AfriKin Reflections: A Celebration of Art, Community, and Imagination
I extend my heartfelt gratitude to Alfonso for the opportunity to share my thoughts. To everyone who immersed themselves in the AfriKin experience during Miami Art Week/Art Basel, I hope you enjoyed the journey. Among many remarkable moments, my time at AfriKin stands out as a cherished memory.
AfriKin Art Fair’s 2023 theme, “Celebrating the Beauty and Brilliance of Global Africa,” resonated deeply with me. The program’s spotlight on the intersection of art and technology, coupled with AfriKin’s constant dedication to building an archive of works and words from Africa and the African diaspora, added a unique and enriching layer to Miami Art Week. The exhibition rooms of Maison AfriKin invited all who attended to weave through stunning visual representations of global Africa’s creative innovation.
Complementing the visual art and design on display, AfriKin hosted insightful panel discussions that captivated a diverse audience. These discussions delved into thought-provoking topics, from the erasure of knowledge and threats to the right to read in Florida to exploring the impact of artificial intelligence on the artistic landscape. The exploration of how art is evolving with the times, leveraging tools like social media and AI, was particularly intriguing.
During a quiet afternoon at Maison AfriKin, I had the privilege of meeting multidisciplinary artist Tasanee Durrett, whose work left a lasting impression on me. The piece that moved me the most was “The Water that Took Us Home.” I didn’t expect a full-circle moment to happen so quickly, and I couldn’t help my excitement when she pointed to her work. During AfriKin’s opening evening, I browsed through each piece of art, taking note of what I wanted to come back to, and was instantly drawn in by her work, taken by her distinct style and technique.
In “The Water that Took Us Home,” one continuous line shapes the delicate contours of a woman’s profile. She stands tall, neck craning towards the sky, locs free to frame her face and fall down her back, and what I figured was a look of contentment. The element of water is presented by thousands of blue, green, and yellow dots which blend together from a distance, mimicking the languid motion of a body of water. One wouldn’t be able to say whether the woman is submerging into or emerging from it.
Intrigued by the narrative behind “The Water that Took Us Home,” I delved deeper into Tasanee’s inspiration. The piece recounts the harrowing story of the Igbo Landing mass suicide of 1803, where a group of captured Igbo people, faced with the brutality of slavery, chose death over submission. Tasanee’s portrayal encapsulates an act of resilience and defiance, capturing a moment frozen in time when individuals, bound by a shared history, collectively stood against their oppressors.
The continuous line that shapes the woman’s profile is not solely symbolic of the unbroken spirit of a people determined to retain their freedom. This technique is applied in all the works exhibited at AfriKin as a way for Tasanee to pay homage to the people who came before her. Thus, the delicate contours tell a story of strength, dignity, and the unyielding commitment to protect the right to exist by any means necessary. The water adds layers of complexity, mirroring the ebb and flow of life, the struggle for freedom, and the ultimate sacrifice made by the Igbo people.
What began as a fairly casual exchange quickly transformed into an impromptu panel discussion, with myself, my uncle Indrias, Tasanee, and Alfonso engaging in a dialogue about the state of contemporary Black, African and African diaspora art, and how AfriKin seeks to build bridges between Africa and diasporic communities. Both Alfonso and Tasanee candidly shared insights into the challenges and aspirations integral to advancing AfriKin’s purpose.
Alfonso, acknowledging that he isn’t a visual artist, passionately expressed his deep love for art and positioned himself as a spiritually guided custodian of creativity. AfriKin, he emphasized, represents a creative resistance against the prevailing forces that breed division and subjugation. It stands as a testament to the resilience and strength inherent in Black and diasporic communities.
As our conversation progressed, Alfonso reflected on his admiration of Tasanee’s work and its powerful ability to communicate profound messages. Focusing on “The Water that Took Us Home,” he pointed out that such works serve as poignant reminders of the struggles faced by those who preceded us. They inspire us to recognize our collective identity and stand united against systemic oppression. The conversation underscored how art, particularly pieces like Tasanee’s, has the capacity to evoke introspection and foster unity in the face of historical adversity.
Reflecting on the art industry’s trajectory, discussions around opening spaces for Black artists and the need to avoid complacency were particularly insightful. The importance of recognizing and preserving cultural aesthetics emerged as a key theme, emphasizing the need to build archives that reflect the richness of our heritage. To everyone’s delight, Alfonso unveiled his vision for a student-led exhibition at Maison AfriKin this year, aligning with AfriKin’s mission to establish a robust foundation for future generations, stressing the significance of placing both emerging and established artists on an equal platform. This initiative represents a crucial step in building a lasting archive for generations to come, as artists hold a unique position in shaping stories that transcend time; with art, there will always be a message, there will always be something to reflect on, even after the artists themselves are long gone. By empowering students to take the lead, AfriKin ensures that diverse voices are not only heard but also given the platform to have a stake in their own story.
The importance of grit, passion, and imagination were highlighted as essential elements for artists to navigate a constantly evolving landscape. Tasanee likened these three aspects to a three-legged stool; with just one aspect missing, balance is disrupted. Imagination is perhaps the most vital, especially for historically marginalized people, because that is something oppressive institutions attempt to take away. The challenges faced by diverse artists, especially in gaining exposure, can also disrupt this sacred balance, highlighting the importance of platforms like AfriKin. Beyond race and gender, the essence of an artist’s work should speak to the humanity in everyone, and AfriKin provides a haven for Black art to reach a wider audience.
To conclude, AfriKin’s commitment to celebrating diverse voices, fostering imagination, and building a supportive community is truly commendable. As we continue to navigate the intricacies of the art world, let us remember that by showcasing the best of ourselves, we contribute to shaping a narrative that is authentic, empowering, and representative.
A spur of the moment discussion between four Black people with different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives served as a beautiful reminder of the value of convergence, celebrating the community of global Africa as one containing multitudes, while honoring a collective responsibility to subvert prevailing misconceptions by building our own narratives. This was a striking moment of AfriKin in action. The exhibition was, most importantly, a testament to the belief that we must actively contribute to the creation of a narrative that accurately reflects our history, struggles, and triumphs.
AfriKin’s contribution to the world at large highlights the indisputable fact that global Africa is no longer seeking a seat at someone else’s table when we have the power to build our own. Building our own table goes beyond metaphor; it is a call to action to create spaces that celebrate diversity, resilience, imagination, and creativity.
Thank you, AfriKin, for creating a space where art, community, and imagination thrive.