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Teenage Artists Wrestle With Identity During National YoungArts Week 2020

Destiny Moore's Royal (Series) #4EXPAND
Destiny Moore's Royal (Series) #4
Photo courtesy of National YoungArts Foundation

If you're worried about losing your edge to younger people with better ideas and more talent — who are actually really, really nice — this Miami art happening might confirm your strongest suspicions.

This week, 149 talented teenagers will converge on Miami as part of National YoungArts Week. The yearly festival sees high school–aged artists in ten disciplines — including music, dance, theater, film, voice, visual arts, and design — present their award-winning work in the Magic City January 5 through 11.

All of the participants are finalists in the annual YoungArts competition and were selected from a field of around 8,000 applicants. During YoungArts Week, they'll participate in classes and workshops taught by accomplished artists in their fields in addition to performing and sharing their work at the New World Center in Miami Beach and the National YoungArts Foundation campus in Edgewater.

Forty states are represented among the finalists. Fourteen young artists from South Florida made the cut, including six students from New World School of the Arts and four from Design and Architecture Senior High.

Maritza Lacayo, the curator behind the visual arts, design, and photography exhibition, says this year's finalists blew her away.

"Everything starts with their artist's statements and trying to get to know them through their art," she says. "I see my job as trying to highlight all of their work and do it justice within the space."

Ariel Weinberg, Plastic Dress
Ariel Weinberg, Plastic Dress
Photo courtesy of National YoungArts Foundation

Lacayo, who also works as a curatorial assistant at Pérez Art Museum Miami, is hesitant to assign any overarching theme to the exhibition. She does note the young artists seem to be preoccupied with matters of identity, whether in terms of race, nationality, class, or something more abstract. They're using their art to investigate who they are, how they fit in, and whether they belong.

"A lot of this work is fundamentally personal, and it just shocks me how these are very, very young people who are asking incredibly difficult questions, who are raising awareness about all different types of issues — identity issues, contemporary politics, everything you could possibly imagine."

One of the strongest displays of identity comes from painter Destiny Moore, a Miami native whose curious, confrontational portraits of friends and family are some of the first works seen in the exhibition. Moore's subjects are clearly African-American, but with bright-blue skin and a confident gaze at the viewer, they also seem somewhat otherworldly. The work is similar to those of painters Kehinde Wiley and Amoako Boafo and photographer Deana Lawson, but with a hint of the surreal.

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Another bold statement comes from designer Ariel Weinberg, also from Miami, who will present a dress made entirely from plastic. According to the curator, the piece is intended as a commentary on environmental concerns. It will be presented with planning documents showing how the dress was made.

"She's creating these very beautiful, fashionable pieces from a material that has become so villainized, that we're trying not to use," Lacayo says.

A full schedule and ticket links for all YoungArts Week events are available at youngarts.org.

National YoungArts Week: Design, Photography, and Visual Arts Exhibition Opening. 7:30 p.m. Friday, January 10, at the National YoungArts Foundation, 2100 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; youngarts.org. Admission is free with RSVP via eventbrite.com.

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