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Prizm Art Fair showcases physical and digital works exploring Black existentialism

Black Blood, No. 10 by Ajamu Kojo, a figurative painter and filmmaker based in Brooklyn, New York. The piece is featured during the Prizm Art Fair's virtual show
Ajamu Kojo
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"Black Blood, No. 10" by Ajamu Kojo, a figurative painter and filmmaker based in Brooklyn, New York. The piece is featured during the Prizm Art Fair's virtual show.

Mikhaile Solomon's Prizm Art Fair, showcasing Black existentialist contemporary art from the African diaspora, kicks off Tuesday night with a panel discussion at the Red Rooster restaurant in Miami's Overtown neighborhood.

The Prizm Art Fair is back for its ninth exhibition featuring international artists from the African Diaspora, and this year, organizers are highlighting both physical and digital art.

The Miami-based fair is one of the preeminent spaces showcasing prominent African contemporary artists from across the world. The fair now includes both physical art pieces as well as digital non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, which are backed by blockchain technology.

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The year 2020 is often viewed by social scientists and journalists as a year of “racial reckoning,” when many non-Black people became more aware of how Blackness functions in predominantly white spaces and within the confines of capitalism.

Mikhaile Solomon, who is the founder, director and curator, said the theme of this year’s PRIZM Art Fair is Black existentialism: interrogating what it means to be Black and African from a global context. She said the art featured at this year's fair evaluates Blackness as it exists without any social pressure from the dominant culture in any country.

“We're highlighting a Black existentialism as a framework within which to view the works,” Solomon said. “And Black existentialism, in layman's terms, is essentially a theoretical understanding of Blackness through what our lives would essentially be like without what is expected of us from other perceived narratives.”

Contemporary art by people of African descent is still trending in the art market. There is an “African art boom” that isn’t stopping anytime soon, as investment in Black artists and exhibitions spur worldwide interest.

“There’s a push towards equity that can’t really be ignored,” Solomon said. “And as we evolve as human beings, I think people start to understand the importance of the inclusion of contemporary voices in Africans and African art.”

Tessa Alexander .png
Tessa Alexander
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"STILL I RISE" is by Tessa Alexander, who's from Trinidad & Tobago. For this piece, Alexander used watercolor and collage on paper. It's featured on the virtual show at PRIZM Art Fair: https://www.prizm.art/

NFTs, unique digital artworks that are secured by blockchain technology, are also making their debut in this year’s programming.

Solomon says collectors at Prizm have the opportunity to purchase digital art using cryptocurrency. If collectors resell the digital work, artists receive a percentage of the sale.

“That’s incredibly revolutionary for artists, because it gives them leverage. In the long term, if there is any sort of resale of their work, they can get some sort of economic value out of what I consider to be intellectual property,” said Solomon.

“So you’ll purchase the NFT, but then we would also get your address and all that information, so we can send you the physical piece along with the NFT.”

The fair's inclusion of NFTs is part of a broader effort in the marketplace that’s merging art with new technology.

The Prizm Art Fair opens with a panel on Black existential thought and textile art. The event takes place at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at the Red Rooster restaurant in Miami's Overtown neighborhood.

The first panel in the discussion series, “Weaving Identity: A conversation on textile practice in the 21st century,” includes award-winning artists Bisa Butler, Stephen Towns, Amber Robles-Gordon, and Noel W. Anderson.

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.