Barrier-breaking art exhibit opens on campus


GVL / Bethann Long

Hailey Hentz, Staff Writer

“Convergence: Cracks in the Glass Ceiling,” is an exhibit on display in the Haas Center for Performing Arts at Grand Valley State University that encourages students to push boundaries and engage in the conversation of racial injustice. It is co-curated by Muse GR, an art gallery in Grand Rapids that fosters an inclusive and passionate creative space.

The display includes the work of eleven artists, including Grand Valley State University alumni. They use a wide range of media and styles to create a vibrant portrayal of art and culture. The contemporary art in the exhibition fuses together pop, street and graffiti, fiber and urban genres in its presentation. 

According to a learning guide provided to visitors by the GVSU Art Gallery, “Artists in this exhibition engage directly and indirectly with social and racial justice and economic issues. Stylistically, their works embody both joy and anxiety, while embracing the angst and excitement of living in 21st-century America.”

The artists come from various locations such as Detroit, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and London to piece together a narrative of experiences and community. Three themes prevalent throughout the exhibition are “Breaking Barriers,” “Pushing Boundaries” and “Activism in Art.”

Some artists were connected through working together for years. 3-4 artists we have been art friends with, sometimes collaborating and the remainder were sought out after we admired their work,” said Muse GR co-creator Stephen Smith. Smith is a GVSU alum and teaches as an adjunct professor.

“We like working with what we call “neo-artists,” or new artists to help them get their start,” Smith said. “We also cultivate talent and skills in people interested in art by providing classes and workshops.”

The GVSU Art Gallery describes inspirations of the exhibit drawing from trailblazing artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and David Hammons. Combining their contribution to culture with the evolving field of pop art creates a colorful and thought-provoking perspective represented in the galleries.

“Of course the Picassos, the Van Goghs, we all know those,” said Andre Ray, an artist in the exhibition. “When I was younger, I didn’t know that there were people doing what I like on a high level.”

The artists featured in the exhibition are breaking the barriers between art styles, using the result to reflect on injustice in society and representation in the art world. According to the gallery’s learning guide, “91.7% of North American artists in museum collections born after 1944 are white.”

“We’re breaking that barrier of what is fine art versus street art,” said GVSU illustration alum Jasmine Bruce. “One of the pieces I created was (from) when I was attending Grand Valley.”

Bruce said it’s important for college students to see different styles combine and reveal a deeper meaning in a work of art. 

GVSU chose to collaborate with Muse because it hopes students will learn about the intertwining of art and culture from the exhibition and be inspired in their own endeavors.

“Whenever there is art around, one can learn about themself,” Smith said. “Students can learn that you can use art to tell stories and make change. The pieces by Bryce Detroit (have) sparked conversations throughout the nation.”

The artists and gallery curators are excited to have brought “Convergence” to GVSU and highlight the significance of its display on a college campus. 

“The whole idea of college is expanding your mind and thinking in different ways that maybe hadn’t been thought about before,” said Steven Reynolds, another GVSU graduate who is proud to bring the exhibition to current students. “I think that’s a big reason why it belongs here at this university.”

Reynolds’ work in the exhibit is inspired by Billie Holiday’s performance of the poem “Strange Fruit” by Meeropol. He believes it encapsulates the theme of the gallery show and encourages students to think about the ways in which art and culture can further racial equality.

Art students can learn from the exhibit about putting themselves and their stories into their work in a unique and innovative way.

“Be confident and know that your work is good enough,” Ray said. “Someone will see the worth in it if you put yourself out there.”

Those interested in viewing “Convergence” can see the display on campus, as well as its other half at Muse GR through March 31. More information can be found on the GVSU Art Gallery website.