claude-legagneur-paintings_web.jpgAfter glitzy, glamorous Art Basel descended upon Miami Beach in 2002, art from the African and Caribbean Diasporas was regarded as quaint exotica that was merely tolerated, as opposed to being embraced wholeheartedly and promoted vigorously.

That paradigm has shifted appreciably over the last three years, coinciding with the fact that Art Basel now has a robust presence in Miami, in addition to Miami Beach, where it first launched.

Last year, four significant art exhibitions with African, Caribbean and Latin flavor took place east and west of Biscayne Bay during Art Basel.

This year, several significant exhibitions were planned for Art Basel 2013, some had high-powered sponsors like Fusion MIA. Some art exhibitions were featured in Coconut Grove and as far away as Miramar.

Fusion MIA was a five-day celebration of visual arts, fashion and food that cast a spotlight on pieces by members of the African-American and Caribbean art communities. Sponsored by Grey Goose, Fusion MIA is the brainchild of former Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones.

The art fair kicked off Tuesday, Dec. 3, with a ribbon cutting event outside Fusion MIA’s 5,000 square-foot pop-up gallery at Northwest second Avenue and Northwest 22nd Street, in Wynwood.

“We’re edging closer and closer to Miami potentially morphing into ayear-round player in national and international art circles,” Spence-Jones told an audience that included artists and gallery

owners, as well as Democratic State Sen. Dwight Bullard and Spence-Jones’ successor, City Commissioner Keon Hardemon.

Fusion MIA served up exquisite art, musical performances, a fashion show and food prepared by celebrity chefs. Fusion MIA was curated by Los Angeles arts group Artist Muse and by Wynwood’s N’Namdi Contemporary gallery.

An eclectic slate of artists had their pieces displayed at Fusion MIA Fair, including the iconic Betye Saar, Miles Regis, Toni Scott, Nicole James, Hugo McCloud and Ed Clark. In addition, local artists Edouard Duval Carrie and Jude Papaloko Thegenus had a seat at the Fusion MIA table.

One of the biggest hurdles up-and-coming visual artists surmount is getting art galleries to promote their creations. With that in mind, Fusion MIA has established alliances with five like-minded partner galleries featuring Art

Basel works with African, Caribbean and Latin links.

Three of the partners – N’Namdi Contemporary, the Purvis Young Art Museum and the Jakmel Art Gallery – are in Wynwood, while Multitudes and Global Caribbean V are in Little Haiti.

While some marvel at the growing prominence of artists with African, Caribbean and Latin roots, the reason for the uptick isn’t mysterious to Jumaane N’Namdi, owner of N’Namdi Contemporary in the Wynwood Art District.

“We started investing in ourselves,” N’Namdi says matter-of-factly. “We’re starting to do things for ourselves. I came here from Chicago and opened a gallery, and I think Fusion MIA has become another outlet to display our art.”

Multitudes Contemporary Art Gallery owner and curator Babacar Mbow was also committed to bringing forth some of that change. Mbow has a highly acclaimed, diverse and longstanding career in education and art and is uniquely equipped to source and present art from the African Diaspora.  This year’s exhibition focused on Haiti.

Haiti is the country that first represented African freedom and independence and the beginning of the end to slavery in the Western Hemisphere, and hence a source of great inspiration for artists. This works perfectly as South Florida has a large Haitian population and by extension a large Caribbean population, organizers said.

Still on display is an exhibition called “Caribbean Fantastic” that runs to Jan. 2 at the Multitudes Contemporary Art Gallery. “Caribbean Fantastic” is supported by Art Africa Miami, which was introduced to Miami by Neil Hall and the Urban Collective in 2011.

“Caribbean Fantastic” features the works of the Jean Caude Legagneur, a very successful artist whose critically acclaimed works have been seen in places like New York, Washington, D.C., Tokyo, Port-Au-Prince and Santo Domingo.

Born in Haiti in 1947, Legagneur travelled to the United States at an early age and was soon working with some famous artists and would eventually make beautiful and engaging imagery for the world to see.