Art This Week: From Torture to the Strange Drug Ayahuasca

"Self, Symbol & the Spirit"

Through April 30. ArtRouge Gallery, 46 NW 36th St., Miami 305-448-2060; Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m

At the ArtRouge Gallery in the Design district Russian dealer Gala Kvachnina is revamping her program to include more contemporary art, rather than the collection of decorative, easy-on-the-eye works her space was once known for. Her new show, "Self, Symbol & the Spirit," features photography, mixed-media works, and paintings by Sergio Garcia, Evelyn Valdirio, Nicolas Leiva, Mariano Costa Peuser, and a woman who goes by the odd moniker Lili(ana) as if considering herself a household name. Garcia's large canvas Bed-Man is a self-portrait of the artist paralyzed on a cot under a menacing cloud of dark gray pencil-scribbled dashes, loops, and slashes, suggesting the psychic carnage battering his brain. Garcia is unafraid to lay himself bare. In the background floats a disembodied hand pierced by a dagger and dripping blood in a pan. Above it, a fanged demon snarls at the crudely rendered figure of the artist as if ready to gorge itself on his tortured soul. Garcia's raw, unself-conscious imagery exudes a toxic, gritty street vibe that reflects a U-turn from the gallery's previous offerings. Likewise, Leiva's sprawling, garage-door-sized opus, Oscuro y Verde Ajeno, is a nightmarish version of Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Smokestacks belch noxious fumes, blue glitter clouds float across the haunting twilight surfaces, and three gorgeously executed ceramic figures of bat-like creatures appear ready to guide the spectator to the depths of the netherworld.

"Instruments of Torture Through the Ages"

Through August 29. Freedom Tower, 600 Biscayne Blvd., Miami 305-237-7700; Monday through Friday noon to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

A guillotine looming menacingly outside the Freedom Tower evokes terrifying references ranging from the industrial-scale beheadings of the French Revolution to the U.S. government's recent reign of error in its war on terrorism. The diabolical device is on display at the historical landmark as part of "Instruments of Torture Through the Ages," a harrowing exhibit reflecting humanity's darkest nature and showcasing the evil implements of terror employed by the powerful to brutally control the masses. Inside the tower's chambers, many of the dreadful apparatuses on display make the guillotine appear a painless mode of execution. Earlier methods of capital punishment widely practiced throughout Europe included crucifixion, hanging, disembowelment, impalement, burning at the stake, dismemberment, drawing and quartering, flaying, or boiling in oil. The exhibit — coproduced by the Toscana Museum, in collaboration with Amnesty International, Centro Cultural Español, and the Dante Alighieri Society in Miami — brings these methods of torture and execution disturbingly alive.The iconic building was selected to host the litany of horror inflicted by history's worse malefactors "because it is a symbol of freedom for many who have fled oppressive political and social systems abroad, including political prisoners," says Covadonga Talavera, the U.S. spokesperson for the Toscana Museum. Organizers of the spine-wracking exposition that has toured the globe since 1983 hope it will help draw attention to contemporary human rights abuses around the world. Miami Dade College has planned a series of lectures, panels, and workshops exploring issues of freedom, human rights, and torture in conjunction with the show. Culled from private collections, most of the nearly 100 instruments of torture on display are originals dating from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries.

John Brevard

Ongoing Brevards Art Gallery, 2320 N. Miami Ave., Miami 305-576-5747; Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

John Brevard is a man possessed. When cosmic forces revealed he was destined to become an artist, he didn't waste any time. The revelation came to him during a jaunt to the Amazon jungle, where he was initiated into the mysteries of ayahuasca, the "vine of the souls," by Peruvian shaman Pablo Amaringo, who used the powerful hallucinogenic to put Brevard in contact with his spirit guides. Brevard says the psychedelic brew helped strip him of his ego and put him in direct contact with the hidden forces of the universe. He immediately began a series of skillfully executed black-and-white drawings titled The Death of the False Self, which are on display at his eponymous, freshly minted space in Wynwood. Reflecting his immersion into an altered state of being between 2001 and 2005, the puzzle-like compositions have a surrealist quality, with faces and labyrinths melting into each other in a muddled jumble at times reminiscent of Dali's loopier doodles. The globe-trotting artist — who has traveled all over Europe, Asia, and South America to study indigenous cultures — follows the principles of what he calls sacred geometry. He uses petrified wood that's millions of years old and has been mined by local extractors in Jakarta following ecologically strict guidelines. Brevard uses the prehistoric wood to forge his designs in a studio in Coral Gables. His sumptuous furniture pieces and distinctive sculptures are immaculately executed and are where Brevard's creative forte is most evident.

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Carlos Suarez De Jesus