By The Associated Press
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — A performance about identity and race and a series of photographs about humanity’s shared connections won grand prizes in a popular art competition in western Michigan.
New Jersey-based Le’Andra LeSeur’s “brown, carmine, and blue” performance won the $200,000 juried grand prize at the 10th international ArtPrize in Grand Rapids.
LeSeur said she was shocked to learn she’d won. She described her work as primarily about identity, and the way people navigate their lives and ultimately how they find joy. The work has a performance piece, video work and an installation element.
“When I first started it, I deemed it as a love letter to myself,” LeSeur said afterward. “Just the fact that people connected to the same things I was going through, I can’t even put words into how that feels. It’s really amazing.”
LeSeur said she performed on stage for 13 days carrying, at times, a cinder block representing the weight and pain we carry in life. The video work showed clips of her and members of her family interacting. And for the installation segment, the cinder blocks were merged with neon and other lighting to create a mood.
“This will definitely put me in the space of creating more work,” she said of the prize. “It will also allow me to help other black, female artists get their voices out there.”
Photographs by Indiana-based Chelsea Nix and Mariano Cortez won the $200,000 public vote grand prize for “THE STRING PROJECT.”
“Tears came first and words came later,” Nix said afterward, noting she and Cortez came out on top because their message was executed in such a simple way that even a child could understand it quickly.
“It made people feel something they haven’t felt in a while,” Nix said. “It made them feel vulnerable.”
The grand prize winners were announced Friday night in the competition which featured more than 1,260 artworks displayed at over 160 venues. Eight other entries each won a $12,500 award.
Artists from around the world vied for $500,000 in cash prizes.
ArtPrize started last month and spans 19 days. It wraps up Sunday. The public votes on the artwork using mobile devices and the web. A group of international art experts determines the winners of the juried awards.
Photos in “THE STRING PROJECT” were taken across five continents.
“The string that runs through each portrait underscores that our similarities are greater than our differences, and what unites us is stronger than what divides us,” ArtPrize Executive Director Jori Bennett said of the entry.
Lauren Haynes, curator of Contemporary Art at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas, said “brown, carmine, and blue” is about “what it means to be black, what it means to be a woman, what it means to be queer.”
Michigan winners include “PULSE Nightclub: 49 Elegies” by John Gutoskey of Ann Arbor; “The Phoenix” by Joe Butts of Oxford; “Moving Experience” by #shangled of Sparta; “Sonder” by Megan Constance Altieri of Grand Rapids; and “Heidelbergology; 2+2=8” by Tyree Guyton Heidelberg Project in Detroit.
Following this year, organizers plan to hold ArtPrize every other year instead of annually.