Mikhaile Solomon Talks Prizm, a Basel Fair Highlighting Artists of Color

Mikhaile Solomon, founder and director of Prizm Art FairEXPAND
Mikhaile Solomon, founder and director of Prizm Art Fair
Photo by Rod Deal

With Art Basel and Miami Art Week a month away, the Magic City begins to take on a foreign feel. As gallerists and organizers start trickling in, year-round locals tend to be displaced by the seasonal art-world crowd. The number of outsiders dwarfs the Miami scene, making it easy to forget about the city that hosts the affair. Mikhaile Solomon, born and raised in South Florida, is looking to remind the Basel crowd that art in Miami is more than just the comings and goings of foreign dealers and exhibitors at fairs dotted along Miami Beach. To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, there is a here, here.

For Solomon, the founder and director of Prizm Art Fair, Basel is a time to highlight local artists displaced by the clamor and media frenzy that the first week of December brings to the Magic City. More than just another marketplace, Prizm is a voice in the wilderness for contemporary artists of color who reflect global trends in their work. Here's what she told us about how her fair will stand out amid the glitz and glamor of one of the world's largest art fairs.

New Times: What is the main impetus behind Prizm?
Mikhaile Solomon: A few years ago, after graduating from Florida International University’s School of Architecture, I was working on a few projects that very quickly sparked my interest in becoming involved in the arts. Many of these projects focused on the African-diaspora visual arts and aesthetic landscape, which deeply resonated with me. I didn’t really see much of the work I was discovering in my research at Art Basel and felt that I could work on an event that would feature these works and include many of the talented artists that I have the pleasure of working with locally in the project.

I was also fascinated with Afrofuturism, which is a cultural aesthetic that marries elements of science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, Afrocentricity, and magical realism with non-Western cosmologies in order to critique not only the present-day dilemmas of people of color, but also to revise, interrogate, and re-examine the historical events of the past and imagine the future of people of color. I found the work created by artists working in this mode visually seductive because I’ve always enjoyed science fiction and all things celestial. It seemed to deify subjects in the work that looked like me. Realizing I couldn’t ground an entire fair in Afrofuturist work, I decided to utilize Afrofuturism as inspiration for Prizm’s branding. There’s nothing more diverse and bountiful than the universe. Our mission is to promote the work of artists of color who reflect global trends in contemporary art. I hope Prizm will be a continued reflection of that mission.

What are some of the galleries and artists you're excited to work with this year?
This year I'm co-curating the fair with Rosie Gordon-Wallace and A.M. Weaver. Both have been great mentors to me and many others in the arts community both here in Miami and beyond. I’m excited to be working with them. I’m excited that Dr. Deborah Willis will be exhibiting with us. Dr. Willis organized the "Black Portraiture{s} II Conference: Imaging the Black Body and Re-Staging Histories." The conference and exhibition will offer comparative perspectives on the historical and contemporary role played by photography, art, film, literature, and music in referencing the image of the black body in the West. She is a veteran photographer, and we’re honored to have her work exhibited at Prizm in 2015. I’m also happy to be working with Jefferson Pinder, whose work evokes a visceral response to issues of race and identity.

There are so many art fairs during Basel. How do you guys plan to stand out amid the clamor?
Prizm is a curated fair that happens in different venues around Miami each year. Beyond just going to a fair to buy and sell visual art, Prizm is a cultural experience that binds the Basel-goer to Miami’s narrative beyond South Beach, because Miami is so much more than South Beach. I grew up in Miami. I love my city. Basel is a great time to show the international community the best of what Miami has to offer. Prizm exhibits artists with enduring practices here in Miami but who have access to limited opportunities to exhibit and highlight their work during Basel.

What are some of the trends we'll see at Prizm?
Works exhibited will address issues and explore themes that affect people of color globally, including the foreboding hand racial injustice, alternative and projected realities in cultural constructs grounded in the African diaspora's intelligentsia, and the ancestral cord that connects the broad expanse of the African diaspora across various regions, including the Americas, Africa, and the Caribbean.

In many ways, Prizm is a good counterbalance to the Basel heft. Do you think Basel has been good for Miami or more of a mixed bag?
In many ways, Basel has been good to Miami: It has certainly helped raise Miami’s global profile, it has been a great revenue generator for our local tourism economy, and it has catalyzed and increased Miami’s involvement in the greater arts and culture dialogue. A “mixed bag” can have a negative connotation, but I think the mixed bag that Basel is definitely becoming gives visitors several art venue options. Some feel that there are too many venues during Basel week with the introduction of new art fairs, but each has a particular focus satisfying the artistic musings of the Basel-goers' diverse interests. This also provides accessibility to those who are interested in becoming savvy art aesthetes. If you’re interested in becoming an art collector and are not quite ready to spend a few million on a piece, you can navigate Miami’s landscape and find works that suit you best.

What role does Prizm play on the local art scene?
Prizm works with a number of local organizations, including the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, South Florida Cares, the Little Haiti Cultural Arts Complex, Opa-locka Community Development Corporation, and many others to continue to provide local communities with access to enriching cultural programming and develop an ecosystem that provides resources and support to local creatives. Earlier this year, in collaboration with the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, Prizm curated "Divinity Revealed," an exhibition which as a departure from exhausted discourse surrounding the negotiation of identity, representation and objectification of women of African descent presented works by four visual artists — Amber Robles-Gordon, Sheena Rose, Martin Nyarko, and LaToya Hobbs — who, through various media, explore identity and affirm the majesty inherent in their presented subjects. We also recently co-curated an exhibition with Marie Vickles, visual arts coordinator of the Little Haiti Cultural Center, and Carl Juste, a photojournalist for the Miami Herald, at the Little Haiti Cultural Center called "Miami B.C." We are very active in Miami.

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How can we fight the effects of gentrification endemic in art fairs and exhibitions?
Our local policies aren’t written to protect our communities from the onslaught of gentrification. Careful consideration of our communities’ needs have to be assessed to adequately propose legislation and policy that reflect an increase in opportunities for locals which also includes our creative economy — i.e. artists, makers, etc. — which translates into jobs, which translates into purchasing power, which translates into ownership. Art fairs truly are not the problem. They are businesses, and like any business, they search for an opportunity to build their earning power and use their networks (and their dollars) to expand their footprints. The conversations around the arts also have to become far more inclusive than that it currently is.

Why is it important to highlight local artists usually overlooked by the establishment?
That artists have been largely overlooked, I think, historically, has been the case. As our local creative economy grows, I think more local talent are, in fact, becoming a part of or being acknowledged by the mainstream. Some have had major shows in our local museums; some have been exhibited at biennales. Administrators of the arts have to continue creating venues and presenting world-class standard content that the mainstream can’t ignore, not necessarily for them, but for us, and they will come and they will love it. Our local institutions must insist on cultivating the talents of our local diamonds in the rough. I also must reiterate the arts have to become a policy priority in order for local creatives to thrive. They need opportunities, and policy lays a foundation for their survival in our city; otherwise, they will leave, and that would be an awful shame. Creatives make our city beautiful. The foundation for a creative ecosystem in Miami and its sustainable future is currently being laid. We have to make sure it supports all of the voices that coexist and congeal to shape Miami’s identity.

Prizm Art Fair
December 1 through 13 at 7300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. The opening reception will take place December 1 from 7 to 10 p.m.; suggested $10 donations will be accepted. For a schedule of events and programming, visit prizmartfair.com.

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