One year later and the scenario dramatically changed — for the better — at Art Basel.
First, there was Kadir Nelson’s We Are the Ship, a series of oil paintings commemorating the history of the Negro Baseball League which went on display at the Miami Dade College gallery at the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami and is still up for viewing.
Then, Faith Ringgold, now age 80, was on hand to discuss her politics from the late 1960s to early 1970s, depicted in her American Series, Black Light exhibition at the Miami Art Museum, through March. The series of paintings and protest posters is a must-see.
And then there was Art Basel itself, Nov. 29-Dec. 4, now in its 10th year in Miami. This year has topped all others for inclusion.
Last year, I had to scratch and scrape to find black artists, black art and black people.
Not this year.
The word was out.
I got a call from a local friend about Najee Dorsey, an Atlanta-based artist who is also the founder of Art in Black America, a Web-based membership organization, who was interested in meeting me and other black art collectors.
Not only did he call but, once here, Najee introduced me to several of his colleagues from Colorado and Houston who had set up their galleries in the Purvis Young studios. Situated on the edge of the Wynwood art scene, the brothers/dealers/producers were so enthused about their first foray into Miami Art Basel that they have pledged to return, same space, next year.
Haitian art and artists were very well represented at various public and private galleries and spaces throughout the area and during Basel.
So much to see, and so little time, but this is a once-a-year event that I encourage you to put on your calendars. Here’s why: It’s not just about art.
The business of art places us into the mainstream of the politics of inclusion and consideration of all things important to the structure of policies about the distribution of certain resources.
Bear with me a moment.
Long gone are the days when people of color can stand by the sidelines and complain about not being included, especially when we have the power to level the playing field. The buying power of African Americans, and everybody who counts themselves as such, rivals that of many nations.
Purchase of fine art is a way of demonstrating that power and, even more importantly, is a bold expression of cultural preservation that makes being of African descent attractive, desirable and intrinsically valuable. Where else can we, as people of color, find evidence of our worth and worthiness?
Recently, I attended a presentation by Melissa Harris-Perry, noted feminist historian, university professor and political commentator, who repositioned the classic W.E.B. Dubois
question about how blacks (Negroes) feel about being “the problem.”
During her brilliant analysis at the 33rd annual White Rose Luncheon hosted by the West Palm Beach chapter of the Links Incorporated, Ms. Harris-Perry caused me to think about the marketplace of ideas/images/commodities that promote positive responses to blackness: not much out there for selection.
And then there are the visual arts — paintings, sculpture, woodwork, beadwork, mixed media, etc. — all in celebration of the lifeforce that is rooted in the “African” aesthetic found in every hemisphere on earth.
Oh happy day that we can find ourselves in our expressions of ourselves, made for preservation and sale for private and public consumption.
I urge you to mark your calendar for the first week in December, every year, for Art Basel. See yourself!
Meanwhile, there are many ways for you to keep up with what is happening in the larger world of black fine art. For starters, the Kuumba artists have been organized for more than 40 years. Support them. You can also go to Black Art in America Website and join in the discussion.
Antonia Williams-Gary is a consultant with Miami-based Savings and Grace Enterprise. She may be reached at toniwg@ bellsouth.net
Photo: Antonia Williams-Gary