“I have always viewed art as a way to better understand my culture and my roots,” said art collector Jorge M. Pérez, born in Argentina to exiled Cuban parents.
While the bulk of the South Florida real estate developer’s vast art collection focuses on works from Latin America and the Caribbean, Pérez discovered what he calls “an unexpected kinship” to art. African art and the art of the African diaspora.
“Although I haven’t always had a direct connection to African art and the African diaspora, everything changed once I traveled to the continent myself,” he said.
Pérez says he found many similarities with the works produced by Latin American and Caribbean artists.
“Among those parallels were issues of political and social oppression, colonialism and identity, all of which were deeply ingrained in many of my favorite plays of Cuba and many other Latin regions,” he said.
You can see 100 of his pieces in an exhibit titled “Witness: Afro Perspectives from the Jorge M. Pérez Collection” in his one-year private museum, El Espacio 23, located in the Allapattah neighborhood of Miami-Dade County. .
El Espacio 23 artist in residence Masimba Hwati from Zimbabwe has produced a new piece for “Witness” exploring black identity in 1960s America.
Art is exceptional – and so is the curator behind “Witness”. Born in Zimbabwe, Tandazani Dhlakama is Assistant Curator at the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA) in Cape Town, South Africa. Open since 2017, it is the first major contemporary art museum in Africa.
Tandazani Dhlakama, assistant curator at the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA) in Cape Town, South Africa, worked on the exhibition…
“I met Tandazani during one of my many visits to Zeitz MOCAA, the largest museum of contemporary African art in the world. Shortly after we met, we discovered that we had a common passion for using art to celebrate and, more importantly, understand identities and cultures around the world, ”said Pérez.
Dhlakama has worked alongside full-time Pérez curators Patricia M. Hanna and Anelys Alvarez, albeit at a distance due to COVID-19.
“The idea was that I would come several times initially to see the space and for the installation and the opening, but unfortunately due to the travel restrictions in the two countries, I was not able to do so”, she declared.
Still, while it would have been wonderful spending time in Miami, she says it didn’t affect her commissioning of the show.
For Dhlakama, it was a dream come true to choose from “such a large, interesting and meaningful collection,” she said. “That was the fun part, for sure.”
As she began to immerse herself in the collection, certain narratives began to emerge.
“There were stories that came from an African perspective that I wanted to highlight. They all talk about this idea of witnessing in different ways, ”Dhlakama explained.
And that’s how the name of the show was born, “Witness”.
The year 2020 was certainly a time to put that prospect into context, she said.
“We have all witnessed a lot of things – some of us have been involved knowingly or unknowingly, and whatever point of view you come from, there is this idea. You watch another human being murdered in nine minutes, ”Dhlakama said, using the example of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minnesota police, and how the video made anyone who watched him a witness.
“But what does something like that mean?” she asked. “The work that I wanted to put in the exhibition, to a certain extent, helps us make sense or highlight the issues,” she added, noting that art reflects more than what is happening. goes into the present.
“There is an important continuum around race, displacement, migration,” Dhlakama said. “These are not new problems. These are issues that humanity is grappling with. “
She mentioned some of the artists included in “Witness”, such as Frida Orupabo, a Norwegian of Nigerian descent.
“That’s why it’s captioned ‘Afro Perspective’, because I don’t think you can talk about the African continent without talking about the African diaspora,” Dhlakama said.
The African diaspora refers to the many communities of people of African descent dispersed around the world as a result of historic movements, largely forced migration due to slavery.
“We tried to make sure that there were representations of geopolitical space – the African diaspora, meaning anyone or anything that is rooted on the African continent, however loosely related,” said declared Dhlakama. “A curator I once admired said, ‘Africa is a utopia, so why are we limiting it to a physical land mass? “”
El Espacio 23 artist in residence Masimba Hwati of Zimbabwe has produced a new site-specific piece for “Witness” which explores black identity in 1960s America.
“Of course, you can’t talk about Africa without thinking about race, and even that is complex. There are white Africans, ”said Dhlakama, referring to the depiction in the exhibition by the works of multidisciplinary artist Mikhael Subotzky, a white South African born in Cape Town.
There is also a piece by Cuban artist Carlos Martiel, “Mediterráneo”, which addresses human migration and, in this work, questions of Europe’s commitment and responsibility towards African migration.
One of the most prominent Cuban artists, Kcho (Alexis Leiva Machado), is part of Pérez’s collection and his works will be on display at the exhibition. Kcho grew up on the small island of Isla de Pinos, Cuba, and lives and works in Havana. Its subject is the depiction of migration, especially of those who seek refuge by risking their lives in perilous voyages at sea.
“You can’t talk about Latin America without talking about Africa,” said Dhlakama, returning to Pérez’s idea of the connection.
Pérez’s first trip to Africa in 2013 introduced him to art and piqued his curiosity.
“Eventually, this curiosity became an obsession,” he said.
Pérez said he had traveled to Africa five times since and had developed links with many local galleries and artists, “to better understand trends, identify young talent and more”.
He also recently pledged $ 2.5 million for African art that he collects at the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), which exhibits more than 40 works until July 1, 2021.
“Miami, in particular, stands to benefit greatly from this recent focus on art by African artists and the African diaspora,” Pérez said. “Many of these works serve as a window to a seemingly alien world seldom shown in film and television, while highlighting the undeniable similarities between African, Latin American and Caribbean cultures, as well as the perspectives of their peoples. “
ArtburstMiami.com is a non-profit source for news on theater, dance, visual arts, music, and the performing arts. Sign up for their newsletter and never miss a story.
If you are going to
“Witness: Afro Perspectives from the Jorge M. Pérez Collection”,
exhibited until 2021 at El Espacio 23, 2270 NW 23rd St., Miami; free.
During the pandemic, tours will be available by appointment only, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. As per CDC and Miami-Dade County guidelines, face coverings are required for all visitors and staff, and hand sanitizing stations are placed in all galleries. Social distancing of at least 6 feet is strictly enforced.