Miami Herald Review of “Out Castes: Crossing the line to the Model Majority , Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Diaspora”

The Miami Herald


Art on the Cultural Divide by Jacqueline Charles

December 3, 2005

As thousands flock to Art Basel Miami Beach this week, at least one Miami gallery owner is trying to add a little bit of Caribbean spice to the conemporary art fair.

Rosie Gordon-Wallace, long a Miami pioneer in discovering emerging Caribbean and Latin American artists, is riding the Basel momentum in hopes of bringer wider attention to the work of Caribbean artists and the immigrant experience.

“I am happy Art Basel is here, and the energy it brings is exciting,” said Gordon-Wallace, curator of Diaspora Vibe Gallery in the Miami Design District. “We have a responsibilty now to turn it into something bigger and better for us.”

Art Basel Miami Beach, widely acknowledged as the most prestigious contemporary art fair in North America, focuses primarily on European, Latin-American and U.S. artists; Caribbean artists are few.

The art fair, nevertheless, has spurred a natural curiosity about Miami’s other offerings. Every day this week, thousands of art lovers have been drawn to the Design District, Wynwood and South Florida’s other arts communities in search of what is uniquely Miami.

“Once you do the fair and find the blue chip things, the curious — and there are plenty of curious people here — are interested in finding the fringe things that are going on,” said Micheal Spring, director of Miami-Dade County’s Department of Cultural Affairs. “People are out on adventures, trying to seek out the things that make Miami quintessentially Miami, and Rosie is it. She’s smart to get herself and her artists to take advantage of Art Basel.”

Luis Mesa, one of several local Cuban-American artists whose work is being featured at the gallery this week, said not only has she sold a few pieces as a result of Art Basel but the 4-year-old fair also has a tremendous impact on her as an artist.

“I’ve seen my work get better and better each year,” said Mesa, whose layered paintings explore questions of “who we are and why we are.”

“Sometimes I feel like an outcast because I create work for me that has spiritual meaning.”

The exhibit at Diaspora features eight artists from Cuba, Barbados, St.Martin and the Bahamas. A ninth, Swati Khurana was born in India.

All of the artists’ works give voice to the theme “Out Castes: Crossing the line to the Model Majority , Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Diaspora,” a play on the word “outcast” and the caste system that often rules Caribbean and Indian societies.

Within that context, the paintings, sculptures, video and photographs explore the search for identity while questioning the social fabric of Caribbean society, where issues like mental illness, suicide and homosexuality are taboo.

“Hopefully it will spark converstions that will give us an opportunity to dialogue around serious,” said Gordon-Wallace, who is sponsoring a free artist talk from 2 to 4 p.m. today at th gallery, 3938 N. Miami Ave.

Among the artists is Deborah Jack of St. Martin who ponders the meaning behind the word “home” in several self-portraits.

“When you think of the Caribbean, it is born out of a series of fractured experiences across the board,” she said.

“I identified as Barbadian until going to live in the States and returning home. When I came back, I wasn’t feeling like I was a part of it anymore,” Atkinson, 30, said. “I began asking myself, ‘Where do I fit in this society, which tries to have very definitive roles for its occupants?’”

But sometimes such social fabrics can be constricting, as Khurana alludes to in her work that reflects on the value placed on young girls’ lives in traditional Hindu culture though the ritual of marriage.

“In Indian culture, the important function for a woman other than to be a mother is to be a bride, and one of the most exportable images of India is the image of the Indian bride,” Khurana said.

“I want to question it.”

As for how the show’s exhibits and them relate to her and the others as artists, Khurana said: “An outcast is someone who can understand rituals and learn simultaneously to defy and embrace them.”

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