Black artists take center stage at Art Basel, world’s preeminent arts festival

by Nate Morris
Art Basel Miami

Miami has always been a place of cultural expression and global intrigue. But once a year, the teeming blue waters, tropical breezes and swaying palms go fade to the background as Art Basel rolls in.

Artists and art enthusiasts from across the globe descended on the city last week in the largest contemporary art festival in  North America. Exhibits stretched from the shoreline in South Beach to the Wynwood Walls. And in all of it – the music, the fashion, the murals, the sculptures – the voice and vision of Black artists was prevalent.

Black artists leave their mark at global art event

In Wynwood, a neighborhood adjacent to downtown Miami, Kayla Mahaffey’s mural “Safe Passage” went up on the famed “Wynwood Walls”. The Chicago-based artist used spray paint to depict two young girls embarking on a beautiful journey.

“I couldn’t be happier about this wonderful opportunity,” Mahaffey said in an Instagram post.

In the heart of Wynwood, artist Frankie Zombie performed a live painting exhibition during the day Thursday. Zombie, who uses spray paint to form bold patters with bright colors, transformed a car into a work of art. A crowd of hundreds watched as Zombie completed the piece just before 11PM Thursday night. The artist would later post a photo of his work with the simple caption: “paint everything“.

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On the oceanfront in South Beach, the SCOPE Pavilion featured collections from artists around the globe. Breaking from a longstanding history of highlighting traditional art, SCOPE re-focused its 2021 attention on the fusion between physical and digital artistry. Programming elevated the burgeoning NFT (Non-Fungible Token) trend where art is transformed into currency on the crypto market.

One of the artists viewed as a driving force in the movement is Diana Sinclair. Sinclair, a black, queer, teenage artist, recently curated the exhibition “The Digital Diaspora” over the summer. Sinclair’s work has opened the doors for other young artists of color to shape the landscape of the evolving metaverse art world.

Revolutionary designer Virgil Abloh’s legacy lives on at Basel

This year’s Art Basel opened on the heels of tragedy with the sudden death of Virgil Abloh. Abloh, the founder of the clothing brand Off-White, was one of the most influential visionaries in the fashion world. As the artistic director at Louis Vuitton, Abloh brilliantly merged the worlds of streetwear and luxury clothing. While few fashion designers ever become household names, Abloh became an inspiration to young Black creatives across the globe.

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News of his loss came just before the fashion portion of Art Basel was set to draw to a close. A touching tribute lit up the Miami sky on Tuesday night and hundreds of bouquets filled the Off-White storefront.

Just last year, a virtual world-wide version of Basel featured collections from 281 galleries around the world. None, however, were Black-owned.

The festival worked to change that for 2021. However, it serves as a stark reminder of the systemic barriers still existing in the world of art.

Still, Virgil Abloh, Diana Sinclair, Frankie Zombie and Kayla Mahaffee and Black artists around the world continue shaping culture and blazing paths for future generations. As they do, an industry that has long pushed artists of color to the margins is now being re-created on the shores of the Atlantic.

1 comment

Fashion giant André Leon Talley passes at 73 January 19, 2022 - 2:37 pm

[…] language and culture. Yet, he also connected with the next generation of Black influencers who use their art to speak to our society […]

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