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Black & Basel: A Guide to Black Fine Art at Art Basel / Miami Art Week 2021

One of the largest misconceptions about Art Basel is based on what is seen from afar; celebrities jetting through the city on yachts, upscale events that are invitation only, corporate art junk, etc. 

These misconceptions have created a barrier that forces many to believe attendance is based on finances, when really the entire city is full of public events, art activations, local artist exhibitions and free RSVPs. Miami Art Week is one of my most looked forward to events of the year and I am so beyond grateful that I was able to experience it after such a long time of not seeing art up close and personal. 

Though I have attended Art Basel in previous years, going on assignment with the sole focus of exploring Black art was a new perspective and adventure. As I moved from fair to fair, witnessing massive representation from across the world was an eye opening opportunity. For too long, the scarcity of people of color in the art world has limited the perspective of who we are – there is more to Black art than pain, suffering and loss; there is deep-rooted creativity bursting at the seams. We know the value of supporting Black art and innovation, but seeing it on a global scale is always affirmation. Documenting the Black experience through creative expression is one of the most valuable tools in our grasp and we can never thank artists enough for sharing this craft with us. 

Please read on as we list the incredible artwork we were able to discover in Miami Beach as part of our Black and Basel Guide with Don’t Shoot Portland. Make sure to follow artists whose work you enjoy, stay in touch and support their work!

Art Basel

A destination to view pieces you may never have the chance to see up close again – Picasso, Basquiat, Warhol, Rothko, etc. But this year the representation of both Black artists and Black-owned galleries was strikingly abundant. After the recent premiere of the Meridians section of oversized artworks in 2019, I was also ecstatic to see Mexico City-based curator Magali Arriola’s selections. If an artwork is too large to fit on a gallery wall, you know there is something to look forward to! Because of the instability caused by the pandemic, many of the years’ selections came from North America which focused heavily on the intersections of racism, class and power dynamics in the United States.

Art Basel Highlights: 

Ja’Tovia Gary’sCitational Ethics (Toni Morrison, 1987), 2021’. The neon artwork is the second in a new series in which the artist uses quotes from Black scholars to spotlight the messaging. ‘Citational Ethics’ draws from a statement in Toni Morrison’s novel, ‘Beloved’:

“Those white things have taken all I had, or dream, and broke my heartstrings too. There is no bad luck in the world but white folks.” The neon sculpture itself recalls the signage at the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was slain in 1968.

Hank Willis Thomas works appearing at Art Basel include ‘Two Dancers, One Black One White’, ‘Freedom, 2021’ and ‘When an individual is protesting society’s refusal to acknowledge his dignity as a human being, his very act of protest confers dignity on him, 2021’. These three pieces showcase his most signature styles, including his penchant for upcycling uniforms and transplanting screen prints onto retro reflective vinyl.

Ming Smith’s ‘America Seen Through Stars and Stripes, New York City, NY’ 1976 

via the artist

Todd Gray’s ‘Sumptous Memories of Plundering Kings, 2021’ is a 14 by 30 foot long art piece examining the enduring fallout of colonialism and slavery. Upon remarking about the references of environmental racism and toxicity showcased in the painting, I was approached by the artist. Thank you for the conversation, Todd!

Otis Kwame Quaicoe’s ‘Tahiru Suleman, 2021’.

June Clark’s ‘Harlem Quilt, 1997’.

Yinka Shonibare’s ‘Moving Up, 2021’ featured three fiberglass mannequins climbing a wooden staircase with brass railings. Clutching their suitcases, the mannequins represent the Great Migration – the exodus of six million African Americans from rural South to cities in the North, Midwest and West from 1916 – 1970. Moving Up captures the bravery of the Black Americans who refused disenfranchisement by seeking a new place within urban public life in the North and West. 

Gordon Parks’ ‘Untitled, Alabama’ 1956

Dindga McCannon’sFamily #1, 1988’, ‘Charlie Parker and Many of the Musicians He Influenced, 1970/2010’, ‘A Day in the Life of a Black Woman Artist #1, 1975’. 

Maxwell Alexandre’s ‘Untitled, 2021’ is a two-dimensional hanging piece depicting ‘Black bodies on brown paper, exploring the color brown’s sociopolitical connotation as a word to veil Blackness,’ according to the gallery’s description.

Nicholas Galanin’s ‘The Value of Sharpness: When It Falls, 2019’ features sixty gold-edged porcelain hatchets suspended from the air, demonstrating the restriction of Indigenous sovereignty through colonial settler violence and its tolerance of only fragile and decorative representations of Indigenous people.’ The porcelain is covered in Dutch delftware faience, also speaking to colonial origins. 

Everlyn Nicodemus’Jagsåghenne (I Saw Her), 1981’ and Porträtt av politiker (Portrait of a politician), 1980’

Kehinde Wiley’sSaint Amelie’, 2014 and ‘Portrait Abdoulaye Thiaw’, (2021)

Paul Anthony Smith’s ‘Dreams Deferred #20

Paul Waters’ ‘Totem Faces, 1971’.

Tunji Adeniyi-Jones‘Nine Virtues, 2021’.

Helen Evans Ramsaran’s booth of sculptures were an energy all their own. Works from 1979 to present. 

Ernie Barnes’ ‘Sliding Home’ instantly conjured a feeling of nostalgia. Growing up on Black 70’s music and art, I knew upon seeing ‘Sliding Home’ that the long paint strokes were familiar, and I was right! Ernie Barnes is legendary for his work on Good Times (depicted as the work of JJ on the show) and his artwork ‘Sugar Shack’ was used as the cover for Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Want You’ album.

 Nick Cave’s Soundsuits series continued with a new installment that premiered at this years’ fair.

Conrad Egyir’s ‘700 Cycles of Somatic Renditioning’.

Design Miami

An Art Week staple for over 15 years, Design Miami showcases the top intersections of art, design and technology. This years’ focus on sustainability also shed a spotlight on architects and furniture makers of color. Our highlights include Germane Barnes’ electrified conceptual car for Lexus and USM Modular Furniture’s Hue+Man initiative.

Design Miami Highlights:

Germane Barnes, local Black architect, worked alongside students at the University of Miami to create a wireframe Lexus installation. Called ON/, the installation is scaled to the size of Lexus’ LF-Z Electrified Concept car made from steel wire.

USM Modular’s Hue+Man Design Competition promoted designers of color from around the country for the opportunity of furthering artistic development. Under the theme of ‘Culture Sculpture’, each designer was tasked with creating a project that “showcases the ways contemporary culture is shaped by the diverse hands that produce it.” Strolling the unique structure created by Kevin Jones of Joba Studio to showcase all of the finalists’ work, Tomi Alisha’s hand model sculptures immediately grabbed our attention. Illustrating the ‘helping hands and tools that have supported the alteration and manipulation of past, present and future Black hair,’ each hand holds a different beauty tool.

Miami Design District

In the midst of one of Miami’s busiest shopping districts was our most looked forward exhibition yet – Jeffrey Deitch Gallery’s Shattered Glass group show at the Moore Building. Jeffrey Deitch’s Shattered Glass group exhibition made a special appearance in Miami, taking up space in the Moore Building. Jeffrey Deitch Gallery has consistently hosted exhibits in the building, but this convening will mark the end of the six year relationship. Shattered Glass, curated by Melahn Frierson and A.J. Girard, brings together 40 multi-disciplinary Black and Brown artists across three floors of an atrium. 

Just before entering, a garage roller door across the street featured a mural by artist April Bey, titledColonial Day Sale: What Are You Gonna Do, If You Like a Woman and Your Mama No Like Am?

‘Shattered Glass’ highlights: 

Shaina McCoy’s ‘Big Mama’s Babies, 2021’

Tyler Ballon’s ‘How It Feels to be Free, 2021’

Delfin Finley’s ‘Two Sides of the Same Coin, 2021’

Murjoni Merriweather’s ‘L U N A, 2021’, ‘J A N A E, 2021’

Johnson Eziefula’s ‘We smile too, sometimes, 2021’

Uber Lopez Enamorado’s ‘Blue Laces, 2021’

Diana Yesenia Alvarado’s¿Para dónde?’, 2021

Kezia Harrell’s ‘Bliss: Americana Hot Mamma’

Virgil Abloh x Louis Vuitton SS22:

Days before he was set to premiere the first-ever Louis Vuitton Men’s flagship store in Miami during Art Basel, Virgil Abloh lost his life to his private battle with a rare cancer at the age of 41. As the founder of Off-White as well as the Artistic Director of Louis Vuitton, Abloh paved the way for many young Black creatives and will forever be commemorated through those he inspires in fashion, art and music. The newly erected Louis Vuitton Sculpture Garden featured towering, multi-colored 25 foot characters conceptualized by Virgil Abloh. Named ‘The Adventures of Zoooom with Friends’, the artistic concept follows ‘a fantastical crew of characters on a raucous international voyage representing the fundamental belief in inclusivity.’


Saving my personal favorite for last is Wynwood, a neighborhood that demands a day of sole dedication. Filled with more industrial spaces, Wynwood differs from Miami Beach in that it focuses more on street art and large-scale murals, tending to be less of a collectors crowd and more of a walkable, interactive scene. The amount of various artist performances, pop-up galleries, live murals and more always make Wynwood a must. This year, Spectrum and Red Dot would both be sharing a roof at Mana Wynwood where touring fairs like the Black Fine Art Fair would also be exhibiting. We took in so many sights before arriving at Mana that our eyes were already overwhelmed by the time we began our journey into Spectrum and Red Dot. Read on for our Wynwood highlights below!

EL MAC’s ‘A Love Supreme (Wynwood Saints)’ 2019

TeePopArt’s ‘James Baldwin, Artists Are Here to Disturb the Peace’, 2021

Brian Poli-Dixon’s ‘Heavy is the head that wears the crown’, 2020

Doug Powell’s ‘Martin Luther King Portrait’, 2020 made of over 7,000 typewriter keys. Made over the course of 8 years. 

Woodrow Nash’s ‘Hakim (The Ruler)’ and ‘Brave’

Charly Palmer’s ‘Benevolent’, ‘Be a Warrior’ and Kevin Nance-West’s ‘Azure’, ‘Psalm 1:21’ sharing a booth.

Miami will always be one of my favorite cities and this visit has re-invigorated my appreciation for discovering new art. A big thanks to all of the artists, gallerists, workers and many more who work so hard behind the scenes to make this all happen. There is so much inspiration to be gained from visiting Miami Art Week; take it from me and consider adding Art Basel to your plans for 2022! 

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