Growing up in Miami is difficult to explain unless you've lived it. Like most millennials native to South Florida, Audrey Gair discovered this phenomenon after moving away to Baltimore to attend the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA).
"I was totally struck by how all of my classmates were white," Gair reflects. "You’d see a girl and think, She’s Hispanic. There were so few that you would literally think that to yourself."
In this alien environment, Gair naturally gravitated toward Natalia Arias and Marines Montalvo, two fellow MICA students who also hailed from the Magic City. The three bonded over the content of their work as well as their roots: Arias is Belizean and Cuban; Gair is part Puerto Rican and Costa Rican; and Montalvo
The show has been about a year in the making. After graduation, the close-knit group was partially separated when Montalvo moved back to Miami to start teaching art full time. The proposal the women submitted to Bas Fisher Invitational for site-specific work last summer originally envisioned a winter show, but when the date was moved to July, a complex back-and-forth began between Baltimore, Miami, and eventually New York City. Gair moved there and was soon followed by Montalvo.
"The logistics of the show has been pretty insane. But the creative process has been much easier," Gair says. "A lot of my work is about figuration around being a female artist living in a city, things decaying but always with a glimmer of naive hope. [Marines' work] is making fun of elements of superficial Miami and Latin culture, but in a way that’s
Arias' video and audio work will center on Miami's drug-fueled past, including parts of a screenplay she wrote from the point of view of a fictional female drug lord. "She’s thinking about being a female in Miami the same way we are," Gair adds. "She’s thinking about what if you were a female drug lord in the '70s on South Beach?”
The work may be disparate, but that's what makes it an honest reflection of its subject matter. When talking about her and Montalvo's work, Gair claims, "Our work is like the yin and yang of being a Latina woman in America. If hers is like a picture in a magazine, then mine is a haiku." Even in Miami, stereotypes of what it means to be Latina are everywhere, even though there's simply too much encompassed within the Latina experience to focus on one facet. In this light, a Latin music and dance club begins to make sense as a venue. For Gair, Mango's represents the fact that "despite the vulnerability of brown cultures and of women in this country, there’s still celebration and beauty."
She says, "It was the perfect marrying of what we had access to, but it would also be our top choice of where to have a show anyway. "Mango's is the umbrella that sort of unites all of our thought processes and bodies of work as artists."
With its glitzy costumes, fast-paced choreography, and tipsy tourists, Mango's might not seem a natural venue for political discourse about the challenges of being a Latina. It might be easy, then, to assume the art would bring the brunt of the insight or commentary to the experience. Back in Baltimore, Gair realized this assumption could easily fall into the realm of parody or criticism.
"When the show was in its earliest stages, I was showing a friend some YouTube videos of Mango's and saying that our art was going to be in the club," Gair recalls. "He was like, Oh, your art is going to criticize the sexualization of these women, or Oh, it’s going to show the commercial, capitalistic side of this culture. I was like, Nooo, no, no, no, no...
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"We as artists insert ourselves in the most humble, respectful way. We’re not there because we think that we’re going to elevate the club, but that the club will elevate our work."
Beginning at 2 p.m. July 22, Arias' sound installation will kick off an afternoon and evening of performances. Mango's dancers will wear costumes designed by Montalvo and Gair, while paintings, sculptures, and videos made by all three women will be on display throughout the club. Customers will still be able to order food and drinks while dancing to loud Latin beats, and that's exactly how the artists want it.
"You shouldn’t be looking for the art to dissect the club. You should be looking for the art and the club — together and united — to say something political to the rest of the world," Gair says. "They’re telling different sides of one story."