GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A huge mural meant to spread a message of harmony won the top award at ArtPrize 2023.

“Raining Wisdom” by Abdoulaye Conde was announced as the competition’s $125,000 public vote grand prize winner at a Friday evening awards ceremony at Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids.

“I can’t believe this. This is my dream. I can’t believe this. This is wonderful, awesome. I’m so happy,” Conde told reporters after he collected his trophy. “I’m happy, happy, happy, happy.”

The 30-by-66-foot mural depicts people swimming with elephants in vibrant greens, blues and yellows. The artist said it took 25 days of 12 hours each to complete.

  • “Raining Wisdom” by Abdoulaye Conde at 45 Ottawa NW. (Michael Buck/WOOD TV8)
  • Artist Abdoulaye Conde poses with ArtPrize Executive Director Catlin Whitington and ArtPrize board member Rick Winn after being announced as the grand prize winner for ArtPrize 2023. (Sept. 29, 2023)
  • "Raining Wisdom" at 45 Ottawa NW on Aug. 31, 2023.
  • Abdoulaye Conde works on "Raining Wisdom" at 45 Ottawa NW. (Aug. 31, 2023)
  • Abdoulaye Conde works on "Raining Wisdom" at 45 Ottawa NW. (Aug. 31, 2023)

Conde, who was born in Guinea and moved to Chicago in 2022, said the painting recalls his home country, where the elephant is the national symbol and where his favorite childhood memories were of going to the beach with his family.

“If I put elephant and people together in the water, swimming together, it’s going to be a good idea. Because the old elephant is going to spray water on the people — that’s going to be the wisdom from the smart elephant. Because the elephant takes care of his family, lives in harmony, protects his family, is strong,” Conde said.

He previously told News 8 the mural was in his personal “Gnabassan” style, which he described as a representation of human unity.

“Raining Wisdom” can be found at 45 Ottawa Ave. NW near Louis Street NW. Conde said seeing others’ happiness when they viewed his work made him happy.

“I just have to say that I have watched this artist for the last month out here, not only working and installing his entry, but also engaging with the public every single day of this event,” ArtPrize Executive Director Catlin Whitington said in announcing the big win.

“We’re thankful that we have the honor that he shared this work with us and it will remain a statement of creative expression here in Grand Rapids for all of us, the community and visitors alike, to enjoy,” Whitington added.

This was Conde’s first ArtPrize and first art competition of any kind. He was encouraged to participate by his wife’s parents, who live in Grand Rapids. He said he would use some of the prize money to support his son, who is less than a year old, and get a new house for his mother, who still lives in Africa. The rest would support his art career.

LOCALS TAKE SECOND- AND THIRD-PLACE AWARDS

Rebecca Humes of Comstock Park took the $50,000 second-place award for Tale of Ten Dresses, displayed at the JW Marriott.

Tale of Ten Dresses by Rebecca Humes, displayed at at the JW Marriott for ArtPrize 2023 (Sept. 19, 2023)
Tale of Ten Dresses by Rebecca Humes, displayed at at the JW Marriott for ArtPrize 2023 (Sept. 19, 2023)

“I loved hearing the reaction of the crowds, and everybody walking in and just their jaws dropping to the ground,” Humes said. “It’s just been a magnificent two weeks.”

She said hearing her name called was “surreal.” She called the cash prize “life-changing.”

Humes was a Top 25 artist in ArtPrize 2021, too. Last year, her sister, Jennifer Dunahee, won a category award.

“An Iris Collection of 5” by Peggy Slattery won the $25,000 third-place award. It can be found at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.

“It feels amazing. It’s good affirmation that this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” Slattery told News 8 after her win.

She said her winning piece, five oil paintings of irises, took her about seven months.

“The idea was to bring peace and serenity, and the play of light on a lot of flowing colors,” she explained. “It was amazing meeting people who felt that when they saw it.”

“An Iris Collection of 5” by Peggy Slattery at DeVos Place Convention Center.
“An Iris Collection of 5” by Peggy Slattery at DeVos Place Convention Center. (Michael Buck/WOOD TV8)

Though she is from Grand Rapids, this was her first time competing in ArtPrize.

“I just decided it was time,” Slattery said.

Spanning 150 venues around Grand Rapids, this year’s ArtPrize featured 700 entries created by about 950 artists representing 30 states and 12 countries. Organizers said the event drew more than 1 million people to the city. They cast more than 50,000 votes to select the winners. Between public vote, juried and visibility categories, $400,000 in prize money was awarded.

JURIED AWARDS

Jurors selected winners and honorable mentions in each of the competition’s five categories: 2D, 3D, installation, time-based and digital. Winners will take home $20,000 and honorable mentions $5,000.

2D

  • Winner: “Mandy with Orchid” by Stephen Brennan at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.
  • Honorable mention: “Menage” by Roger Bruinekool at the DeVos Place Convention Center.

Jonathan Levine of Jonathan Levine Projects was the 2D juror.

He praised Brennan’s “stellar” technical ability, pointing out how the “palette is subtle yet the colors are rich and pop.”

“The imagery has a sort of haunting and mysterious quality while playing with formal issues of multiple viewpoints which add to this narrative,” Levine said in a statement.

He also appreciated Bruinekool’s “playful shapes and vibrant colors that sort of dance on the surface.”

3D

Rachel Winter, assistant curator at Michigan State University’s Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, was the 3D juror.

“Kumkum’s otherworldly figures propose sculpture’s transformative capacity, one that sparks extraterrestrial wonder while returning us to the very people, forces, and experiences that first inspired us to imagine and dream,” Winter said.

Winter said Blay’s SpLaVCe Ship is an “imaginative and futuristic work” that “harkens back to the premises of Afrofuturism while harnessing a contemporary momentum for change to put forth the idea that Blackness is freeing.”

INSTALLATION

The installation juror was Joshua Solas, an independent artist and designer and the founder and creative director at SOLASINK.

Solas could not decide between The Art of Disruption and The Zone of Authenticity, leading him to split first place.

“Placing a ramp structure in the middle of a basketball court has a certain amount of humour to it that really lends to the concept of disruption of space. A solid execution and beautiful way to share a fresh take on intersectionality,” Solas said of The Art of Disruption.

He called The Zone of Authenticity “an ‘authentic’ space in which we are invited to contribute and benefit from — a very literal and honest way that art can make an impact in a vulnerable and accessible way.”

Solas praised Gambling on the Horizon as “a beautiful and honest representation of its environment, Grand Rapids.”

TIME-BASED

Coka Trevino, curator and director of programming at Big Medium and Soho House in Austin, Texas, was the juror in the time-based category.

Trevino praised “The Future is a Constant Wake” for its “profound relevance and innovative approach to connecting with the past while preparing for the future.”

The juror said Rene MG’s entry “gently presents potentially uncomfortable information, guiding the public toward positive discoveries and reflections.”

DIGITAL

The digital juror was Briana Yarhouse, an animator, researcher and director of animation at Interlochen Academy of the Arts.

Yarhouse, who identifies as queer, said “Boddy-oddy-oddy-oddy” is “an experience that cannot be duplicated without the use of the digital medium.”

“The work embeds the viewer in the experience of Queer dissonance and the objectivation of queer bodies. By centering on the always transforming, moving figure in the camera’s gaze an attempt is made to control the queer experience,” Yarhouse continued.

VISIBILITY AWARDS

There were five $15,000 Visibility Awards to highlight artists of specific demographics:

  • Vanguard Award supported by LMCU: “#NoMoreStolenSist(a)s” by Maya James at
    Zabház.
  • Prism Award: “Technophobia” by Christopher Shields at The Morton.
  • Originators Award presented by Gun Lake Casino and Gun Lake Investments: “SERENITY” by Juan Pimentel at Harmony Brewing Company.
  • Crossroads Award: “Isa(Moving)” by Minyoung Kwak at Monroe Community Church.
  • Horizontes Award: Caminantes by Salvador Jimenez-Flores at the ArtPrize Oasis.
  • Artist Maya James described "No More Stolen Sistas" as "a living altar space."
  • “Technophobia” by Christopher Shields at The Morton.
  • Juan Pimentel’s “SERENITY”, displayed at Harmony Brewing Company for ArtPrize 2023. (Michael Buck/WOOD TV8)
  • Minyoung Kwak’s “Isa(Moving)." (Courtesy ArtPrize.org)
  • Salvador Jimenez-Flores’ Caminantes, displayed at the ArtPrize Oasis. (Michael Buck/WOOD TV8)

“From a Place of Privilege: A Celebration of the Black Woman,” by Laura Wilson and “Dimensional Dissection” by Aidan Gardner won the $2,000 Grand Rapids African American Arts & Music Awards.

The winners of two other independent awards, each worth $4,000, were announced last week. The Artista Latina Award went to Johnny Camacho for “Identity,” displayed at The B.O.B. The Asian Art Award went to Harminder Boparai for After Party Guests at DeVos Place.

Joshua Kortenhoven, a ninth grader at Grand Rapids City High Middle School, was previously announced as the winner of the Consumers Energy SmartArt competition for his work, “Green Shoes.” He will get a $2,000 scholarship.

Grand Rapids’ annual massive art competition started Sept. 14. In the first week, voters cast tens of thousands of votes to narrow down hundreds of pieces of art to the Top 25, which were announced Sept. 22. Voting for the winner ended Thursday night.

If you haven’t made it out to ArtPrize yet, there’s still time: It runs through Sunday.

ArtPrize 2024 has been scheduled for Sept. 13 to Sept. 28.