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Prizm Art Fair Goes Virtual With African Cinema as Inspiration

Ajamu Kojo, Black Blood, No.1: In the spirit of John, Loula & Joanna Williams family, Entrepreneurs, 2017EXPAND
Ajamu Kojo, Black Blood, No.1: In the spirit of John, Loula & Joanna Williams family, Entrepreneurs, 2017
Photo courtesy of Prizm Art Fair
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Since its inception in 2013, Prizm Art Fair has garnered international praise for creating a unique space for both emerging and established artists of the African diaspora. Founded by art professional Mikhaile Solomon to increase the visibility of underrepresented artists, Prizm launches this week as a virtual Miami Art Week experience. Now in its eighth edition, Prizm’s filmic theme, “Noir Noir: Meditations on African Cinema and its Influence on Visual Art,” is inspired by Senegalese filmmaker and writer Ousmane Sembene.

New Times recently spoke with Solomon about Prizm and pandemic challenges for the art world.

New Times: Prizm has become a Miami institution with an international reach. Are there elements of the fair that are distinctly Miami?

Mikhaile Solomon: Miami and Prizm definitely have a synergistic relationship. Artist William Cordova and I co-curate the fair, and we are both from here. We have received so much support from institutions like the Green Family Foundation, Knight Foundation, Miami-Dade Department of Cultural Affairs, and Miami Downtown Development Authority, among others. Our partnerships with these private and public entities have allowed us to connect with local communities in ways that would have been much more difficult in other cities. I really don’t think I could have created Prizm anywhere else.

We also mandate that at least 15 percent of the artists represented at Prizm annually are Miami artists. When some of the larger fairs started coming here in the early 2000s, I noticed that there wasn’t much local representation in these exclusive spaces. I believe it is vital that local artists are included in these critical art conversations.

Sthenjwa Luthuli, Reaching for Stars, 2020EXPAND
Sthenjwa Luthuli, Reaching for Stars, 2020
Photo courtesy of Prizm Art Fair

How do you come up with your fair themes each year?

Typically, William and I take turns picking themes. William came up with this year’s theme, “Noir Noir: Meditations on African Cinema and its Influence on Visual Art.” He is in the process of making a documentary himself, and at the time, he was watching a number of films.

Last year’s theme, “Love in the Time of Hysteria,” was my brainchild. It was in response to the craziness that was happening in the world. At the time, there were many police shootings of Black people. There were human-rights issues going on everywhere. The Amazon rainforest was going up in flames. It felt apocalyptic, and I wanted to explore how people coped.

How do you select your artists?

When I look at artworks, I do so with the theme in mind. I send the statement to artists early in the year so that they can ruminate on it. Artists can create new work or submit existing work. This year, there is a wonderful selection of emerging artists. We even have a member of AfriCOBRA, which is such an honor. I think this is the most Pan-African fair to date. We will have galleries from the Caribbean, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and many more.

What are some of the programmatic highlights this year?

Activist and consummate art collector CCH Pounder will join us for a conversation about her traveling exhibition Queen, which focuses on femininity in the arts. Every Thursday and Friday through December 21, we will have a film screening and subsequent panel talk. We’re screening When Liberty Burns by local filmmaker Dudley Alexis. Our Black Dealer Talk Series highlights the unique challenges Black art dealers and curators face in the art industry and will center the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

COVID-19 has moved many Miami Art Week events online, including Prizm. Tell me a little about the decision to do a virtual fair this year.

Earlier in the year, I considered doing a hybrid of a physical fair and digital platform because I didn’t believe this pandemic could go this long. By May, infection rates were climbing. I decided that I couldn’t take the financial risk of a physical fair because I had no idea what COVID-19 numbers would be in December. I also did not want to encourage Black people to congregate in large groups and potentially get sick. I decided to scrap the entire physical art fair and focus on digital. We were beta testing digital elements years prior, so I knew people would support us. In the future, the digital platform can serve as a supplement to the physical fair.

Albert Chong, Natural Mystic, 1982EXPAND
Albert Chong, Natural Mystic, 1982
Photo courtesy of Prizm Art Fair

Much of the arts is about interaction and engagement. Has COVID-19 affected how you work on a personal level?

It has been very difficult for me to be as motivated and tenacious as I usually am because it has been an emotionally exhausting year. I have lost friends and colleagues. Then, there is the horror of being in a new civil-rights movement. I also have family stuff happening that has been tough. I am the type of person who loves to wake up in the morning, take my computer to a coffee shop, and work. I'm an active person who loves sunshine, so staying in my house all day affects me. Quarantine disrupted my physical routines in a way that is very real, and my body takes notice.

I am thankful for funding to hire people to help me this year, so I am not taking on as much as I usually do. Now, I am learning to delegate and trust others with the work. Despite this year’s challenges, I am optimistic about our ability to reach audiences across the globe.

Prizm Art Fair. Tuesday, December 1, through Monday, December 21; prizmartfair.com.

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