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MasterMinds 2017: Antonia Wright Sacrifices Her Body for Her Art

MasterMinds 2017 finalist Antonia Wright
MasterMinds 2017 finalist Antonia Wright
Photo by Monica McGivern

The finalists in New Times' eighth-annual MasterMind Awards are a diverse bunch, representing the best locally created culture in South Florida. A group of editors and critics chose these nine talents from a pool of more than 80 applicants. The three winners, who will each receive a $750 grant, will be announced live onstage at Artopia, presented by Miracle Mile Downtown Coral Gables this Thursday at the Coral Gables Museum. The finalists will show off their work at the event. Here's what you’ll see.

Watching Antonia Wright's Are You OK? is uncomfortable. As she weeps on the street behind what used to be the Miami Art Museum, people walk by indifferently, maybe stealing a brief glance. A man hovers on the left side of the frame but does nothing.

"It's not uncommon to see men staring at me, almost paralyzed," Wright reflects. And one might imagine that the purpose, perhaps, is to make them uneasy. Much of Wright's work can be unsettling in one way or another, whether she's shattering a glass pane with her naked body or pouring paint into her open eye.

"Most people think the goal is to hurt myself, but it's really not. It's just to make the work. It's all in service of the final image."

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The images — typically video-recorded performances but also photographs and installations — are what Wright calls action poems. ("I didn't come up with it," she laughs. "I thought I did, but then I looked it up. Some artist in the' 70s said it.") This work reconciles her early creative impulse to write with her later calling to performance and informs her visual vocabulary as akin to the "sparse economy" of poetry. The result often has a powerful effect, where a simple action is transformed into a depth of possible representations or emotions.

"The more it becomes about the action, the larger the metaphor can become for the viewer," Wright explains. "I give them as much information so they can connect to it, so they can insert themselves into it without feeling alienated."

And if you're uncomfortable?

"My goal is more to make you vulnerable," she reassures. "I force myself to do things in the hope that it causes the viewer to feel as well. A lot of it is about empathy."

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