A pop-up town square at the cultural intersection of the United States and Latin America. A conceptual take on a Bedouin tent (with a pair of live camels) to shelter the concert launching a record label that aims to unite the warring cultures of the Middle East.
Each of these projects is using the international gathering of cultural players for Art Basel and Miami Art Week to promote a vision that’s as much social as it is artistic.
The first, Mestizo City, is a block-size installation in the Design District made of bright-colored inflatables that features a taco truck, a giant cube made of Mexican Jarrito soda bottles and a U.S. map that denotes Hispanic population density with beans of various colors. Photos will reflect U.S. Hispanic design and life, from traditional tile work to fruit markets.
Open Friday and Saturday, Mestizo City ends with a free concert by El Chignon, a band led by film director Robert Rodriguez ( From Dusk Till Dawn, Machete).
“It’s about American identity,” says Henry R. Muñoz, a San Antonio architect and social activist who conceived the project. “Latinos have been in this country for generations, and our contribution to culture, formally and informally, especially in urban spaces, is rich.”
Muñoz, who chaired the Futuro Fund, a fundraising and outreach effort for President Obama’s re-election campaign, says the post-election attention to Hispanics as a political force makes this an apt time to focus on their cultural role.
“You are beginning to see a broader recognition of our impact on the culture of this country,” he says. “There’s this creativity that’s passed down from generation to generation. … You can’t build a wall around that.”
Two blocks away, another event will use the platform of Miami Art Week to promote cultural unity in a far more divided region. The backers of Vega, a Tel Aviv-based electronic music label, believe that if music can bring people together in thumping dance-floor bliss, it can help to bridge violent differences between Israelis and Arabs.
They’ll launch their effort with a free concert Thursday featuring Ravid Kahalani, a mesmerizing Israeli-Yemenite singer who recently played Miami with his band Yemen Blues, along with Israeli DJ Laroz and Lebanese DJ Morphoses, who blends jazz, Middle Eastern and electronic music. The celebration takes place in a post-modern version of a Bedouin tent, created by high-concept Belgian design firm Cnocspot, where they’ll also screen Iranian and Israeli films.
Meir Kordevani, an Israeli who is one of Vega’s three backers, says he saw music ease tensions between Jews and Arabs at a packed Tel Aviv club during the recent rocket attacks and at a beach party in Jaffa, a cosmopolitan Israeli port city.
“I was looking at it saying, ‘If these people can dance together, they can live together,’ ” he says. “So why not focus on the possibility of music to create togetherness?”
Tel Aviv, where Vega and its founders are based, is known as an urbane city with a vibrant cultural life and a hot electronic music scene.
Kordevani, who is also one of the three people behind the internationally noted visual arts magazine Picnic, says he finds the art world increasingly commercial and detached from life.
“I see art as a tool to communicate, but lately nothing looked relevant,” he says. “For quite a while we haven’t bumped into anything that surprised or intrigued us, while music continues to do that more and more.”
Vega producer and co-founder Monica Haim, a Colombian American from Miami who has lived in Tel Aviv for five years, says Art Week Miami was an ideal place to spread their message.
“Art Basel has become this global cultural gathering,” Haim says. “We want to make noise about this label at a place where people from all over the world are looking and listening.”