In a time when prejudice seems to be constantly politically endorsed — or “dog-whistled” — it’s never been more important to be reminded of the one thing we all have in common: our humanity. Today the Art Deco Museum on Ocean Drive in South Beach unveils “Intercultural," an exhibition showing that people are more alike than their differing style of clothes, bank accounts, or manner of speaking would have us believe.
“I'm incredibly excited and honored to have 'Intercultural' exhibit as a destination exhibition for the Miami Design Preservation League’s Art Deco Museum,” says Sheinina Lolita Raj, one of the artists behind the exhibition. In the show, she is featured in a series of more than 15 eye-catching photographs. In each self-portrait, Raj dons the traditional garb of women across the world — from India to Brazil, from Mexico to Thailand, from Saudi Arabia to North America.
“To date, the most memorable moment was a young lady standing before Indian Woman in tears,” Raj says. “She told me she had spent her life struggling with her identity, and ‘Intercultural’ helped her recognize herself and find peace within her identity. She was half Syrian, half Indian.”
One aspect that makes Raj’s portraits so evocative is the fact that sound art is projected through them thanks to Nelly Furtado, who collaborated with Raj in realizing “Intercultural.”
“I jumped at the chance to collaborate with Sheinina and complement her fine-art photography through sound,” Furtado says. “I am proud to have created something in the fine-art realm. It was a gift that Sheinina gave me. This is my first sound installation; it was a wonderful creative experience.”
Keeping with the theme of repairing connections through cross-cultural exposure, the sounds that guests hear are solfeggio frequencies, which Furtado believes can heal listeners.
The Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter learned about solfeggio frequencies through her cousin Dominique Ryser, a trained opera singer who studies sound-healing modalities such as crystal healing bowls. Furtado and her cousin had “experimented” with them together. Later, Ryser helped Nelly’s sister Lisa, an advanced Ashtanga yoga teacher, produce audio recordings featuring solfeggio frequencies for meditation sessions.
“Opening up to the possibility of sound as a healing force in the world has really excited me,” Furtado says. “I have always been intrigued by the way sea mammals communicate through sound frequencies, as I grew up in the Pacific Northwest. I have only just scratched the surface of my intrigue.”
The piece Furtado created for the exhibition portrays four women whose audio recordings the musician merged together as one. As it plays in the show, Furtado says, her contribution will be like an "abstract symphony of feelings," including innate human urges, our shared sorrows, and, ultimately, feelings of peace and unity.
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“The strong theme that emerged for me as I built up the tracks was one of the global common experience of women throughout time and how we are all connected spiritually," Furtado says. "I love the theme of the collective unconscious.”
Raj and Furtado talk about the importance of being sensitive about the backgrounds of others rather than taking pride in disrespecting our diversity, which seems to be a fad lately. It’s a theme, based on unity, that is entrenched in “Intercultural,” making it not only a timely show but also a beautiful harbinger of what this year's Art Basel Miami Beach has in store.
“My message to those curious about solfeggio frequencies is to perhaps start to tune into the sounds around you on an everyday basis and notice how your moods can be altered depending on what you are listening to,” Furtado says. “We are sensitive creatures, and at the end of the day, we are just mammals — beautifully human.”
"Intercultural." Wednesday, September 27, through December 30 at the Miami Design Preservation League’s Art Deco Museum, 1001 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach; 305-672-2014; mdpl.org. Admission is free with RSVP via eventbrite.com.