Art Basel Connects the African Diaspora

Myrtis Bedolla

Mike Henderson, Possible, 2007, oil on canvas, 62x51In its 12th edition, Art Basel Miami Beach, Dec. 4-7, 2013, remained the largest international art fair in United States and people flock there from every corner of the world.  The reasons for coming are as divergent as those who attend. But for peoples of the African diaspora it provides an opportunity to connect through a shared appreciation of art.

Mike Henderson, There's Still Plenty, 2007, oil on canvas, 46x36

New York based artist Kamdui Olujimi says that being at the Miami fairs allows him to experience what artists are doing all over the world.  “If you fight the mania…the manic wave of events and parties which is counter intuitive during the fair and sit down with artists from places like Paris, Seattle, Switzerland and Mexico City and talk with them, if you do that, you get to this beautiful moment of pause which enables you to discover what’s happening on the international art scene.”

Artist Paul Anthony Smith, originally from Miami now living in Kansas City, MO, marked his second Basel appearance with works on view at the Miami Projects Art Fair.   He came “to get a sense of what the fair is about and explore the possibilities of which fairs to participate in in the future.”  He also visited as a consumer scoping out artwork to add to his collection.  An article on the artist, “Paul Anthony Smith – Identity Inside Out,” is in the Summer 2013 issue of the print IRAAA (vol. 24, no. 3)

Young art lovers Ashanti Robinson, Chester James and his brother Andy, all from New York, made their second trek to the fair as Andy said “to investigate the art scene and become more familiar with the work of African American artists. I take pictures of the art and labels, then research the artists. ItAime Mpane, IC. Cont #50, 2012, acrylic and mixed media on wood panel, 12.5x12x2 in, Courtesy of the artist and Haines Gallery is impressive to see work of African American artists in the fair. I am also here to represent, so that our presence is felt.”   

Aime Mpane, IC. Cont. XXIX, 2012, acrylic and mixed media on wood panel, 12.5x12x2 in, Courtesy of the artist and Haines GalleryCollectors and business owners Nathaniel O. Wilkins and Shebah T. Carfagna,  both of Miami, attend the fair “to find works which look like us” says Wilkins, a collector of African and African Disaspora art. Shebah, a novice collector,  attributes her interest in art to Wilkins. “He has helped me understand why art’s relevant.  I’ve learned the ways in which it speaks to who we are and our importance in the world.”

Both expressed concern with the difficulty in finding works by African American artists among the many fairs.  “We’ve seen bits and pieces of that not necessarily in the main fairs but in places far way,” said Wilkins.  “We would like to see more inclusiveness in the overall program of Art Basel. It is contingent upon those of us who come to these events to form linkages and develop networks so we can open doors for African American artists.”

Stand outs at Basel included Mike Henderson, Congolese artist Aimè Mpane and British artist of Guyanese decent, Hew Locke.

Aimè Mpane creates portraits of the people he encounters in his village in Kinshasa.  Using the figure and human expression as his primary subject, Mpane investigates the lingering effects of the Belgian Congo’s traumatic colonial history and how the collision of these two cultures reveals itself today.

Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather who were traditional wood carvers, Mpane extends the legacy by incorporating  Western influences into the treatment of his African subjects. Aimè  received his BFA in his native Congo and went on to study at the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Visuels in Belgium.

An installation by British-Guyanese artist Hew Locke, For Those in Peril on the Sea, is at the entrance of the Perez Museum the Perez Museum.Hem Locke's For Those In Peril on Sea installation. Photo:Daniel Azoulay  Dozens of scaled-down replicas of ships suspended from the ceiling create the impression of a massive aerial exodus.   The vessel types are broad: cigarette boats, catamarans, cruise liners, ragged fishing skiffs and timeworn cargo ships.

For Those At Peril at Sea, detail of work-in-progress.For Locke the piece makes global links between people seeking a better life and those thousands of miles away going about their daily lives such as fishing on the sea. He provides further interpretation in the museum's video.

The new Perez Art Museum Miami officially opened its doors during Basel with great fanfare. Situated on South Florida’s premier waterfront, it offers sweeping views of Biscayne Bay.  Hundreds gathered for the opening reception and partied the night away to the Afro-Cuban beats. PAMM is committed to featuring art as diverse as the community it serves, a confluence of Caribbean, North and South American cultures.Hew Locke, Victoria, acrylic and gold marker pen on c-type photograph, 183 x 122cm,

Hew Locke's Victoria was shown at the Hales Gallery booth at Basel.

Myrtis Bedolla is founding director of Galerie Myrtis in Baltimore MD