It’s time to salute Miami’s dynamic arts leader Rosie Gordon-Wallace. She’s the innovative founder and lead curator of Diaspora Vibe Cultural Arts Incubator, now in its 27th year of creating opportunities for emerging Caribbean artists.
In late 2022, Gordon-Wallace curated “Depth of Identity: Art and Memory and Archive” for Green Space Miami. It brought together 19 artists representing the African, Indo, and Caribbean diaspora; major support for this exhibition was provided by the Green Family Foundation. Diaspora Vibe has received The Southern Cultural Treasures Award along with 17 other awardees. Recently it received funding from the Ford Foundation and South Arts. From the South Arts website: Gordon-Wallace is an active member of PAMM [Pérez Art Museum Miami] Fund for African American Art and serves on The Cultural Affairs grant panels for Miami Dade County and Florida State’s Department of Cultural Affairs. DVCAI is recognized as a global resource and one of the region’s leading platforms dedicated to providing diaspora artists with a venue to explore and experiment with new forms and themes that challenge traditional definitions of the Caribbean and Latin American art. DVCAI artists have traveled and engaged in conversations with artists in France, Barbados, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Antigua, Suriname, Guadeloupe, and Belize.
For Jitney readers, I’m pleased to share this profile of Rosie Gordon-Wallace that I wrote for Biscayne Times in 2020.
November 2019 brought a crowning moment to one of Miami’s veteran arts organizations, Diaspora Vibe Cultural Arts Incubator. DVCAI, then marking its 24th year, nurtures and supports artists of Caribbean descent. It has long punched above its weight, facilitating international artist residencies and hosting workshops and exhibits.
On November 14, 2019, “Inter|Sectionality: Diaspora Art from the Creole City” opened in Washington, D.C. at the Corcoran Gallery of the Arts and Design at George Washington University, organized with the leadership of DVCAI founder Rosie Gordon-Wallace. Principal sponsor for the exhibit was the Knight Foundation, with additional funding from Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and Ford Foundation.
A multi-disciplinary gathering of 27 artists from 17 countries, most with ties to Miami via DVCAI, “Inter|Sectionality” explores the ongoing intersection of Caribbean and African culture in contemporary art. It emphasizes work by immigrant artists, whose expression is fueled by the experience of displacement. Embedded in their art are allusions to past and present remnants of colonialism.
“Inter|Sectionality” joined notable exhibits for artists of Caribbean descent in the past decade, including those at Pérez Art Museum Miami, California’s Museum of Latin American Art, and El Museo del Barrio in collaboration with the Queens Museum of Art and the Studio Museum of Harlem. “For me to live to see that major institutions are mounting major shows with Caribbean artists is such a delight,” Gordon-Wallace says. “I really can’t even put it into words. I just can’t.”
In the context of other Caribbean-focused exhibits,
“Inter|Sectionality” makes a special contribution by featuring artists with far-flung links to Miami’s identity as a “creole city.” This notion of a “creole city” encompasses locations culturally connected to Miami, from Havana and Port-au-Prince to Kingston and Pointe-à-Pitre. Says Gordon-Wallace of this exhibit: “I could not have done it without the many years of working with these artists. I know these artists intimately.” The gathering includes two guest artists not previously part of DVCAI roster. Her goal was to focus, she adds, on “how the artists are dealing with displacement, race, and the socio-political climate in which they work. These are messy and complex issues. This is not a typical survey exhibition. That was not the purpose.”
It encompasses sculpture, painting, drawing, prints, performance, photography, video, and installations. Rosa Naday Garmendia, Devora Perez, and Asser Saint-Val are among the artists included working in Miami. A series of engraved bricks, Garmendia’s Rituals of Commemoration, acknowledges histories of police violence and slavery. Michael Elliot wryly evokes British imperialism, by alluding to Great Britain’s exploitation of Caribbean laborers after World War II.
“Inter|Sectionality” is co-curated by Gordon-Wallace and Sanjit Sethi, president of Minneapolis College of Art and Design and former director of Corcoran School of Arts and Design. When he was with the Corcoran, Sethi’s initiative made it possible for the exhibit to open there. Before they had even conceived working together, the two met in Washington, D.C. several years ago at a conference where Sethi’s talk on racial and cultural bias in the art world resonated with Gordon-Wallace. They became friends. Later, when Sethi traveled to Miami in 2018, she gave him a tour of what she calls “My Miami.”
As one might expect, her tour veers far from glamazons strutting on South Beach. It covers points in the city connecting both her personal life and DVCAI. First she took Sethi to the historically black neighborhood of Coconut Grove and then drove over the Rickenbacker Causeway for a view of Miami’s sparkling skyline. Next, they drove through Overtown, Liberty City, Little Haiti, and past hotels near Biscayne Boulevard. She noted how these hotels welcomed black families when Miami Beach hotels were off limits.
In her essay for the exhibit catalog, Rosie Gordon-Wallace
recalled the frank conversations they had in the car that day. “We shared what it really means as immigrants to live in the U.S.,” she wrote. “We tossed around issues of cultural biases that influence our thoughts and actions. We quoted Edouard Glissant, Derek Walcott, and Marcus Garvey…I shared the wisdom I gained from my mother’s proverbs and old Jamaican sayings. We shared culinary delights and our personal experiences with the Civil Rights movement.” Driving through her neighborhood of Morningside and Miami Shores, she spoke about the history of black and brown families living west of Florida’s east coast railroad. Then the two sampled conch fritters at Chef Creole and lunched at the Jamaican Clyde’s Café in Little Haiti, before stopping for a cafecita in Little Havana. On that day, Gordon-Wallace recalls, “he invited me to mount an exhibition with him at the Corcoran.”
Sethi remembers that day well. “To see Miami through her eyes and her critical acumen was so moving. Rosie is a consummate cultural leader,” he says.
Particularly impressive for him were their studio visits with artists and a tour of Little Haiti Cultural Complex. In his statement for “Inter|Sectionality,” Sethi wrote that this exhibit’s art “can sometime make us uncomfortable but it provides searing commentary on the way the world works.” Now, he says, “I think there’s never been a more important time to celebrate the work of these artists and talk about their relevance than right now.”