Local Artists to Watch Out for at Miami Art Week 2021

"Provisional Obstruction (Miami Beach)" is a catalyst for thinking about stability birthed from objects that connote impermanence.
"Provisional Obstruction (Miami Beach)" is a catalyst for thinking about stability birthed from objects that connote impermanence. Photo courtesy of Misael Soto and Ayesha Singh
The white tents have returned to Miami, and thousands of out-of-towners have descended for Art Basel's usual opulence after a coronavirus-induced year off. Still, Miami Art Week, which runs through December 5, extends far beyond South Beach's labyrinth of makeshift exhibition spaces. It also encompasses Miami's thriving local artist community and the spaces that show their work year-round.

While Art Basel and its satellite events put Miami's art scene on a global pedestal, perhaps this is the best week to support local artists. So ditch the tents and find out what the locals are doing.

No Vacancy, a public art competition that celebrates artists and provokes critical discourse, invites the public to experience Miami Beach's famed hotels as art spaces. This year the program is presenting ten temporary public art projects from November 18 through December 9.

One of those projects, Nick Mahshie's "Ecdysis" — the title refers to the process of a reptile shedding its old skin — is made out of found and screen-printed textiles, positioned on the corner of International Inn on the Bay's Biscayne Bay-facing windows (2301 Normandy Dr., Miami Beach). The work's organic shape, juxtaposed against the building's structure, renegotiates the boundaries between social spaces and natural environments. Mahshie exposes layers of opaque and translucent fabrics, like perpetually shedding layers of skin, that play with optical illusion and actual perception. In South Florida, where authentic connection and artificial experience are constantly blurred, Mahshie's work is an allegory for life.
click to enlarge Nick Mahshie “Ecdysis” at International Inn on the Bay - PHOTO BY ORIOL TARRIDAS
Nick Mahshie “Ecdysis” at International Inn on the Bay
Photo by Oriol Tarridas
Over at the Catalina Hotel & Beach Club (1732 Collins Ave., Miami Beach), "Provisional Obstruction (Miami Beach)" continues a collaborative series of works between Miami-based artist Misael Soto and New Delhi-based artist Ayesha Singh, which began in Chicago in 2017 and had its second iteration in Little Haiti in 2019. Each iteration is directly informed by its unique location, the building the work obscures, and those who interact with it. For "Provisional Obstruction," Soto and Singh's research began with the Catalina.

"A classic Miami Modern hotel from the 1950s, this pivotal era of Miami Beach development inspired us both formally and critically," Soto explains. "You can see this in the form our scaffold takes, a direct homage to the modernist towers of the era — many right across Collins Avenue — as well as in the archival images selected from the State Library and Archives of Florida, all carefully chosen, cropped, and placed on the scaffolding. A reflective and self-reflexive visual and critical exercise is the intended experience, with a literal undercurrent of rising seas throughout."

Despite the reality of sea-level rise in a city prey to unfettered development, "Provisional Obstruction (Miami Beach)" is a catalyst for thinking about stability birthed from objects that connote impermanence. The work features dysfunctionally installed scaffolding and banner-sized architectural and historical imagery. The public installations divert pedestrians, causing them to take notice of the subtle implications of their surroundings.

Sculptor Lauren Shapiro merges ceramics, technology, and science to build a physical incarnation of a lost coral reef in her site-specific work, "Site R16 Transect 1," at the Royal Palm South Beach (1545 Collins Ave., Miami Beach). The work is a monument showcasing the organic textures and colors of an ecologically diverse marine landscape. Once hidden beneath the waters of the northwestern Hawaiian Islands in the French Frigate Shoals, Rapture Reef was flattened in 2018 by a hurricane strengthened by the effects of climate change. Molded and cast from a prototype of 3D photogrammetry scans by marine ecologists, "Site R16 Transect 1" reflects this now-extinct coral population, making it visible again in the form of dimensional clay tiles stacked inside of a gold-framed monolith.

Using natural and synthetic materials, Shapiro responds to Miami's art deco influence and recalls the natural beauty of the local landscape, which has been lost to development. With this work, she aims to encourage environmental stewardship by memorializing an ecosystem similar to South Florida's coral populations, cultivating an awareness of these fragile environments.

Shapiro's work will also be displayed at Design Miami (1800 Convention Center Dr., Miami Beach). Todd Merrill Studio will present Shapiro's "Garden Portals," a large-scale ceramic wall sculpture reflecting on South Florida's native ecology and cultivating environmental stewardship through community-driven workshops that help bring the project to life. For the work, Shapiro foraged native plants like corky stem passionflower, cycad, oak tree leaves, wild coffee, and cabbage palm alongside tropical plants like philodendron, tree ferns, anthuriums, and Alocasia. Creating silicone molds from these specimens, Shapiro led a series of community workshops where participants were instructed to press wet clay into the molds to
create sculptural replicas.
click to enlarge “Site R16 Transect 1” - PHOTO BY OURTESY OF LAUREN SHAPIRO
“Site R16 Transect 1”
Photo by ourtesy of Lauren Shapiro
Over in Little Haiti, Jamilah Sabur's second solo exhibition at Nina Johnson (6315 NW Second Ave., Miami), "DADA Holdings," includes a new body of paintings. On view through January 8, the show exists in tandem with Bulk Pangaea, Sabur's video work as part of Prospect New Orleans, which traces the sites of aluminum ore extraction, reorienting the viewer's understanding of geography and the new space exploration economy and warfare. Sabur's paintings feature arch-like openings at repeated archival images, video stills, and geometric forms. "DADA Holdings" is a continuation of Sabur's panel-based wall works linking image to language.

And so with ends comes beginnings, a video by artist Antonia Wright, will be presented at Untitled Art Fair (Ocean Drive and 12th Street, Miami Beach) on a floating video screen. Filmed when the artist was nine months pregnant, the video first shows a pregnant body floating above the surface as it slowly sinks. Then construction cranes appear, a comment on South Florida's hasty overdevelopment and lack of sustainability. The juxtaposed images create a stark contrast: the abdomen is a buoyant shelter in contrast to the rigid machinery. Wright's video is a metaphor for the dualities of ecstasy and anxiety that accompany life in Miami, where sea-level rise is a constant threat and everyone is trying to stay afloat.

Founded in 2019 by curator J.P.S. Williams, Miami Art Society (3801 N. Miami Ave., Miami), prides itself on exhibiting local talent while breaking the traditional barrier between artist and gallerist. As part of MAS' programming, muralist and conceptual artist Hoxxoh's distinct visual portals are easy to spot: Their characteristic psychedelic symmetry invites a long and steady gaze. It's not hard to get lost in the spirals, stumble down the hole, and envision where this otherwise flat façade may take you. Now, viewers will be invited to watch the process live. "Portraitscapes," on view through December 31, features a large-scale, immersive paint activation in which Hoxxoh will use sprinklers, spray paint, pans, a paint gun, and other machines to blast paint in the space and create artwork on location.

The organization will also host illustrator, fine artist, and muralist Baghead, whose vivid characters, reminiscent of childhood animal friends, appear in the carefully cut-out wooden artworks that comprise "N2gether." Baghead's immersive experience combines a fountain, projection mapping, interactive lighting, and artworks made entirely of wood. The combination of materials and mediums results in a multifaceted viewing experience as you move about the space and experience a theme of childhood joy. To complement his solo exhibition, Baghead has curated a group show with more than 38 artists, including Elle Barbeito's python leatherwork, Atomik, Nicole Salgar, and Tati Suarez.
click to enlarge Antonia Wright's And so with ends comes beginnings - PHOTO COURTESY OF LOCUST PROJECTS
Antonia Wright's And so with ends comes beginnings
Photo courtesy of Locust Projects
Ruth Burotte (AKA Rutamfi) is as much a storyteller as she is an illustrator. Her exhibit, "Solo, Not Alone" at Swampspace (3940 N. Miami Ave., Miami), makes use of a series of newly painted artworks displayed amid background murals, depicting a futuristic world of bright neon, fashion extravaganza, and interplanetary travel animated through projection mapping. Music produced specifically for this exhibit enhances the immersive experience, which tells a young girl's story of growing up in a constantly defiant world.

"Can I Sit Next to You?" at Dimensions Variable (101 NW 79th St., Miami) features work by Nicole Doran, Jacin Giordano, Coe Lapossy, Loretta Park, and Miami-based artist Brandon Opalka, asking the question, "How do we form new and meaningful connections through exclusively virtual means during a global pandemic? How do we collaborate and genuinely create with one another across the new virtual landscape? What is the creative nature of distance?" Each artist has a work that literally and figuratively sits next to the others in the show — a gesture that highlights the complementary elements of each work. These pairings intentionally remove the physical distance — and emphasize the closeness — that has existed between these artists for the last several months. Opalka's work is an invigorating burst of color and texture. But the collaborative nature and collective curation of "Can I Sit Next to You?" is a statement about the current state of creative collaboration and encourages each of us to sit a little closer together.

Curated by local artist Michelle Lisa Polissaint, "Feels Like 97°" at Oolite Arts (928 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach) features photographic and video work produced under the sweltering pressure of South Florida's heat. The images, which include a late-night domino tournament (by Sofia Valiente) and a backyard fish fry (by Terence Price II), look at the diversity and socioeconomic divide in a community fraught with the effects of climate change and gentrification. "From King of Diamonds to the damp swaps of the Everglades, 'Feels Like 97°' is a heartfelt look at home, curated by a Florida girl," writes Oolite Arts in its description of the event, which is on view through January 23, 2022.
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Alexandra Martinez is an arts and culture writer based in Miami. She graduated from Columbia University in 2014 with a bachelor's in film studies. Find her at