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Miami Art Exhibit Explores Identity and Diaspora

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A visitor takes a photo of “Shake EM,” a series of portraits by artist Stephanie J. Woods, at “Depth of Identity: Art as Memory and Archive,” an art exhibit at Green Space Miami. The exhibition is visible until October 20.

A humble offering is placed on the ground. A bag of white rice. Bowls of purple bougainvillea petals. A large glass of water for the ancestors. And bottles of rum and ginger beer, representing different Caribbean islands.

Each item has been carefully placed on a blood red cloth. Above the ritual, a huge blue board offers the viewer advice in Arawak: “AJUPAKAKO EPA NAMAKO”.

“Wake up and listen”, translates Kurt Nahar, an artist from Suriname who dedicated the work to the indigenous communities of his country of origin. “I made this piece so that their voices [could] be heard because the tradition is fading and slowly dying,” he added.

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“Wake Up and Listen” by Surinamese artist Kurt Nahar exhibited at “Depth of Identity: Art as Memory and Archive” at Green Space Miami. Cane offer

Nahar was one of many artists who traveled throughout the Caribbean and the United States to view their work at “Depth of Identity: Art as Memory and Archive,” an art exhibition dedicated to exploring the identity of Caribbean artists and artists of color. The show, which kicked off Thursday night, runs through Oct. 20 at Green Space Miami, a community arts space in the MiMo neighborhood.

The exhibition was curated by Rosie Gordon-Wallace, the founder of the Diaspora Vibe Culture Arts Incubator, an organization that elevates and champions emerging Caribbean artists. The show represents 19 artists from more than a dozen countries and cultures, including Jamaica, Cuba, Kenya and Japan.

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Rosie Gordon-Wallace, the founder of Diaspora Vibe Culture Arts Incubator, speaks at the opening reception for “Depth of Identity: Art as Memory and Archive” Thursday night at Green Space Miami. Gordon-Wallace curated the art exhibit. Cane offer

Gordon-Wallace, who is Jamaican, explained that the exhibition is more than a celebration of different cultures. It’s a way for underrepresented artists to “sanctify the fact that we belong” to a country — or an art world — where they’re overlooked, she said. “Identity depth” refers to the nuances and components of a person’s identity, such as race, class, and immigration status.

“We continue to try to adapt to the American model. It’s almost like having an old-fashioned car,” she said. “Because you wonder why Caribbean artists are not selected for the biggest shows? Why are they accidentally ignored when they went to prestigious schools?

The exhibition was also a catalyst for deep national pride. Nahar, who wore a Suriname flag pin on his collar, said he was honored to represent his home country and find unity among Caribbean cultures.

“What it does is it opens my eyes to bigger things, things that I would never accomplish in my career back home,” Nahar said of his work with Gordon- Wallace and DVCAI.

Like the rum bottles on Nahar’s altar, the show highlights the rich diversity of the Caribbean. Although the works in the exhibition address different themes, overall the show is bold, colorful and striking.

Guyanese artist Suchitra Mattai created shimmering portraits with deconstructed saris. Sarasota-based artist Samo Davis explored themes of growth in his sprawling, rainbow-hued sculpture. Jamaican-American artist Aisha Tandiwe Bell has set up a real trap – a cardboard box lined with patterned fabric held up by a stick attached to a string – to represent the “traps” in which society stands.

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“Soca Queen” and “Self-portrait as an unknown” by Guyanese artist Suchitra Mattai at “Depth of Identity: Art as Memory and Archive,” an art exhibit at Green Space Miami. Mattai created the artwork from deconstructed saris. Cane offer

And then there are Haitian artist Asser St. Val’s three paintings from his “Magical Entities” series: nude orange giants with colored tendrils for heads bending and posing their exaggerated bodies in surreal landscapes. A female figure raises her hand, revealing a symbol on her palm. The works tap into humanity’s innate need to find magic in objects, such as paintings.

“I hope people will see it and understand that there is something spiritual there,” St. Val said. “They may not understand it, but hopefully the work will stop them.”

Although many pieces are highly ornate and playful, the works also focus on difficult subjects, such as the legacy of slavery and racism in the United States.

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The highly decorated sculpture by artist Aisha Tandiwe Bell looked like a trap. Cane offer

Michael Elliott, a Jamaican artist, tackles these questions head on in the two paintings he exhibits side by side, “Sundae Morning” and “Seeds of the Tide (Clotilda)”. At first glance, the respective paintings are just still life portraits of an ice cream cone and a slice of watermelon.

But the ice cream scoop is actually a crumbling US Constitution, Elliott explained. Above the scoop, a neon sign reads “JUSTICE SCREAMS”, though only the letters that spell “ICE CREAM” are illuminated. And watermelon seeds aren’t seeds at all, the artist noted. They are people.

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Jamaican artist Michael Elliott in front of his pieces “Sundae Morning” and “Seeds of the Tide (Clotilda)” at Green Space Miami. His works deal with the legacy of slavery and racism. Cane offer

“Sundae Morning” was inspired by a protest in North Carolina where black church members sat in the white section of a segregated ice cream parlour. “Seeds of the Tide (Clotilda)” was based on the last known slave ship to arrive in the United States.

Julian Pardo, a Colombian artist who has lived in the United States for 20 years, installed “Primera Linea”, an artwork that comments on police brutality, especially against indigenous communities. It’s a big, sinister mobile. Fake weapons – grenades, clubs and rocks – hang from a spinning staff.

The work was inspired by the police response to last year’s mass protests in Colombia. Pardo decorated objects like pomegranates with beads in the style of indigenous Colombian groups. The clockwise rotation of the mobile represents the cycle of violence.

“I want to raise questions with my work,” Pardo said. “I want to create awareness, but also compassion.”

For Denver-based artist Autumn T. Thomas, opening night was almost overwhelming.

One of his works on display at the show is a large wind chime made of long hollow copper tubes. Between each tube is a small piece of dark wood. This is the first piece at the entrance to the show. When you look closer, you understand why.

Familiar names are engraved on each block of wood: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain. The work is called “Lift Every Voice”, a reference to the black national anthem. As she gently ran her hand along the tubes to make bell sounds, Thomas explained that every time a person or a gust of air moves the wind chime, the piece raises black spirits and voices. Americans killed by police.

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“Lift Every Voice” by artist Autumn T. Thomas on display at “Depth of Identity: Art as Memory and Archive” at Green Space Miami. The names of black Americans killed by the police are engraved on the chime. Cane offer

“We’re releasing them from the trauma they’ve been through,” Thomas said as the wind chime sounded.

As she looked around the gallery space, Thomas shared a sentiment described by several artists. This show felt different, and she attributed that to the generosity and leadership of Gordon-Wallace. “Rosie is a special person,” Thomas said.

“I am a creative among creatives, celebrated. It’s bigger than words,” Thomas said. “I’m full right now.”

Depth of Identity: Art as Memory and Archive

Where: Miami Green Space, 7200 Biscayne Blvd, Miami.

Hours: Wednesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Contact Tanya Desdunes at [email protected] for Sunday appointments.

information: eventbrite.com. On view until October 20. Free and open to the public.

This story was produced with the financial support of the Pérez Family Foundation, in partnership with Journalism Funding Partners, as part of an independent journalism grant program. The Miami Herald retains full editorial control of this work.

This story was originally published August 16, 2022 4:30 a.m.