Inside El Espacio 23’s latest awe-inspiring exhibition.
Christopher Myers, “Nation of Refugees” (1974) PHOTO COURTESY OF EL ESPACIO 23
The exhibition Witness: Afro Perspectives features 100 artworks spanning two floors of El Espacio 23, a space dedicated to curated exhibitions and project engagements with the art collection of renowned Miami real estate developer and philanthropist Jorge M. Pérez. The range of pieces is a testament to the organization’s commitment to in-depth and complex discussions on Black identity with a global context, deft ly woven together by guest curator Tandazani Dhlakama, a Zimbabwean‑born curator who works at Zeitz MoCAA, South Africa.
Exterior of El Espacio 23 PHOTO COURTESY OF EL ESPACIO 23
Originated in 2020, Witness: Afro Perspectives reopened this year during Art Basel Miami Beach with a refresh of contemporary artwork by African and African-diaspora international artists. The exhibition explores the notion of bearing witness to colonialism, unearthing its generational impact and evidencing modes of racial oppression and trauma. Dhlakama says, “The term ‘witness’ can be used to refer to a person, an entity, an idea or a place that can give testimony. However, witnessing can be a verb. It can also reference an occurrence, an act or state of being.”
José Bedia, “¡Ay tata! ¿Hasta cuando?” (1995). PHOTO COURTESY OF EL ESPACIO 23
Works are grouped under thematic headings such as Things Fall Apart, Longing and Belonging, Nervous Conditions, Post… and Spirituality, suggesting an experiential timeline of colonial encounters. Highlights include “Mediterráneo” (2017), a single‑channel video depicting Afro‑Cuban performance artist Carlos Martiel immersed in a water-filled tank, using his body as a vehicle of evidentiary expression; “Fake Death Picture” (2011), a reconstructed photograph reinterpreting a 19th century painting by British Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare; and a provocative felt text work, “The Car” (1995), by African American artist Lorna Simpson; as well as a woven paper collage by Kathia St. Hilaire, a Haitian American artist who recently won the YoungArts Jorge M. Pérez Award.
“I tried to avoid the trap of being too reductive by limiting ‘Afro’ or ‘African’ perspectives to a geopolitical space. Instead, I wanted to highlight relationships and lineages so that we think of the term African much more broadly,” says Dhlakama.
Nnenna Okore, “Ahioke” (1975) PHOTO COURTESY OF EL ESPACIO 23
Masters such as Malian photographer Seydou Keïta, Tracey Rose and William Kentridge from South Africa, Chéri Samba from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Wangari Mathenge from Kenya integrate with a younger generation of celebrated artists such as Richard Mudariki and Kudzanai Chiurai from Zimbabwe, Cassi Namoda from Mozambique, Athi‑Patra Ruga from South Africa and more.
This multigenerational curatorial approach allows Witness: Afro Perspectives to nimbly expose the complexities of racial oppression through time and from multiple vantage points, establish the robustness of creativity in and about Africa, and usurp the colonial idea of “discovering” artists, instead positing that these artistic dialogues have always existed. The result is a deeper probe into integrated oppression and trauma that contributes a more significant history in the making and that has yet to be witnessed. 1103 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, pamm.org
Lhola Amira, “Breaking Bread with the Self-Righteous XII” (1984). PHOTO COURTESY OF EL ESPACIO 23