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This Art Week, explore the soul and spirit of Black fine art in Overtown

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Tiffani Glenn Grimsley
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"Becoming" (pen & ink on paper) by Tiffani Glenn Grimsley. Her work typically represents positive narratives surrounding Black womanhood. It will be on display at the Point Comfort Art Fair 2022.

Hundreds of galleries, collectors and art lovers are arriving en masse and perusing through visitor guides for a plethora of international satellite fairs, pop-up art and bold design shows during Miami Art Week, which marks the 20th anniversary of Art Basel Miami.

But as art aficionados flock around Miami-Dade during the week, curators and artists who live in our backyard say: Don’t miss the heart and soul of African-American fine art in Overtown, Miami’s historic Black neighborhood.

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The enthusiasm around crypto, NFTs and art-tech-commerce that dominated Art Basel last year has waned after recent high-profile crypto bankruptcy scandals and a steep drop in the NFT market.

With a return to traditional modes of consuming art, especially from locally-based exhibitions, there are rich veins to mine on the outskirts of international main events, away from Downtown Miami or South Beach — and nowhere more so than in Overtown.

Hampton Art Lovers are showcasing the Point Comfort Art Fair + Show, an art exhibition and conversation series at the Historic Ward Rooming House. From December 1st to 4th, the show will host a series of collections from several renowned artists, including artwork by the late artist Charles White.

Art teaches history. We’re showing people aspects of African American culture that even the people who are not Black that come, they are now gaining a better understanding of their own community
Chris Norwood, co-founder of Hampton Art Lovers.

Among the established Black artists featured are Hale Woodruff and Benny Andrews, whose works from the collections of the Florida Memorial University will be on display. Other notable names include Basil Watson, Brandon Clark, Chris Clark, Phil Shung, Musa Hixson, and Florida native Tiffani Glenn, to name just a few.

The fair, sponsored by the Southeast Overtown / Park West Community Redevelopment Agency, FIU-Wolfsonian Public Humanities Lab and other organizations, celebrates the remnants of lost African traditions through Black art work collected by Hampton University Museum and Florida Memorial University, two HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities).

Organizers say the title of the fair, “Point Comfort” is "derived from the place in colonial Virginia where the first captives from the West African Kingdom of Ndongo (now Angola) arrived in 1619."

Hampton University’s history report provides a detailed background of what historians have called Virginia’s first “20 and odd” Africans.

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Musa Hixson
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A mask installation by Brooklyn-based artist Musa Hixson. It will be on display at the Point Comfort Art Fair 2022.

Hampton curators describe their 2022 exhibition as “multi-dimensional experience designed to tell the powerful narrative of the African-American experience through art and conversation.”

Chris Norwood, co-founder of Hampton Art Lovers and editorial board member of the International Review of African American Art, calls the preservation of Black art at HBCUs and local communities "an appreciation of culture."

"Art teaches history. A museum is a classroom," Norwood said in a statement. "So the preservation of the history of what this building represents, combined with the types of exhibits that we bring, we’re showing people aspects of African American culture that even the people who are not Black that come, they are now gaining a better understanding of their own community.”

The Rooming House was built in the early 1900s by Bahamian architects and was once a safe haven for visiting Black people and Native Americans who were unable to find temporary accommodation in downtown Miami during segregation.

Art is often viewed as a window into how individuals interact with their own reality, the perspectives of different people and ideas, and the socioeconomic conditions of various communities.

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Reginald O'Neal
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Miami Museum of Contemporary Art of the African Diaspora
A new mural at the International Longshoremen’s Association building in Overtown by local artist Reginald O'Neal was commissioned for Art Week. It is embedded with QR codes that allow art lovers to hear the oral histories and key contributions of Black Longshoremen.

And as international visitors, artists and curators attend several unique exhibitions and maneuver through the dreadful art week traffic, it won’t be hard to stumble on one giant mural that aims to teach the world about the impact Black longshoremen have had on the Port of Miami.

The Miami Museum of Contemporary Art of the African Diaspora commissioned Overtown artist Reginald O'Neal to create a mural embedded with QR codes that allow art lovers to hear the oral histories and key contributions of Black Longshoremen.

It’s about more than working the docks, loading and unloading freight from cargo and cruise ships. It’s about how union workers spent 85 years building a sustainable community. The mural is up now and located at the International Longshoremen’s Association building in Overtown.

While not in Overtown, Mikhaile Solomon's Prizm Art Fair in the Design District (4220 N.Miami Ave) is celebrating its 10th year. The Miami-based fair, known for its Black existentialism themes, is one of the preeminent spaces showcasing prominent African contemporary artists from across the world.

Wilkine Brutus is a reporter and producer for WLRN and a guest faculty member at the Poynter Institute. The South Florida native produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs.