Top 10 ArtPrize artist shows Grand Rapid’s diversity

Matt Oberski

ArtPrize voting ends tonight, and to win the public’s vote, the Top 10 artists need to stand out.

One of the finalists, “Origami” by Kumi Yamashita, is a unique installation at the Grand Rapids Art Museum using light and shadow to show 99 faces.

Yamashita was born in Japan, and first came to the U.S. when she was 16 years old as an exchange student in Indiana. After two years, she then moved to Italy for art school, before moving back to the U.S. for her undergraduate degree in Seattle, WA. After graduation, she traveled to Glasgow, Scotland for her master’s degree and now resides in New York.

She first started using light and shadow techniques while studying in Seattle, not only to aid in two-dimensional art practices, but as a medium itself. That technique soon became her signature, and she’s formed a career around it.

“It is my passion,” she said. “You just have to make it work.”

And she’s making it work at ArtPrize this year. As one of the Top 10 finalists, “Origami” uses 99 pieces of colored paper and light to cast shadows that show the faces of 99 Grand Rapids citizens she has met while working in the city.

According to Yamashita’s ArtPrize profile, the work displays the city’s diversity. Each paper is folded to represent a different individual, and when all the paper is flat and unfolded, all the profiles are the same with a common shape and size.

“It celebrates diversity, but also our differences,” Yamashita said.

Grand Valley State University sophomore Spencer Brown enjoyed the simplicity of the piece and its message.

“It exemplifies the idea that no one person is the same as the next,” Brown said. “Everyone’s different in their own way and that’s (really) awesome.”

Yamashita said there isn’t much to her process of gaining inspiration – she creates for herself because it’s her passion, not for commission or publicity.

“You just get a vision in your head, you know? And you’re not sure where it comes from,” she said. “It’s always been like that. I always see this vision as kind of a gift given to me.”

Travelling the world, meeting hundreds of people Yamshita said being open to strangers and overall human connection is very important.

She gives advice to young artists that having art in exhibitions and galleries isn’t that important thing, but instead to just be honest.

“Be sincere in what you do. Don’t do something just to get you somewhere else. Otherwise, you aren’t doing you, or any others any favors,” she said.

“Origami” is on display at the GRAM until Oct. 7. Voters have until today at 11:59 p.m. to pick one of the Top 10 artists to win the $200,000 grand prize.

To see more of Yamshita’s artwork, go to her website at

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