2021 Human Rights Arts Festival Award Winners Announced

September 14, 2021

The Jury of the North Dakota Human Rights Arts Festival is excited to recognize the official award-winners for the fourth annual festival.

More than 50 artists were selected to be a part of the traveling exhibition that opened in January at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo and concluded in August at the James Memorial Arts Center in Williston.

Nine artists are being recognized and honored for their creativity, talent, approach to content, and overall excellence of their work.

The award winners include:

Best of Show

Title of Work: “Sitting for peace”
Artist: Isaiah Johns
Medium: Oil, Acrylic, Sand on canvas | 36″x 36″
Origin: West Fargo, ND

Sitting for Peace is in reference to the most photographed native in American History.  What many may be surprised to know is that he sat for peace.  He sat for photographers hoping that these images would contradict the highly published “cartoon savage” that many newspapers back east would use in their publications.

Even though deep down he knew this would not influence the move west by settlers from all over the world, he still sat in hopes that they would see a human, and not a concept or cartoon creation.

This portrait represents those of us who know strength but are humbled.  Those who know pride but have been defeated. Those who know love but have hated. Those who know truth but have lied. Those who teach but do not follow. Those who want peace but have destroyed.

We are all the same.

Best Water Color

Title of Work: “A Cup of Resistance”
Artist: Brandi Malarkey
Medium: Water Color | 8″x 10″
Origin: Fargo, ND

Resist! Because equality should be everyone’s cup of tea.

Take a needed art restorative with tansy in a teacup. Often used as an abortive agent in medieval times through the early twentieth century, this toxic plant also symbolizes resistance in the Victorian Language of Flowers. At a time when the political climate is against sexual health and awareness A Cup of Resistance is a symbol that we will continue to work for a time when equity is a reality.

Best Photography

Title of Work: “Cognitive Distortions”
Artist: Anastasia de Celle
Medium: Digital Photography | 36″x 46″
Origin: Reiles Acres, ND

Cognitive Distortions examines how inaccurate thinking can affect our behavior by reinforcing negative perceptions of ourselves and others. This new warped sense of self becomes actively destructive by convincing us of absolutes, polarizing thoughts and creating discrepancies in our reality. This vicious cycle becomes self-fulfilling, erasing the details that made us complete.

These stark black and white self-portraits excavate a mirrored and manipulated thought process that is continuous and unending. Cognitive Distortions is a reflection on how recognizing our broken thinking can heal our behavior, emotions and relationships with others and ourselves.

Best Oil

Title of Work: “Druid Dream”
Artist: Susan Morrissey
Medium: Oil | 40″x 49″
Origin: Fargo, ND

My work most often begins with something going on about me, though it may not seem so.

Once begun, the imagery takes on it’s own life, at times leading to a sur-real quality as in this particular piece. The impetus for this piece took place while wandering the music building at Indiana University, I found it’s strange circular environment with sounds of the various rehearsals going on in radiating rooms, eerie and memorable.

I chose this piece for submission as it seems to embody the unique situation in which we find ourselves, a crystal snowball is as likely to provide answers as other.

Best Drawing

Title of Work: “Lower 48 (A House with Two Doors)”
Artist: Brett Lysne
Medium: Monochromatic Drawing | 16″x 20″
Origin: Fargo, ND

In the same meditative yet disillusioned spirit as the other map-based drawings in this series, this detailed pen drawing combines an array of visual information as a means to process and respond to ongoing events in American politics.

The content of this map was culled while listening to the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, as well as wrenching testimony by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. Hidden among the organic information such as leaves, vines, and waterways, the viewer can ponder a vocabulary of symbols that reflect issues around power, memory, trauma, and a culture of toxic masculinity.

As in other works in The Lower Forty-Eight series, three-dimensional block letters, reminiscent of benign children’s blocks or refrigerator magnets, spell out cryptic yet serious content.

Best 3D Work

Title of Work: “I Can’t Breathe”
Artist: Jeremy Colbert
Medium: Cast Iron, Cast Bronze, Steel, Rope | 18″x 6″ x 6″
Origin: Lexington, KY

The phrase “I can’t breathe” begins to take on a new meaning in the past year of 2020. After the George Floyd incident, I begin to think of the movement as it grew into protest of not only a person that was murdered but much more. His family and personal home being affected, his neighborhood, the city, the nation, and then the world.

In the work, a house form is suspended upside down representing the response to the action and refection upon the world to the lack of humanity. The house is compressed, and in a struggle, seeming helpless. A bronze and steel structure towers over the form that holds the house. It is ornamental type form that looks like a big top circus tent or umbrella covering up the house.    

Best Experimental Film

Title of Work: “Aurora”
Artist: Phoebe Wong
Medium: Animation & Experimental
Origin: Hong Kong

Aurora is a social experiment animation project that is about hope.

20 collaborating HongKongers places blank post its on different places all over the world, including United States, United Kingdom, Taiwan, Hong Kong, etc. A blank post it represents the silent protest against the suppression of the freedom of speech because one may face prosecution because of what they said or wrote.

Other than blank post-its, the drawings that represents the 2020 vision of the collaborators are connected together by morph animation from one vision to another vision.

In the work, a house form is suspended upside down representing the response to the action and refection upon the world to the lack of humanity. The house is compressed, and in a struggle, seeming helpless. A bronze and steel structure towers over the form that holds the house. It is ornamental type form that looks like a big top circus tent or umbrella covering up the house.    

Best Installation Work

Title of Work: “Pro-Life?”
Artist:Angie Swiec
Medium: Mixed Media | 27″x 24″ x 35″
Origin: Bismarck, ND

Millions of Americans consider themselves “Pro-Life” protectors of children. However, I wonder whether those people who fight for the life of unborn children are also passionately fighting for the children that our government has separated from their parents and detained in cages at our border? Or do these refugee children not count as a life, because they are not American or white? The US internment camps are uncomfortable to think about and more uncomfortable to look at, but we cannot keep looking away at reality.

I want people to be shocked at the image of a kid in a “perrera” (dog cage) and question the highly destructive practice of separating migrant families at the border, and the physical act of putting a human, especially a child, in a cage. I question all of those who fight for the life of an unborn fetus, where are they in all of this? Are they fighting for these children?

Best Mixed Media Work

Title of Work: “blanket statement (do you feel safe yet?)”
Artist: Rebecca Oehler
Medium: Screenprint on fabric | 6′ x 5′
Origin: Fargo, ND

Often the responsibility is put on women to protect themselves. We are held accountable for our own safety, expected to carry pepper spray and tasers, hold our keys in tightly held fists, know how to avoid danger, how to escape, how to say “no.” The reality is that these defensive practices don’t work in a society which doesn’t hold men accountable for their actions.

blanket statement (do you feel safe yet?) examines the ways in which our society views these defensive practices. Just as a quilt can be comforting, so too can these protective measures make us feel safe. Yet the reality is that self-protective measures are merely a superficial solution for the larger societal issue of toxic male behavior. Encouraging women to carry pepper spray or not to go out at night can be comforting, but it isn’t enough; we must shift the conversation to men and address the ways in which toxic behavior is learned and endorsed by society.

Best Poetry

Title of Work: “When I Say Nothing”
Artist: Katie Ryan-Anderson
Medium: Written
Origin: Marion, MN

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve overheard or been a part of a conversation in which racist, sexist or otherwise oppressive language caught me off guard. These comments catch me by surprise, and I am often without words. And even if I can figure out what to say, I rarely can articulate fast enough.

That’s not an excuse. Surprise doesn’t justify silence.

“When I say nothing” is an apology. And a promise to do better.

The mission of the North Dakota Human Rights Arts Festival is to educate, engage, and facilitate discussion around local and worldwide human-rights topics through the work of filmmakers and artists.

In 2021, the touring exhibition was hosted in Fargo at the Plains Art Museum and historic Fargo Theatre, in Grand Forks at the UND Arts Collections at the Empire Arts Center, in Bismarck at the Bismarck Downtown Artist Co-Op, in Jamestown at The Arts Center, in Minot at the Taube Museum of Art and Oak Park Theater, and in Williston at the James Memorial Arts Center.

The Fargo exhibition and theatrical screening were made possible in part through the generosity of The Arts Partnership. with support from the Cities of Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo. The state-wide traveling exhibition was supported in part by the North Dakota Council on the Arts, which receives funding from the state legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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