GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — An ArtPrize 10 entry that is stirring up a conversation about racial inequality didn’t make into last year’s competition because the venue was worried it may be too controversial, the artist said.
The digital artwork shows three lasers pointing at the face of a young boy of color.
“The laser beams just represent us being targets, or disenfranchised groups being targets, in a sense, through society,” artist Joshua Solas explained.
Solas said didn’t want to water it down, so he waited to enter it this year to enter his piece, “You’re Joking Right?” It can now be found at Muse GR, a new art gallery on Leonard Street NW that’s on the Shortlist to win a juried award for outstanding venue.
The entry also includes an image of uncomfortable laughter, which Solas said marginalized groups like people of color use to cope with the world.
“That very concept of laughing at one’s own demise is what I was trying to get at,” he said.
Solas, a native of Jamaica who now lives in Grand Rapids, said that the idea began manifesting while he was completing his thesis at Kendall College of Art and Design. Footage of an incident of a 2017 incident in which Grand Rapids police officers held black children at gunpoint also gave him motivation to create it.
“Some kid fit a description somehow and they had the kids at gunpoint,” he said, recalling the situation that led up to the video. “It was kind of strange to look at. I mean, I’m sure they (the officers) were doing their job, but at the same time, it’s kind of questionable. How young is someone going to be profiled and be in a potentially tricky situation?”
Solas was quick to say that police aren’t the only group that have targeted people of color.
He said he aims to spur conversations about things like equal housing and job opportunities, which he believes is necessary in Grand Rapids.
“The piece itself definitely is something that felt right to do because I do want to send that there are people in this world, and people around me, that feel this way and are affected in a real way by these issues,” he said.