Islanders and Imagery

By day Rosie Gordon-Wallace is a sales representative for the G.D. Searle pharmaceutical company. By night she's an aspiring writer and a tireless promoter working to help her comrades in art who just can't get a break. "The artists really just want to do their work," notes Gordon-Wallace, who speaks a mile a minute. "I feel that we as a society are defined by how we treat them."

A den mother, cheerleader, and patron all rolled into one, Gordon-Wallace, who served on the Miami Light Project board for four years, is doing her utmost to support her gifted friends. A year and a half ago, inspired by the complaints of Jamaican artist G. Tall Rickards that there were few places for non-Cuban artists to show their work, she founded Emerging Caribbean Artists. The group displayed its work at the Bakehouse Art Complex's tenth anniversary exhibition a few months ago, generating favorable reviews. Since then the ECA has disbanded and Gordon-Wallace has moved on to assist others.

"My goal is to help these artists to be able to define themselves and to help them work at their craft, despite the difficulties they face in day-to-day life," Gordon-Wallace explains. "These kids go to school for four years, and then they come back to the community and the community has nothing in place to support them that they can access easily."

To drum up recognition for painters and sculptors who might otherwise go unrecognized, she established Diaspora Vibes Gallery, a studio and gallery at the Bakehouse Art Complex. According to Gordon-Wallace, the idea behind the space, which she leases from a Bakehouse artist who works up north from May to October, is for one artist each month to participate in a 30-day "mini-residency," creating new works. At the end of the tenure, the artist, along with Gordon-Wallace and co-curator Wanda Texon, whose day job is education curator at the Bass Museum, choose works to be highlighted at what Gordon-Wallace calls "an artistic expression event."

Asser Saint Val, a Haitian painter and the lone holdover from the Emerging Caribbean Artists group, completed the first residency this past May. His reception attracted an impressive 150 people, and four works were sold. This Friday evening Costa Rican painter Johnny Sanabria displays his wares, the band D'EBI performs, and amateur poets recite their works. A variety of ethnic foods from the artist's country of origin, cooked up by Gordon-Wallace or one of her friends, will be offered as well.

Future events will feature Haitian painter Isabelle Debrosse, Russian painter Paul Slava, and special guests potters Althea Mead Hadjuk and Angella Brown, who studied with prominent artisan Cecil Baugh in Jamaica. One month will be devoted to an exhibition called "From a Sequin to Costume and Everything in Between: The Intellectual Side of Carnival," including displays of the many stages of costume design and showcasing the Trinidadian band Party People featuring Katherine D'Arcy. The final residency takes place in October and spotlights the work of sketch artist Philip Curtis from Jamaica, who once worked as a courtroom artist for CBS News.

As for next summer, the indefatigable Gordon-Wallace already has a slew of talent lined up. "The artist underground is so vibrant," she says. "When you are in the community, when you are truly doing grassroots work, people find you and they see you as somebody who is worth taking a chance on. You can't be around these young people and not have them enhance your life. They make me work with more fervor. They make me get up in the morning. They light my fire."

-- Nina Korman

This month's reception at Diaspora Vibes Gallery takes place at 7:00 p.m. Friday, June 26, at the Bakehouse Art Complex, 560 NW 32nd St. Admission is $15 or $10 and two cans of food. Call 759-1110.


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