Usually, when waves of people crash onto the City of Miami, it’s a crowd of college spring breakers or it’s for something like the Super Bowl. But, during the first weekend of every December, a different type of crowd seizes the city’s trendiest restaurants and florescent nightclubs.
Since the ’70s the international art world has made Miami the home of one of the biggest art fairs in existence. For four days, artists from all over the world revel in showcasing their work to collectors, curators and just about anyone else who’s looking for an excuse to mingle with the rich and famous. But for years there was an obvious lack of Black artists' work being flaunted and promoted at the art fair. So, seven years ago, Art Africa Miami decided to make a change and hold an exhibit of their own to showcase the work of artists of the African Diaspora from all over the world to this international art crowd.
For artist Miles Regis, being able to show his work on the world stage through Art Africa Miami is essential.
"It's really important for me to reach a new audience as my career progresses,' he stated outside of the gallery. “As an artist you want to get your message to as many people as possible. This is my fourth time showing with Art Africa, and it always bumps me, particularly my social media platform, up a couple of thousand people.”
Art Africa Miami gives this desired platform to artists at all different points in their careers, placing works of established artists next to those of artists who might be much less known, but holding them all at the same level of importance.
This year’s exhibit “Back to Black: No on/off ramps” was curated by the former director of the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami, Babacar M’Bow, and comprises work from nearly 25 artists, including Abdoulaye Konaté, Phillip Thomas, George Edozie, José Bedia and Solomon Adufah. At a lecture held above the gallery Saturday, Dec. 9, M’Bow
discussed how art could transform societies by giving people a sense of themselves. He stressed the importance of the younger generation, especially young children, being surrounded by Black images, and why it was crucial that Black people purchase Black art, before taking time to acknowledge every artist present in the room. He preached how important it was for every industry, but especially the art world, to hold the contributions and works of all races at the same high regard and give the same amount of recognition. While Art Africa Miami has succeeded at helping to fill the gap of Black artists being represented at Art Basel, they alone can’t solve the problem of exposing every single talented Black artist worthy of the opportunity.
The common theme in the collection of the work displayed this past week was embodying Blackness as a culture and a movement, often during trying times. The selection of works displayed crossed multiple mediums, used a variety of materials and evoked strong emotions of unrest, nostalgia, strength and the need for power—just to name a few. One of the most memorable pieces was Regis’ simple, yet powerful statement, “be woke,” below the all-black painting of a young man with a high top cut holding his fist above his head.
M’Bow wrapped his lecture by highlighting the relevance of holding this exhibit downtown in Overtown, opposed to South Beach, because it gives the world an opportunity to visit a historic Black neighborhood. “It is a great opportunity to always show at Art Basel Week, especially here in Overtown,” artist and director of the National School of the Arts of Haiti, Philippe Dodard, expressed after the curatorial lecture, “because this particular piece that I’m showing is about the Haitian Revolution, ‘Materia Prima 1: The Uprising,’ which is kind of very important for the Black history and the whole African Diaspora, not just the Haitians. And it’s about giving power to our people.”
But one could also argue that bringing a part of an international art fair to a historically Black community is, in fact, bringing power to our people. Because by claiming our space and our voice in the industry, on our home turf in Overtown, we’re saying, “We’re here because we’re good enough, too.”
Megan Pinckney (@shadesofpinck) is a retired beauty queen turned lifestyle blogger who loves exploring the world and writing about it.