Artist may be left out of ArtPrize over controversial piece

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – When Art Prize 2015 hits Grand Rapids, the entire city will get to see unique works from all over the country. Some will be big, some will be small - some will be light-hearted and some will be controversial. But there’s one they may not see, and it may just be the most controversial of all.

Atlanta-based artist Nabil Mousa is currently working to get his sculpture, Paradise Built on the Bones of the Slaughtered into the contest, but it hasn’t proven to be easy. His piece features burned religious texts including the Bible, the Torah and the Quran all stacked on top of one another. It’s a message that may seem frightening and disrespectful to many, but Mousa says the message is one of unity, not division.

“There’s a reason behind it,” he said. “I didn’t burn them because I’m pissed off or I’m angry or I just wanted to do it just to do it. There’s a message behind it. And that message is that people of different religions are not really applying what those holy books tell them.”

Mousa knows all too well the perils of misinterpretation when it comes of religious writings. A Syrian national and once-devout Christian, Mousa had a difficult time telling his family he was also gay.

“Here I am, a gay man, in a religion that’s telling me that if I’m gay in the eyes of god I may as well be dead,” Mousa said, “and it was really very hard for me to cope with that.”

It was Mousa’s own unacceptance under something that once meant so much to him that he says is the inspiration for the controversial piece. Once he entered it in ArtPrize here in Grand Rapids, he was immediately approached by the curator of the City Hall/Calder Plaza venue, wanting Mousa to pick that location to display the work.

Out of the 162 public and private ArtPrize venues around the city, roughly 10 public venues require approval by the city before it is decided which works will be displayed there. That’s something Mousa wasn’t aware of when first approached. Mousa’s piece was rejected for a spot in City Hall, leaving him without a place to display it and very little time to find one.

ArtPrize officials are working with Mousa to try to find a replacement venue, but time is running out. And that upsets Mousa – he feels, controversial or not, the message of the piece is something everyone, regardless of their religion, should consider.

“When you talk religion or you talk politics a lot of people, including me, have a wall that goes up instantly,” he said. “But art does something that’s amazing. It breaks through those walls. Those walls aren’t there. And people are somehow willing to stop and listen to what’s being said.”

“People are people. We all want the same thing. We want peace, security - we want to be free to be who we are.”

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13 comments

  • Kevin Rahe

    People keep telling me that my religion preaches that we should hate people who experience same-sex attractions, but I’ve never read a Bible verse or heard a homily at Mass that tried to give me that idea. Someone is not understanding someone.

  • James

    Yet more proof that ArtPrize is really nothing more than a marketing campaign, and not truly a legitimate art event. Excluding entries because they are potentially culturally offensive while allowing entries which are artistically or aesthetically offensive reflects a bias driven by money rather than by art.
    Whatever promotes the city as being in-step with pop culture is allowed, whatever does not is disallowed. That is the shallow mindset which runs this city, and which is being reflected by ArtPrize. It is a mindset of sheeplike followers, not of truly progressive leadership. The world is looking at us and seeing that we are a city that is no different than a child who puts on her mother’s makeup and pretends to be grown up, while underneath is the same old immature, self-centered corruption that has kept this city irrelevant for the last 50 years.

  • Deeg58

    Nowhere does this article even hint that Artprize is denying this entry. What it states is that out of 162 venues available 10 city run venues require pre approval. He chose one of those. His story also changes depending which articles you read.

    • BrandME

      The story hasn’t changed. He was invited by the curator at city hall to have his piece there. On Sept 3rd someone there posted via City hall’s facebook page that they knew the piece would inspire dialogue and that it should be on everyone’s list to see. He goes to Grand Rapids in advance of his work and is then informed a vote was taken and his piece was no longer welcomed. A vote that should have happened in May not 9 days before the competition. Art Prize then immediately removed that he had an entry from their website. Art Prize official tells the news that they don’t help artists find locations but would help in this special circumstance. The city approached Mousa and then dropped him with no real time to find a place that can hold a 13 foot art piece in the city. From the central of the city to no place. Why is that ok?

  • Bruce

    Pretty sure Muslims are following the Quran by killing Christians …I’d rather see a sculpture of the prophet Mohammad getting beheaded while at the same time being sodomized

  • CommomSense

    His sculpturedoesnt mean a lot. Guess what, you can’t pick and choose from the lost of rules and history from whatever religion you belong to. Pack your bags, you don’t have a chance. Story changes we h time it is retold.

    • BrandME

      There is no hatred in this piece. Burning the Koran is a common practice when discarding an old, worn out, or damaged one. You can’t burn it with trash or have ill intent. Mousa has expressed time and time again this was a cleansing ritual and about peace. That if we do not practice the love in these books than their words are useless to us. So are we afraid Christians and Jews will target Grand rapids for the burning of the Bible and Torah?