By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
Dominican Charo Oquet is a well-known Miami artist with a gift -- she is a master facilitator. Since 2003, as Edge Zonesdirector, Oquet has presented a series of important shows at the World Arts Building in Wynwood. Numerous Miami artists have been featured in these collective exhibits. In addition, for the past four years she has initiated exchanges among some of Miami's best talents through exhibitions such as "Miami: Tierra Caliente" at the Fourth Caribbean Biennale in Santo Domingo (co-curated with Genaro Ambrosino), among other efforts. Just recently Edge Zones, Oquet's nonprofit organization, was invited to ARCO 2004, the annual contemporary art fair in Madrid. Warm, upbeat, and committed, the 52-year-old Oquet is an activist with big plans for Miami.
New Times: "Index Miami," featuring 27 artists, opened last month at the World Arts Building. It was a big display of local art with a great turnout. Tell us how you pulled it together.
Charo Oquet: David Vardi [World Arts Building manager] and I curated "Index Miami." It was a big show with two project rooms, one on the first floor, one on the second floor. The idea behind these events is to give artists a voice. This is an artists' initiative. It means we curated it, exhibited, and covered the costs. We take care of the whole thing.
Why a "project room"?
It's a better and different way of showing. Some artists have enough quality work to have a kind of solo show. For this one we had Christian Duran and Onajide Shabaka in the project rooms. We always have project-room events.
How many openings have you had at the World Arts Building?
Since November 2003 we've had four openings, but I have to explain. These openings have clusters of shows in them. It all depends. We started with "Champola," curated by Angela Vallela and me. We introduced artists who had never been seen in Miami. Chris Culver was still in DASH [Design and Architecture Senior High] and has gone on to win a national prize as a student artist. We had some of Angela Vallela's best students at DASH. It was an interesting mix.
It must be difficult to bring all those people together.
To give you an example of the complexity involved, for our January opening we invited José-Carlos Diaz from the Worm Hole Laboratory to do "Dirty South," while I co-curated "The Golden Standard of Living" with Vallela, and also Jay Ore's "The Savvy Traveler" with David Vardi. A talented curator from Venezuela, Julieta Gonzalez [now in Puerto Rico], did "Chaos." In the spring of this year we had Carlos Villasante's "Assembly Required." I curated "Visual Mnemonics" and David Pusko put together "Other Worlds and the Magic Castle." It all happened simultaneously. We also had artists in the project room.
What are the advantages of doing things this way?
It's an alternative to museums and galleries. In a museum environment, curators often cannot do what they want. They have all kinds of constraints. Something similar happens in galleries. Whenever big changes happen, it's because artists get together and change things, doing it their way. I'm not the only one doing this in Miami, or the first. Because these openings are group efforts, we need each other. After the show is over, we pick up the stuff and clean the bathrooms. David helps install and clean. While I may cook food for the exhibit, other artists will bring other stuff. We all serve it. And we realize that we're building a community. It's art but it's also the friendship.
Do you have set criteria for choosing work?
The work needs to be developed to a certain degree. There must be quality. I prefer artists whose intentions are not necessarily commercial.
But artists don't mind selling work.
Of course. Still there is a difference between this and the Coral Gables gallery walk. Let's just say [the artists showing here] are ready to push the envelope and take risks.
What's a curator for you?
I see my curator work as an extension of what I am. I don't know, perhaps I'm an artist-activist. You cannot separate these things. It just happens. All of a sudden you feel you have a need to help change things around you, and you're not alone.
Do you visit studios?
Yes, we pick the pieces we'd like to exhibit, and often encourage the artist to continue working along a certain line. It's a matter of fine-tuning and guidance. We seek a meeting of minds, and then we contribute. A curator must nurture a promising direction.
Did you ever sense conflicting interests?
There are people I won't work with. The work must have a good vibration. It must be done in harmony. And there are times you confront problems, but that can always be solved. It's the attitude that matters.
What is the curator's Achilles' heel?
Sometimes the younger artists don't see the time you're putting in. Sometimes people don't realize what you're doing. They don't have to, by the way. I'm not making money with this. Except that it can drain you. Then you ask yourself: Why am I doing this?
Then the activist kicks back in.
[Laughs] Then you realize the quality of the work is there, that it has a tension. I tell you, I can dislike a person and still present his or her work on its merits. These shows have opened roads for Miami artists to exhibit in important venues abroad. It's happened and it will continue to happen.
Are artists protective?
Yes, artists are protective, but when you develop a good relationship based on mutual respect, beautiful things happen. It's based on trust. I see it as a way of establishing a network of art-making in the city. Artists traditionally work together. Movements and styles come from this communion of shared ideas.
Do you see a Miami style?
I do. I see a lot of interesting threads happening all over the place.
What are these threads?
[Laughs] Now I'm on the spot! Well, I could be a little myopic, but I see my own work being influenced, and some of us working with similar elements. It's back and forth among the artists. I see bright colors in a strange way, like glitter, not used in the traditional sense. There is an element of light that's seductive. The religious aspects have been diluted, but the ideas sort of remain. There are elements of Caribbean popular culture -- the trinkets, cheap stuff, not the themes but the stuff, like a Caribbean chimichurri. Miami started out pink, but it has changed, gone full circle, and it's beginning to show it.
Something unique happens down here. It's kind of Southern, but by Southern I mean all the Latin American and Caribbean influences. What unites us is lo negro [the black experience]. It's already digested [in the mainstream], but it's strong. The more Miami grows, the more you'll see it. People come here and that's what they see. We're different. We're not a replica of New York. This is us. Miami will grow with its unique voice.
Are you ready for Art Basel 2004?
Absolutely! For Basel 2004 we'll have a surprise show. It will have a lot of artists from Miami with a few international artists. Art Basel Miami Beach has been a great experience. The exchange of ideas, the serendipity -- it's been great. You never know who you're going to find. We artists need to speak to other people, we need the exchanges. We don't live on an island.
You've supported the idea of a Miami biennial, which is a great idea. What's in the making?
Miami is ready for a next step, to have some kind of biennial, an overview of what's happening in the city. I have spoken with most of the museums and they're into the idea. We haven't found anyone to back it, but we're ready. This is not a competition to Art Basel, it's just different. We're talking about something that would last two months. I think Miami has all the elements to become the art capital of Latin America. We're vibrant. We need to further invest in what we have.