethnic heritage; bi-racial identity conflict; Euro-centric standards of beauty; consumerism and exploitation, Black on Black crime and creating better relationships between police and the communities they serve.

"This is my story of what racism looks like in America," said O'Bryant, who hopes his work can help reverse destructive patterns.

The topic is not new to O’Bryant. In 2015, he won the ArtPrize 2D juried vote for his work dealing with murder, human trafficking, and gang violence in the African American community.

This year, in addition to entering his own work at DeVos Place, O'Bryant is the curator for another ArtPrize venue -- Grand Rapids City Hall. The work of more than one dozen artists are featured in an exhibition inside the lobby. The work focuses mainly on the work of contemporary African American artists who are using their art as a means for activism.

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