In November, seven D.C.-based black artists made a request to the city’s art patrons: They needed cash to go to Miami. The artists had all been selected to exhibit their work during Art Basel week at the Prizm art fair, a show highlighting the work of artists from the African diaspora, and it would cost $7,150 to get there.
Once they’d crowdfunded the money on Indiegogo under the self-declared edict to “Bum Rush Art Basel,” the seven artists accounted for more than 25 percent of the artists at Prizm, which opened on Dec. 4. In all, more than 25 D.C. artists and galleries participated in Art Basel, one of the world’s biggest art festivals, which drew more than 75,000 people in 2013.
“It’s one of the most international markets in the States, so it is important that we are represented here,” says Amber Robles-Gordon, a local mixed-media artist who showed two pieces (one pictured above) at Prizm.
Prizm, which was housed at the Miami Center for Architecture & Design, officially ended on Dec. 22, but local performance artist Holly Bass says the collaboration between the seven D.C. artists at Prizm is just beginning. Many of the group—-which comprises Bass, Robles-Gordon, Wesley Clark, Jamea Richmond-Edwards, Shaunté Gates, Adrienne Gaither, and Stan Squirewell—-didn’t know each other well before the fair, but now see each other as potential work partners. They reunited just a few days after coming home from Miami at a Lincoln Theatre show featuring fellow D.C. artist and Hamiltonian Fellow Larry Cook.
The works showcased at Prizm represented a broad range of media and perspectives, from portraits of young black women by Richmond-Edwards (right) to a photograph series of one of Bass’ performances, a white woman cleaning stones for a black woman.
“It was really positive and deepened relationships with people that I only peripherally knew,” Bass says of Prizm. “There is strength in numbers. I definitely feel there is a sense of ‘let’s all support each other.'”
Prizm founder Mikhaile Solomon saw political potential in this powerful showing of black artists, who are highly underrepresented in visual art fairs throughout the country, and the potential collaborations that may result. She told the New York Times that Prizm is “socially impactful”: “It makes the work more relevant, and more collectible.”
Days before the Prizm fair opening, five of the D.C. “Bum Rush Art Basel” artists participated in a discussion hosted by the West Palm Beach-based Freshwater Project about preserving black art in American communities. Robles-Gordon described the discussion as “powerful,” and she’s already looking for ways to replicate that kind of discussion in D.C. and beyond.
“There’s been a dialogue that’s continued to happen,” she says.