Anila Quayyum Agha Sweeps ArtPrize, Winning Both Jury and Public Grand Prize Awards

Anila Quayyum Agha's "Intersections" at the Grand Rapids Art Museum (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)
Anila Quayyum Agha’s “Intersections” at the Grand Rapids Art Museum (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

After years of jokes about Jesus paintings and quilts seducing the art crowds flocking to the Grand Rapids-based ArtPrize art competition, this year the juried and popular votes have synched up to reveal one big winner.

Another view of Agha's "Intersections"
Another view of Agha’s “Intersections”

Pakistan-born and Indianapolis-based Anila Quayyum Agha has swept the grand prizes, winning the $200,000 popular one, and splitting the purse for the $200,000 juried prize with Richmond, Virginia-based artist Sonya Clark.

Agha’s “Intersections” installation at the Grand Rapids Art Museum filled an entire gallery with a light source in the center of a laser-cut wooden cube. The lattice of shadows represents, according to the artist’s statement, “geometric patterning in Islamic sacred spaces, associated with certitude.” A play between the nature of public and private space, the work also challenges viewers by blurring the traditional boundaries of what constitutes an art work by placing attention as much on the shadows as the sculpted object itself.

For her “Hair Craft Project,” Sonya Clark explored the poetry and politics of black hair care specialists. Providing various artisans with silk thread and a canvas, Clark invited all the women to transfer their work into a gallery context. The results are abstract works of surprising energy, spontaneity, and craft. Clark was also selected as the winner of the juried 2-D category.

Images of Sonya Clark's "Hair Craft Project" at the Kendall Galleries at the Kendall College of Art and Design.
Images of Sonya Clark’s “Hair Craft Project” at the Kendall Galleries at the Kendall College of Art and Design.

The 2014 ArtPrize Grand Prize jury was chaired by Susan Sollins, executive director of Art21 in Manhattan, and artists Leonardo Drew of Brooklyn and Katharina Grosse of Düsseldorf.

Both artists, who are also female artists of color, represent the first year when public and juried selections have overlapped.

Tonight’s awards ceremony included various statements about diversity at ArtPrize. ArtPrize Executive Director Christian Gaines and Exhibitions Director Kevin Buist both mentioned diversity as part of their speeches, while ArtPrize founder Rick DeVos did not mention the topic. The reference to diversity may have been in response to ArtPrize finalist Steve Lambert’s statement that he would not be keeping any prize money in the event that he wins. During her acceptance speech, artist Anila Quayyum Agha also brought up the issue of diversity.

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