BLANC Modern Africa: Tell us a about your background. How did you develop the idea to create an art fair dedicated to artists from African and the Diaspora – and in Miami versus an established arts-focused city like New York?
Mikhaile Solomon: I was born and raised in Miami. I lived in Chicago and Tampa for period of six years to complete my undergraduate studies in Theatre Arts then returned to Miami to pursue my Masters degree in architecture at Florida International University. I’m an architect by education and think about cities a lot: how they grow, what people contribute to how cities are planned, the economies that shape industry in cities. Growing up in Miami, there were few opportunities for cultural engagement. My first instinct was to consider moving away, hence my decision to study in Chicago. After returning I realized that there was opportunity in using my newfound creativity to fill cultural gaps.
As a lover of arts and culture, I’m particularly invested in understanding how the creative industry and how its players contribute to the shaping of sustainable cities. I worked on several arts projects before and during the conception of Prizm that introduced me to many of exhibiting artists you’ll see at Prizm Art Fair. There were few, if any, spaces in Miami that exhibited Diaspora content at a world class level whilst providing a foundation for building an economy that supports the creative and cultural production of artists generating this work. I think Miami needs projects like Prizm to ensure that cultural diversity, as a reflection of the city that we live in, is embraced.
Now in its fourth year, how will the 2016 Prizm Art Fair stand out from previous years?
Last year we were located in the Miami Modern District on the Biscayne Blvd Commercial Corridor. This year we are located in the Little Haiti/Little River community which is deeply relevant to the content we’ve curated this year. We’ve included more programming including two performance works by artists Nyugen Smith and Ayana Evans, two dinner events, providing familial, bonding and networking opportunities for our exhibiting artists and a more robust Panel series that includes, the voices of practicing curators, artists, and leaders in arts education including Amber Robles-Gordon, Jamea Richmond-Edwards, Danny Simmons, Stephanie Cunningham, Erin Holtyn, Daniela Fifi, and Karen, Senefuru.
Firelei Baez, “Busqueda Oshun O-delay” (2016). Courtesy of PRIZM.
This year Prizm will host a panel on black femininity in contemporary art. Why do black women artists need special attention in contemporary art?
The venerated voices in the arts, not unlike other industries, are largely male. I did due diligence to ensure that Prizm exhibited an equal number of women artists as it exhibits male.
Who are some up-and-coming women artists of color we should keep on our radar?
Amber Robles-Gordon, MahlOt Sansosa, Sheena Rose, Nadia Huggins, LaToya Hobbs, Deborah Jack, Juana Valdez, and Alexandria Smith.
This year Prizm also highlights art from the Caribbean. Give us insight into what’s exciting that is coming out of that region.
This year we have several artists from the Caribbean, many who practice in the United States but with work that remains nostalgically tethered to their Caribbean heritage. Terry Bodie, and Deborah Jack, whose works I was introduced to by the inimitable Dr. Deborah Willis, beautifully captures a haunting past in the Caribbean, Saint Martin specifically, characterized by its colonization reconciled with a bright future as alluded to by the subject of Deborah Jack’s Video installation piece The Water Between Us Remembers, a young girl, who seems embody the past, present, and future of Caribbean spirit. Terry Bodie’s work “Crypt” recalls a sugar industry planted on a foundation of slave servitude represented by a Gelatin Silver Emulsion, pastel, and charcoal illustration of a sugar mill which typically dot Caribbean landscapes. Terry is originally from the sister island nation of St.Kitts-Nevis. Sheena Rose, from Barbados, illustrates her coming of age story, through an intricate 10 feet by 5 foot ink on paper drawing that navigate through her trials.
Also this year, Prizm partnered with Rush Arts Foundation, whose co-founder is Russell Simmons, to feature artist Oasa Duvernay. How did this partnership come about?
Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation has been a programmatic partner with Prizm Art Fair since 2014. In 2015, we curated an exhibition at their Corridor Gallery in Brooklyn, NY. Featuring Oasa’s work was timely given recent events in our social and political landscape.
Nadia Huggins, "Transformations 2" (2015). Courtesy of PRIZM.
Since Prizm started in 2013 the broader art market has developed an infatuation with art by artists of color. What’s your reaction/response to this?
I pray it is not a passing trend and that there is an understanding that African and African Diaspora artists have been creating compelling work without due recognition and full acknowledgement of their contributions. I love that contemporary artists are beginning to receive recognition in ways that allow them to enjoy the fruits of the labor as living artists. Many greats did not live to see their works venerated.
Movements like Black Lives Matter have brought the struggles of the black community to the forefront of social discourse. What impact, if any, do social justice movements have on art?
At Prizm 2016, One of our Panels with Danny Simmons moderated by Niama Safia Sandy, began as a conversation about Danny’s philanthropic work through the organization he co-founded, Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, and ended in full debate about art’s function as a tool in the social justice movement.
A few argue that while art can spark and even make visible the complexities that occupy systems of injustice, it doesn’t directly confront injustice the way political movements like Black Lives Matter, protesters at Standing Rock or vanguards in the Civil Rights movement organize to palpably resist enduring practices and institutions that systemically subvert the voices of minorities, women, and the disabled globally.
Others argued that art directly shifted their lens and pointed out specific turning points where art catalyzed their understanding of realities that exist in socialized inequality.
After much deliberation, we concluded that art is a pillar within the movement towards social change. It works in tandem with an aggregate of political forces to get closer to a holistic solution to a problem that has plagued humanity for an unacceptably long time. Visual Art, Music, Literature: artists in these spaces continue to create work that serve as manifesto for understanding injustice and thereby our role in engaging in peaceful resistance to it.
There are works that I’ve seen, heard and read in my life that I can’t find the words to describe the feeling that comes over me when I engage them.
Carl Pope, "The Bad Air Smelled of Roses" (2015). Courtesy of PRIZM.
How has Prizm changed since its debut in 2013? How do you hope to see Prizm grow in upcoming years?
Each year we invite more artists. We’ve doubled in size since 2013, exhibiting 60 contemporary artists. We also offered more programming including additional performances in our Prizm Perform platform with performances by Nyugen Smith and Ayana Evans and we also included more talks in our Prizm Panels platform. Speakers included, Stephanie Cunningham, Erin Holtyn, Daniela Fifi, Danny Simmons, Amber Robles-Gordon and Jamea Richmond Edwards, and Karen Senefuru. Our plan is to continue exhibiting larger groups of emerging and established artists and to broaden our programming beyond the Fair each year. In the past, we’ve also curated exhibitions during the year in collaboration with other cultural institutions including Rush Philanthropic in Brooklyn, New York and the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, and the Little Haiti Cultural Complex in Miami.
Are there any artists you would like to feature in Prizm that you haven’t yet featured?
I love the work of Ebony Patterson and Ndijeka Akunyili Crosby. I’m also admire the work of Leonardo Drew and Victor Ekpuk amongst many others.
Outside of Miami art week, what are other venues in the Miami area to see work by artists of color year-round?
The Little Haiti Cultural Complex, African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, and the ARC in Opa-locka, and Kroma in Coconut Grove.