Arts + Culture

Afrofuturism Inspired One of Miami’s Hottest Art Fairs

We speak with Mikhaile Solomon, founder and director of Prizm Art Fair of African and Diasporan artists during Miami Art Week.

Miami Art Week is here again. And while upwards of 70,000 art-fiends will flock to the main attraction at the Miami Beach Convention Center, Little Haiti/Little River is the true epicenter of afrofuturism.

Now in its fourth year, Prizm Art Fair is continuing to shine a much-needed spotlight on emerging artists from the African Continent and Diaspora. Held over the course of two weeks in December, this year’s edition will explore the global impact of Africa’s cultural DNA (Prizm’s 2016 theme) through the work of more than 55 artists representing eight countries total. And unlike most art fairs, it’s the artists themselves (read: not gallerists) who exhibit their own work.

“The fair,” a statement reads, “aims to give a voice to those often not represented in the mainstream art world.”

It will do so in a bigger space than it’s done in the past—Prizm’s latest home is a full 3,000-square-feet larger than its previous location. (Held in the Miami Modern District in 2015 and at the Miami Center for Architecture and Design prior to that, the fair rotates locations each year.)

We caught up with Prizm's founder and director, Mikhaile Solomon, ahead of this week's art happenings. In the phone conversation below, the Miami native shares how afrofuturism inspired one of the city's hottest art fairs and what she's personally looking forward to at the 2016 Prizm Art Fair.

Alexis Peskine, "Raft of Medusa" (2015). Courtesy of Alexis Peskine and PRIZM.

How did Prizm get started?

I started the fair back in 2013. I was obsessed with afrofuturism. If you want to really define it in a very rudimentary way, it's sort of like the collision between science fiction and cosmology and black culture. I've always been really interested in comic books and deifying black icons. And so when I was thinking about the art fair, I was like “It would be kind of cool if I created a whole entire art fair that would just focus on this afrofuturism concept.” But then I realized that would put me into a really small niche. [And so] I used the idea as a vehicle for the actual branding of the fair.

The idea behind the art fair came from my fascination with afrofuturism. But then it became a broader art fair to encapsulate everything that is African Diaspora contemporary art.

A part of the reason why I did it was the idea that I wasn't seeing a lot of Diaspora-focused artwork in a lot of the main spaces like Basel and Frieze and Armory. I know Armory this year did a focus on Africa with Contemporary And—these are sort of recent inclusions that I think are great. I hope that it's not just a trend, that it's a continued conversation that endures.

What’s your take on African and Diasporan art and artists in the Miami art space?

After I started meeting a lot of my [visual artist] friends, people that I call friends now, I realized that there weren’t enough spaces or platforms during things like Basel. These are folks that weren’t showing in larger, more established spaces during Basel.

Basel would come to Miami, and artists like Robert McKnight, T. Eliott Mansa and Bayunga Kialeuka, for instance, these are all names that everybody locally knows, but in the broader international conversation around Diasporic work, they're not really well known. That's why initiatives like Prizm are important, to help elevate the voices of people who have consistently been working and producing work in the Miami landscape for years, and are well known locally, but the work has to extend beyond our borders so people can have access to their content as well.

Nyame O. Brown, "Flygirl" (2015). Courtesy of Nyame O. Brown and PRIZM.

Why Little Haiti this year?

The crassest answer is it was available. On top of that, Little Haiti is also a very culturally rich space. A lot of artists that are in the show grew up in Little Haiti, and their studios are here in Little Haiti. It was a space that became available, but I was like, "this is very appropriate because of the work that we're showing."

For instance, in our Perform section this year, we’re working with an artist named Nyugen Smith. He's based in New Jersey, but he's of Haitian and Trinidadian descent. He's producing a whole entire performance around the evolution of his lineage. There's going to be himself, who kind of represents the present, an elder in the community and someone that's younger than him. It's sort of an intergenerational conversation about his own personal lineage. For him it's an important piece because he unfortunately did not learn a lot about his heritage growing up. The piece is actually process for him in terms of him getting closer to understanding his whole entire ethnic experience.

What else are you looking forward to at the fair?

We're hosting two dinner events. One that's kind of an early preview of the fair. Then we'll also be showing a video installation by Allison Janae Hamilton, which is called In the Land of Milk or Honey. There will be a long family-style dinner table with two chefs, Jamila Ross and Akino West, who are based in Miami.

We're also doing an event on the Miami Science Barge, which is an experimental space that's located right off the dock of Biscayne Bay. We're hosting it in collaboration with a group called Famous Art Critics where we dine and we dialogue about pathways to cultural equity, about making art institutions more inclusive.

Firelei Baez, "Busqueda Oshun O-delay" (2016). Courtesy of Firelei Baez and PRIZM.

Our public opening day, which is December 1st, we always have a fun day where we have a DJ in the space. People can come and feel really familial. People can enjoy themselves while they look at the art. And December 1st is when we're having our performances. Nyugen’s project with his family will be at 6pm.

Another young lady from New York, Ayana Evans, she's doing a piece called Gurl I'll Drink Your Bath Water. If you know anything about that saying, it's a southern saying, almost like a cat call. It means you’re so gorgeous that I would degrade myself enough to go ahead and drink the water that you bathed in.

She's doing a whole performance that is multi-layered. She's essentially bathing herself, removing things that have a lot of spiritual undertones, a lot of religious undertones. There's a layer of feminism. There’s a layer of nostalgia for herself, personally, because she's washing herself with Palmolive soap detergent, because that's a detergent that her grandmother used consistently when she was growing up. The smell of it, the color of it, it's all very nostalgic for her.

It's a performance piece that's both autobiographical and social commentary. For me it was very gut-wrenching when I watched it. I'm interested to see how people respond to it. I hope people will have a lot of questions.

Prizm takes place November 29 through December 11, 2016 at 7230 NW Miami CT in the Little Haiti / Little River community.

This interview has been edited and condensed.


This Is What Rotimi's 'Walk With Me' EP Listening Party Looked Like

The Nigerian singer held an intimate listening party on the eve of the release of his new EP, 'Walk With Me,' at Brooklyn's Okay Space.

Walk With Me, Rotimi's new and highly anticipated EP, dropped Friday—giving us a seven-track peek into who the singer and actor truly is sonically.

The night before, the Nigerian-American crooner gathered over 100 tastemakers and day-one supporters to Brooklyn's Okay Space—the shared gallery space between Okayplayer and OkayAfrica—for an intimate listening party celebrating the release, as well as his music video for "Love Riddim" which also dropped this week.

The night was simply a vibe—folks enjoyed libations and bites from The Suya Guy, with sounds by DJ Tunez. Rotimi opened the gathering up with a thoughtful prayer, with the music video reveal to follow. The singer then walked the audience through each track from Walk With Me, opening up about the creative process of how each track came to life.

Following, Rotimi engaged in an even more in-depth Q+A session with OkayAfrica's arts and culture editor, Antoinette Isama, where he touched on his experience touring with Wizkid back in 2011, his thoughts on the continued rise in popularity afrobeats is having in mainstream music, his hopes for the future and more. Tunez then ran the EP back when the party ensued, as the project is full of tracks that are worthy of being on repeat.

Listen to Walk With Me below, and be sure to take a look at photos from the listening party by Nerdscarf Photography.

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CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 16: Director Ladj Ly and Almamy Kanoute attend the photocall for "Les Miserables" during the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival on May 16, 2019 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

How To Survive Cannes Film Festival As a Black Filmmaker

A film festival is intense by nature, but Cannes is a whirlwind.

Cannes Film Festival is one of the world's most prestigious gatherings bringing celebrities, filmmakers and actors claiming to celebrate the world's best film. Although the festival is way behind Sundance or the London Film Festival regarding diversity efforts, it remains the place to be if you're a filmmaker—especially a Black one.

I, myself, am a Black French filmmaker who was invited to Cannes as part of their scheme for young film lovers—3 Days in Cannes—open to anyone between the ages of 18 and 28. The scheme, which launched in 2018, requires young hopefuls to write a cover letter showing their passion for film. It ultimately gives young people the opportunity to discover the international selection of films showed at Cannes.

READ: Black Women Are the Future of French Cinema—When Will Cannes Catch Up?

Being in Cannes for the first time was a wonderful experience, but it can be tough to navigate as a Black filmmaker if you're not prepared for it. So, here are top tips.

1) Don't be a person of color—especially if you're Black (Just kidding. But still.)

Cannes is a beautiful, posh city in the south of France. It is part of the Provence Alpes Côte d'Azur, an administrative region where the far right party Rassemblement National (formally known as the National Front) hits record-breaking highs. Despite the fact that the festival is incredibly international, at times it can feel pretty racist, like a sunny, idyllic version of 1960s Alabama, where a party of more than one Black person gets routinely rejected from some clubs/bars/restaurants. On top of that, the staff and some of the security working at the festival can be incredibly aggressive and rude to you and in French. If you don't understand it, it's even more confusing.

To avoid it, try to stick to the official Cannes parties, or hang out in international hotels like the Miramar or the Radisson Blu Hotel—which are used to an international crowd. You can also stick to parties at the various country pavilions near the Film Market.

2) Stick to the African Pavilion

At the festival, most countries have their own pavilion. But because the festival believes Africa is a country, all 54 countries are gathered in one pavilion. This pavilion also includes the Caribbean, since Jamaica, as life would have it, is also an African country. In the African Pavilion, there was even talk on how to submit films if you're a filmmaker of Indian descent (despite the fact that India had its own pavilion).

You're not African? That's okay, no one cares. Pan-Africanism is still alive, I guess? Thankfully, out of the many pavilions, I did find the African Pavilion was the best one the most welcoming and whose schedule was the most open and clear. Because Cannes is such an exclusive festival, most of the parties and talks won't be communicated outside of those who are supposed to attend.

The African Pavilion, however, requires you to sign up to their newsletter. You then access their app where you can see the schedule, the talks to attend and the party they planned. The only downside is that they were understaffed, so some talks and events were cancelled last minute and with limited communication.

If you're a Black French filmmaker, speaking English is a must to get the most out of the pavilion. If you're an English-speaking filmmaker, try to make friends or meet people who speak French, as some of the talks/discussions might not have professional interpreters.

Also, go to the events organized by diversity in Cannes. Now, if you're a Black filmmaker who would rather not stay in the community for fear of being pigeonholed? Unless you're part of a talent scheme run by the festival...good luck getting others to support you.

3) Be ready to WAIT to see films and to party

On average, I waited 1 hour 40 minutes for each film I wanted to see in the official selection program. And I purposely chose not to see the famous ones like the Pedro Almodóvar or Quintin Tarantino's films. I also waited almost two hours to see a film from the Un certain regard selection and didn't get in—despite my pass. Now, Un certain regard has the most highly sought after films, even more so than the Competition, because they tend to select the best among indie international films. To get in for sure, you need a "Un certain regard" pass, so they need to invite you themselves. Even if you have a ticket at the counter, you might not get in unless you wait two hours (standing) or choose to attend the early screening or the late ones (and still, you should be ready to wait 1 hour for these).

You need a pass AND a ticket to see the films from the official selection and walk the red carpet up to the Grand Théatre Debussy. For the ACID, Director's fortnight, Semaine de la critique, and the Official selection's films not shown on the red carpet, you just need a pass—and to be ready to queue for at least 45 minutes.

I wouldn't recommend getting the Cannes cinephile pass as it has a low priority. I saw people waiting 2 hours to see a film and not getting in, while people with professional Black passes arriving 10 minutes before the screening walking past them. Because the Cannes festival is for professionals, they have, unfortunately, priority over members of the public.

Now, with the parties at Cannes, word on the street is that they are not as legendary as they used to be. Even if you get invited to one, you still need to wait an hour. It's not because they are over capacity, but rather they feel the need to pretend that they are. Unless you're a VVIP. And if you're one, why are you reading my article?

Anyway, despite not being as glamorous as they used to be, they remain so exclusive that if your name is not on the list, you might need to sell your first born to attend.

Thankfully, you can avoid it by being smart. When I arrived in Cannes, I was dead set on going to parties to network. Since almost all of them are invite only, I went to the parties at the pavilions, like the UK one, the American one (which costs 20 euros because Americans are always about their money) and the African Pavilion—that were kind enough to facilitate networking by introducing me to fellow filmmakers. God knows how talking to strangers and building new relationships can be difficult, and they made it easier.

4) Make friends with distributors or people working for the Mayor's office

The whole point of the festival is to sell films. Tickets are sparse for most people, so some badge holders wear their Sunday Best and stand outside the grand theater, holding signs asking for tickets. It makes sense that distributors are incredibly powerful, since they have the power to buy and sell films internationally. They are given way too many tickets that should be given to people waiting for hours outside.

So, if you make friends with distributors, they will always have a handful of spare tickets, even for the big ones that everyone wants to see. They also have tickets for the big parties as well. Press badge holders also have priority since they are responsible for a film good or bad media coverage. So they have a handful of tickets too.

People working for the Mayor's office also have tickets because they work closely together since the festival brings so much revenue to the city. Make friends with them, as well as film students and you'll get tickets. Don't know where to find them? Social media is your friend.

There is also another way to get tickets to films: the staff. For example, I couldn't get tickets to see Mati Diop's Atlantiques. I walked to the ticket counter and saw a Black woman with a great hairstyle. My instinct KNEW I had to tag along. I asked her if she needed help. She was looking for the same tickets. We asked someone at the ticket office if they could help. They said they had nothing. But one of the staff members saw us and said she could try to help us. She came back with two tickets and that's how I got to see the film. I got lucky and was cunning. So be nice with the staff, they can help.

5) Be ready for anything

A film festival is intense by nature, but Cannes is a whirlwind. Since you're spending so much time waiting and walking from venues to venues, you won't have time to eat unless you bring food you've made before hand. You're not allowed to eat inside the theaters and if you walk the red carpet, you food is thrown out beforehand. You can try buying food and drinks in the morning and finish it by the time you walk the red carpet. I'd advise buying it at a supermarket like the pricey Monoprix. Or the nearby McDonald's. It's cheap, warm, almost always open and a great way to socialize! Young filmmakers, as well as those from Britain and the States will come to McDonald's to eat since it's one of the places they know best. Why not strike up a convo there?

Also, don't forget your power bank. Your phone will get out of battery for sure, especially if you post content on social media.

Finally, despite its reputation, the festival is incredibly badly organized. You will be told that your badge is not allowed to watch films at other selections, or you would be given the wrong directions and will be lost in the croisette on your way to see an obscure film.

Chill, be ready to walk and use Google Maps. And enjoy!


Julie Adenuga: "There Are Young Artists In Nigeria Who Are Changing the World"

In an exclusive interview, the Beats 1 radio presenter opens up about her Nigerian heritage, documenting Homecoming in Lagos, and London being an important hub for afro-fusion sounds.

Julie Adenuga sits at the intersection of two continents.

As an affable tastemaker who transforms banal interviews into engaging conversations with some of the most famous artists in the world, Julie is leading the global dialogue on new music from her daily radio show, which broadcasts to over 100 countries.

The North London native of Nigerian descent hails from a musical family, her brothers are artists Skepta and JME, and has risen from the underground as a self-taught presenter on former pirate radio station Rinse FM to being one of three lead DJ's with her Beats 1 show on Apple Music.

A champion of homegrown talent in the UK and across the African diaspora, Julie is a purveyor of the afro-fusion genre, as is evident in her recent Homecoming documentary, which captured the fresh innovators from the Lagos music scene, and her DON't @ ME club nights, which has featured Ghetts, Lady Leshurr and The Compozers as residents.

Chosen as one of OkayAfrica's 100 Women celebrating extraordinary women from Africa and the diaspora, we speak with the presenter and broadcaster on owning her Nigerian identity, the responsibility of spreading afrobeats and why London is a key location for the genre.

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