Separate but Equal in Art

November reveals how multicultural Miami leaves its mark

It's obvious that Miami is a diverse city. But is it fair to say that we live in a pluralistic one? Pluralism entails independent groups developing their cultures and interests within a common community. This means people have to see themselves as part of a bigger picture. Not an easy task by any means and yet, in spite of Miami's political and economic disparities, the art community here has managed to come a long way in finding shared ground.

Since the early Nineties much of Miami's art scene has changed: Local talent just out of the art schools, new alternative art spaces, and Miami's international art fair have all pumped in fresh blood. Today artists feel at home here, perceiving this to be a legitimate place to live and work. But we know it's not that easy. Artistic pluralism can be unstable without deeper cultural interaction that comes with a truly cosmopolitan atmosphere. Miami is not yet that sophisticated. We live segregated in our respective ghettos and still are coming to terms with each other's cultural manifestations and differences. We're still learning to live together.

This is what curators, critics, and some foreign visitors have yet to understand. Our artistic cohesion is not determined by nationality; many of our artists think they are partaking in a broader project that transcends ethnicity. We may have further to go, but it's undeniable that the creative community could be a viable catalyst for the city's much needed integration, both economic and political.

As this month began, the diversity became vividly apparent in the exhibitions around town: Haitian artist Edouard Duval-Carrié at Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, seventeen African-American artists at MAM, Cuban-American photographer Maria Martinez-Cañas at Fredric Snitzer Gallery, Venezuelan artist Trino Sanchez at Freites-Revilla Gallery, and Dominican artist Belkins Ramirez at the A+ gallery. To top it off, FLA/BRA, the annual Florida-Brazil festival, showcased art, dance, and other performances all over Miami. All proof that this city's arts reflect its own social composition.

Against this context of cultural diversity, Freedom Rocks, a two-day site-specific exhibition that took place in the Design District, could be seen as a reminder of our best aspirations. The installations (sponsored by the People For the American Way and curated by Fredric Snitzer) refracted the theme of social and political pluralism in America. But it's one thing to have a positive message and another to achieve a cohesive result. As a show Freedom Rocks was uneven. The posters expressing the Foundation's verbal exhortations within the installation space created a weird conceptual dissonance. Who is talking: the artists or organization? In addition some of the pieces didn't seem fitting. Notable exceptions were Bhakti Baxter's branchy ornamental Beyond the Reflection; Mette Tommerup's Miroesque, glassy spatial ego distortions; Gean Moreno's sinuous and celebratory pop installation of colored tape in orange, white, and yellow on a pillar; and Ruben Torres-Llorca's ironic long list of collectors.

Not far from the Design District, Belkins Ramirez's woodcuts at A+ portray the lack of pluralism in the Dominican Republic. Many women all over Latin America suffer a sad reality, and Ramirez is successful at exposing the hypocritical style of power and religion in her own nation's political process. In keeping with such powerful messages, I would have preferred to see more of Ramirez's political musings over her decorative works.

On the other side of town, Snitzer presents Maria Martinez-Cañas's collages, ranging from dense forestlike forms to the delicately minimal. Martinez-Cañas's work exudes a naturally organic movement akin to music. She also achieves complex arrangements by employing a mixed technique that incorporates drawing and collage, cut from photographs in which the main elements are architecture, plant life, and the human body.

In Coral Gables at Freites-Revilla, Trino Sanchez's paintings suggest those mysterious and convoluted spaces contained in childhood memories. Sanchez's repetitive rows of cycling harlequins offer a monotonous vision of tricky spectacle, offset by a parallel world of gigantic ghostly images embedded within the work's texture. He is good at creating depth within these internal psychological habitations.

Also in the Gables, across the street from a good show of mostly modern Cuban masters at the newly opened Cernuda Gallery, a small group picketed the gallery's owner and the attention given to the show by the visitors. This very act reflected a reality about social diversity and freedom of speech. In a city such as ours, we often don't think the same way, and we are free to express our views as long as we do so within the law. Some of us savored a moment in social symmetry: They had a right to protest our presence, as much as we had a right to cross the line and check out the art. Our own diversity can be the biggest challenge to our freedom, which underscores all the more boldly the reason to protect the existence of both.

 
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