Perhaps the best way to understand and appreciate the Art of Black Miami, and its particular historical, social, cultural, and even spiritual significance in the 14th year of Art Basel, is to do so by inserting a comma into that title, as a way of recognizing that there are actually two interesting stories here.
There is, on the one hand, the implicit recognition that there is a unique phenomenon or aesthetic that can be called the Art of Blackness, or the Art of Black People, or, more comprehensively, the Art of the African World.
On the other hand, there is also the particular story of this unique cultural presence in Miami, Florida’s remarkable mushrooming visual-arts scene and the sheer quantity and quality of what the art world has to offer here.
These two have the potential of coming to an exciting, and mutually profitable meeting in this special place and time.
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However, these two cultural experiences have been slow to come to fruition during the evolution of the annual frenzy of Art Basel, virtually passing like ships in the night early on.
That’s when the black presence, and interest in it, was limited at best. But, after repeated crossings, there is a palpable sense of steady progress and reciprocal benefit, much of it facilitated by the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. It has been an active player in bringing much-needed visibility to the various “African World” art venues.
We are seeing the increasing inclusion of black art and artists in world-class settings, one more iteration of the continuing struggle for equality and justice, this time on the art and culture front). At the same time, Miami’s art scene has been enhanced on the world stage by presenting an artistic idiom that brings something unique and substantial to the trading table.
Although long dismissed in the United States for well-known historical and political reasons, black art and culture have an almost equally long history of broad global appreciation, acclaim and support, which is significant to the success of Art Basel’s international celebration of creativity.
Perhaps the most emblematic expression of this burgeoning symbiosis came in the year that the grand entrance to the Art Basel festival at the Miami Beach Convention Center was through a dramatic monumental archway lined with works by, arguably, Miami’s most unique artist, the late, uber-prolific “outsider” painter Purvis Young. It welcomed art lovers of the world with a visual experience unlike any anywhere else on Earth whose creator was of homegrown and African-American origin.
This bold gesture also embodied, of course, the aspirational effect of increasing the monetary value of Young’s works for those who were astute and forward-looking enough to invest in them (and, by implication, calling attention to other Miami African World artists).
But it is equally significant that the primary motives for Young’s creations in his trademark style were the polar opposite of monetary gain, wherein lies, ironically, much of their appeal to the world marketplace.
Young was quintessentially representative of a key aspect of African World Art and the whole spectrum of producers from self-taught “outsider” and “folk” artists to the most sophisticated, academically trained practitioners, including those who are indeed commercially motivated.
The foundations of black art production today are rooted in timeless African ancestral traditions, many that were not considered “art,” because creativity is so integral to, and inseparable from, life’s activities.
The concept is most readily familiar today in the African American classical music form — jazz — and gospel music, its sacred counterpart, which embody truth-seeking and truth-speaking through spontaneous “composing on stage,” technical prowess and an openness to “feel the spirit.” (Small wonder that the growing cultural-heritage tourism sector makes jazz concerts and black church services quasi-obligatory on tours of foreign visitors.
They are considered the most authentic of American experiences to be had.)
It is equally important to note the finer point that, far from being simply forced responses or reactions to slavery and oppression, although these are important dimensions not to be ignored, it is primarily the proactive, positive, life-affirming quality of these modalities of artistic expression that has earned “The Art of Black,” as it might collectively be called, the near-universal genuine appeal, influence and appreciation that it commands on a global scale.
As a result, we are all the more appreciative of both the opportunity to bring “The Art of Black” to greater awareness, and profitability, to residents and visitors alike during Art Week and beyond.
Gene Tinnie is a Miami artist, educator and chair of the Virginia Key Park Trust.
Art of Black Miami
- Amadlozi Gallery, 6161 NW 22nd Ave.
- Kroma Art Gallery, 3560 Grand Ave.
- Little Haiti Cultural Center, 212-260 NE 59th Terr.
- The ARC (Arts & Recreation Center), 676 Ali Baba Ave.