Local artist and educator Niarus Walker yielded to her creative and impulsive nature because “I thought it would be fun.”
Walker entered the open, independently organized international art competition, ArtPrize, which takes place in Grand Rapids, Michigan, from Sept. 16 through Oct. 3.
ArtPrize celebrates artists working in all mediums from anywhere in the world and is open to any artist with artwork to enter and a venue willing to host it. The competition is recognized as one of the world’s largest public art events.
The funding from ArtPrize will assist the winning artists in realizing their ambitious projects and competing for a combination of prizes and juried awards this fall.
Walker’s entry, “Good Breeding Stock,” is a free-standing sculptural work consisting of two images made of recycled coaxial cable debris salvaged from Hurricane Maria. The sculptures are male and female, where the lower half of the male torso is a bull, and the lower half of the female torso is a cow. Each member of this duo, together, breaks the chain, that iconic symbol of slavery, she said.
“I created the image as an amalgamation of the human being and animal, specifically the Senepol cattle, which was developed and bred on St. Croix. The image represents the very tangible reality of how enslaved Africans were bred as cattle from the fittest of the population in order to harvest a stronger breed that could survive the hardships of slavery in much the same way the Senepol was bred to be less susceptible to diseases and to withstand the harsh Caribbean climate,” she said.
“The sculpture is built out of the trauma and also represents resilience and determination and strength of the people of the African diaspora.”
When the ArtPrize call came out in 2021, Walker made the decision to enter the male centaur sculpture. With more wire at her disposal, Walker created the cow, the heifer, the female centaur sculpture – both are ecologically sustainable, she said.
The application process began: Walker entered her idea and sketched the actual work.
For 18 days, art is exhibited throughout the city in public parks and museums, in galleries and vacant storefronts, in bars and on bridges. Since its inception in 2009, ArtPrize awards thousands of dollars directly to millions of participating artists, through grants to support their work and through prizes, which the public decides through the ArtPrize tech platform. The competition is made possible through the generous support of many organizations.
Walker has received local support from M&T Tang How LLC, Tropical Shipping, Royal Food Import, RE/MAX, Glass 2000, Candia Atwater Shields, Cane Roots Art Gallery, CMCarts, Viya, Monica Marin, Foundation for Contemporary Arts and a grant from ArtPrize and the Grand Rapids Community College for a percentage of the shipping costs.
Walker’s work on the sculptures gave her the recognition that colonialism does not stop at one generation of its victims. It represents generational trauma.
“As I was working on the sculptures, it did some healing,” she said. “Pulling on the wires was healing.”
“Whether through prayer or art – I give it up to God. It is scientifically researched that these things pass on, whether good or bad, they pass down through generations.”
“They come from our childhood,” Walker said. “We must acknowledge these things exist and understand them.”
Generational trauma is a term that is used to describe the impact of a traumatic experience not only on one generation but on subsequent generations after the event.
The trauma of the enslavement of the African people is a traumatic event that began hundreds of years prior to the current generation and has impacted the way individuals understand, cope with and heal from trauma.
Walker is a visual artist, an educator and curator and was born in Dominica, West Indies, “the land of 365 rivers and amazing outdoor experiences.”
She received a bachelor of fine arts degree from Moore College of Art and Design and a master’s degree in art education from Florida State University. She has been a practicing artist and art educator on St. Croix at the middle school and high school level for 27 years.
Walker’s artistic accomplishments range widely, with local and international solo and group exhibitions, curated exhibitions, publications and awards and gallery affiliations.