UICA exhibits work from Michigan artists, features GV professor

Courtesy / Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts

Courtesy / Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts

Arie Nienhuis

Kendall College’s Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts is one of Grand Rapids’ most important art museums. Its connections to local culture, sociopolitical issues and forward-thinking artistic ideas have cemented itself as a modern artistic space. One of the institute’s most recent exhibitions is “Coming Home,” a suite of exhibitions from four artists with deep roots in Michigan. 

“Coming Home” features work from painter and muralist Pat Perry, stone artist and sculptor Jason Quigno, photographer Zachary Trebellas and Emily Najera, who currently works as a visiting professor of photography at Grand Valley State University. From sculpture to paint, this body of work uses different mediums to highlight the variety of artistic output seen in the Michigan art scene.

A wide range of artistic ideas and contribution from Najera makes this exhibition – along with the UICA’s rotating collection as a whole – a highly valuable learning opportunity for GVSU students. Executive Director of the UICA and curator of “Coming Home” Miranda Krajniak explained the importance of visiting the collection.

“I definitely think Grand Valley students should come because one of your professors’ work is featured,” Krajniak said. “Emily Najera’s work is fantastic. It’s been featured in The New York Times many times, (and) she’s working on a national scale. Grand Valley students are incredibly lucky to have her.”

Presenting a large collection of photos showcasing the changing environment of Grand Rapids’ northwest areas, Najera’s photography combines beautiful visual expression with fascinating social commentary. Najera expanded on some of the ideas that went into the work exhibited in her piece of “Coming Home.” 

“(These pieces) focus on architecture of northwest Grand Rapids,” Najera said. “The images are all shot before sunrise or sunset, and I’m trying to create a visual archive of places and landmarks that may be threatened by redevelopment.”

The collection features photography from a span of a decade and was inspired by the quick, ongoing changes Grand Rapids has gone through. Najera expanded upon specific changes the city has experienced, including the removal of family-owned businesses and waves of gentrification and high-density housing.

“The most significant changes I’ve seen in the urban landscape is new construction for public housing,” Najera said. “Single-family homes and small businesses are demolished for multi-level, market-rate apartments. Also, I would describe the places I photograph as being vulnerable to disappearing. City redevelopment comes in waves; in the 1960s urban renewal and the dedication of U.S. 131 altered downtown (Grand Rapids) and the west side.”

GVSU students are encouraged to see this exhibition in person, as each artists’ input presents something different and stimulating and the presence of a GVSU professor’s work provides a deeper connection. “Coming Home” will be available to view until Jan. 25.