Black Girl Magic at Art Basel Miami Beach and Beyond

Above: Untitled 2017 by Firelei Baez.


In a time when women are taking back their narrative with empowering movements including #MeToo, which was initially founded by a black woman, it’s encouraging to see the work of so many female black artists during Miami Art Week this year. From the biggest of the fairs, Art Basel Miami Beach, to the upstarts like the HBCU art fair B.A.E at the American Airlines Arena, these women and their artwork were everywhere. However, women, especially women of color, are still underrepresented and underpaid not only in the art world but almost every field. Always, it is important to celebrate what female artists color achieved during a week when the eyes of the art world are focused in one spot. It’s important that we as a society learn how to look at different types of art and appreciate it for what it is, not who it’s made by.

This year there were at least half a dozen fairs devoted exclusively to the work of black and brown artists. There was also one Fair, solely dedicated to women. The aptly named Fair featured the art of a few female artists of color including Taja Lindley, who did a site-specific installation. And at Pulse Art Fair, Cape Town-based artist Tony Gum received the 2017 Miami Beach PULSE PRIZE, a jury-awarded, cash grant of $2,500 given directly to an artist of distinction, exhibiting in a solo booth at the fair.

It was also a year where Issa Rae got into the act, hosting the Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series Finale party and show. The HBO star’s show, “Insecure,” sometimes showcases the work of black artists. But the real stars of the annual Bacchanal known as Art Basel, are always the works hanging on the walls, sitting on pedestals and featured in installations.



And we were changed, detail from video, Courtesy YoungArts and, Elle Cox

At 18-years-old, Elle Cox already has an impressive bio. She is a multidisciplinary artist that caught the eye of Derrick Adams and is one of 11 YoungArts Foundation alumni he put into the show IMAGINATION LAND: Fantastical Narrative. She is a 2017 U.S. Presidential Scholar, one of the highest honors in the nation for high school students. Her “And we were changed” video performance “discusses the implications of slavery tactics on the modern interpretations of African Americans.” It is a haunting, moving, artistic and original presentation for a black teenager who is coming into her own as a black woman.



Sobukwe, 2016, oil on canvas, 19 7/10 × 19 7/10 in, Mariane Ibrahim Gallery at UNTITLED Miami Beach. Image by the author

Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi is a Joburg-based multi-form artist. Her worked appeared at one of the few galleries owned by a black woman who was showing during Miami Art Week; the Seattle based Mariane Ibrahim Gallery at UNTITLED Miami Beach. Nkosi’s oil on canvas portraits are part of her Heroes series. This one is of Robert Sobukwe, teacher, lawyer, academic, and writer who led an Africanist breakaway from the African National Congress in 1958 to form the Pan African Congress.



Overlay (Image One), 2017, color dye sublimation on aluminum 60×45 in, David Castillo Gallery. Image by the author.

Xaviera Simmons body of work includes photography, performance, video, sound, sculpture, and installation. She was born in 1974 and spent two years on a walking pilgrimage retracing the Transatlantic slave trade with Buddhist monks. Three of her works were acquired by The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Her “Overlay” exhibition was done for Radcliffe Institute. At a talk at Radcliffe, she said some of her influences and references are the “push and pull between then and now,” referring to the historical lineage of slavery in the United States.



Cotton Eyed Misery Business, 2017, oil on canvas, 36×24 in, 47 Canal Gallery, Art Basel Miami Beach. Image by the author

Emerging artist Janiva Ellis was born in 1987 in Oakland and lives and works in Los Angeles. Next year she will be part of the 2018 New Museum Triennial. She had a solo exhibition this year, “Lick Shot” at her gallery, 47 Canal in New York.



Yvonne and James, 2017, oil on canvas, 90 x 78 in, Casey Kaplan Gallery at Art Basel Miami Beach. Image courtesy of the gallery.

Jordan Casteel was born in 1989 in Denver, CO. She lives and works in New York, NY. This year she had a solo exhibition, Nights in Harlem at her New York gallery, Casey Kaplan. She graduated from the Yale School of Art in 2014 and has quickly risen to acclaim with a Studio Museum residency and solo shows. Her painting Q, 2017 appears on the November-December cover of Frieze magazine, which highlights figurative painting in New York. In February of 2019, Casteel will present a solo exhibition at the Denver Art Museum, CO.

Uncle Mack, 2017, Inkjet print, mounted on Sintra, 36 × 46in and Leerickal, 2017, inkjet print, mounted on Sintra, 44 × 35 in, Rhona Hoffman Gallery at Art Basel Miami Beach. Image by the author.

Deana Lawson was born in 1979 in Rochester, New York and lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Her photography appeared in the 2017 Whitney Biennial. Her photographs have been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art. Lawson’s work centers primarily on issues of intimacy, sexuality, family, and Black aesthetics. She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts.

Through Line, 2017, charcoal, pastel and pencil on paper, 85 9/16 x 47 13/16 in, Jack Shainman Gallery at Art Basel Miami Beach. Image by the author

Toyin Ojih Odutola is a visual artist from Nigeria. She was born in 1895 and is known for her conceptual portraiture. Odutola’s first solo museum show in New York, “To Wander Determined,” opened at the Whitney Museum of Art this year and continues through February 2018. Her work in this portrait and at the Whitney was influenced by her native Nigeria and looks at class and wealth.

Image courtesy of the artist


Basel B.A.E., or Black Art Experience, presented by SocialXChange celebrated what it called “black girl magic” and “black boy joy.” The show of artwork by HBCU graduates was the first of it’s kind during Miami Art Week. The artists were all graduates of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and members Black Greek letter organizations. Artist Melissa Mitchell was born and raised in Miami and now resides in Atlanta. She is a graduate of Florida A&M University.


Xhosa woman – Intombi I, 2017 C-type print on fuji crystal archival print, dibond mounted 57 1/2 × 38 1/5 in Courtesy of Christopher Moller Gallery at Pulse Art Fair.

Tony Gum took home the 2017 Miami Beach PULSE PRIZE, a jury-awarded, cash grant of $2,500 given directly to an artist of distinction, exhibiting in a SOLO booth at the fair. In her self-styled and photographed Ode to She series, Gum is recast in the tradition known as intonjane, where a young girl evolves physically and spiritually through the many stages of her native culture. Gum was born in South Africa in 1996 and is based in Cape Town.






Josephine Judas GOAT (it does not disturb me to accept that there are places where my identity is obscure

to me, and the fact that it amazes you does not mean I relinquish it), oil on canvas, 84 x 60 in, and For Marie-Louise Coidavid, exiled, keeper of order, Anacaona, 2017, oil on canvas, 84 x 60 in, Kavi Gupta Gallery at Art Basel Miami Beach. Photo courtesy of the gallery.

Firelei Báez was born, in 1981, in the Dominican Republic to Dominican and Haitian parents, and immigrated to the U.S. as a child. She currently lives and works in New York. Her intricate works on paper and canvas often capture black female subjectivity and women’s work. Her work was featured in The Studio Museum’s emerging artist exhibition Fore.


This Ain’t A Eulogy: A Ritual for Re-Membering, 2017, black plastic bags, acrylic paint, gold duct tape, image by the author

Taja Lindley is a visual and performing artist based in Brooklyn, NY. “This Ain’t A Eulogy: A Ritual for Re-Membering” began as a performance piece by the artist in response to the non-indictments of the police officers involved in the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. She was commissioned to do this site-specific installation at the all women’s Fair staged in Miami. Lindley writes the names of blacks and trans people, who were killed by police, on garbage bags to draw a parallel to their perception of their disposable lives.

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