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This giant art exhibition in Opa-locka wants to change the perception of the city

Art has power.

It can provoke. Educate. Connect. And, in the case of places like Wynwood and South Beach, art can transform.

“It allows people to be exposed,” said Willie Logan, the CEO of the TenNorthGroup, an organization focused on real estate development in low income communities, “to have access to information that they normally wouldn’t have access too.”

Thus, Art of Transformation, the title of Opa-locka’s collection of exhibitions on display during Miami Art Week, is a double entendre. It refers not only the theme of the five exhibitions -- self-described as an exploration of “issues in African and African Diaspora contemporary arts” -- but also Logan’s plans for the area.

“Art can be used as a tool to transform ideas of certain neighborhoods,” Logan continued. “It’s an appropriate title for what we’re trying to do in Opa-locka.”

Self portraits by Brenda Cruz, with overlay of things depicting the Puerto Rican experience, hang during a tour of the Cartographies of Displacement exhibit, part of the “Art of Transformation” preview, on Monday, Dec. 4, 2023, at and around the ARC in Opa-Locka. Cartographies of Displacement includes art from multiple Puerto Rican artists.
Self portraits by Brenda Cruz, with overlay of things depicting the Puerto Rican experience, hang during a tour of the Cartographies of Displacement exhibit, part of the “Art of Transformation” preview, on Monday, Dec. 4, 2023, at and around the ARC in Opa-Locka. Cartographies of Displacement includes art from multiple Puerto Rican artists.

Across five different exhibits – “Fragmented Worlds/ Coherent Lives,” “Cartographies of Displacement,” “Garden of Humanity,” “I’ve Known Rivers” and “Required Reading” - Art of Transformation inspires visitors to not only reimagine the future of neighborhoods like Opa-locka but also the connection between all people of African descent.

“We don’t cease to be related because we’re separated by oceans,” said Babacar Mbow, who oversaw the curatorial vision of Art of Transformation. “We wanted them to understand what issues Black people dealing with.”

Those issues – from anti-Blackness to economic inequality to censorship to colonization to historical erasure – heavily influence many of the works within the exhibitions. Pieces like Adama Delphine Fawundu’s “Dancing with the Universe” and Alassane Doumbia’s collection of sculptures of African warriors are rooted in West African tradition. Doumbia’s pieces use materials like tree bark, rebar and bullet shell casings that seemingly upend traditional notions of creativity.

“Artists can be from all over but what is coming out of bringing their work together is to highlight the similarities within their diversity,” Mbow said.

“Cartographies of Displacement” explores how the United States’ colonization of Puerto Rico has affected the Caribbean island. Through pieces like Brenda Cruz’s “AllieNation 8,” one of her six self-portraits with a partial U.S. map juxtaposed across her face, and Ricardo Alcaraz Diaz’s eight images of various protests in the country, it highlights that Puerto Ricans “struggle with the same American racial and political positions as Black Americans,” said “Cartographies of Displacement” co-curator Abdiel D. Segarra Ríos.

“Art has the power to erase the colonial imagery and give us the opportunity to present ourselves with our own identities,” “Cartographies of Displacement” co-curator Helen Ceballos said.

The two outdoor pieces — “Garden of Humanity” and “Required Reading” — that sit in between the three exhibits tents act are like a shining centerpiece on a dining room table.

“Garden of Humanity” comprises distinctive works melded in a compelling setting. Cuban artist Juan Roberto Diago Durruthy’s six-foot bronze sculpture “Yemaya,” depicting the African goddess of the living ocean that accompanied captured Africans on the Middle Passage, is set in a shallow black reflecting pool.

Yemaya, goddess of the living ocean and a cedar sculpture by Jems Robert Koko Bi, sits in the Garden of Humanity, a walk through exhibit during the “Art of Transformation” exhibit preview on Monday, Dec. 4, 2023, outside the ARC in Opa-Locka.
Yemaya, goddess of the living ocean and a cedar sculpture by Jems Robert Koko Bi, sits in the Garden of Humanity, a walk through exhibit during the “Art of Transformation” exhibit preview on Monday, Dec. 4, 2023, outside the ARC in Opa-Locka.

“The Cedar Men,” five six-foot sculptures brought from the Ivory Coast that were carved from a single cedar trunk by Jems Robert Koko Bi, stand statesmanlike, wise men offering the counsel of ages. All are positioned in wood beams arranged into a hurricane-like vortex by local artist James Brazil and adorned with the scrub pine that such storms scatter when they land from Africa. The works reinforce the connection between all African peoples.

“Required Reading” serves as a direct commentary to the wave of book bannings happening in Florida and beyond by prominently displaying various covers of works including Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” W.E.B. Du Bois’ “The Souls of Black Folk” and Ruby Bridges’ “This is Your Time.”

“‘Required Reading’ symbolizes we really don’t need you to say what we can and can’t read,” Logan said. “It’s also an opportunity to educate our community that we cannot be passive on teaching our children our history.”

As Miami continues to become the epicenter of the art world every December, Logan essentially wants their art collection to be a catalyst to alter the perception of Opa-locka, a city that – despite its past issues of corruption and present problem of poverty – remains near and dear to his heart. This was the same community who elected him the youngest mayor in the country in 1980.

“I hope people recognize that Opa-locka is yet another beautiful interesting community in South Florida,” Logan said.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Art of Transformation

WHEN: Dec. 2-Feb. 28, 2024 (“Fragmented Worlds/ Coherent Lives”); Dec. 2-June 30, 2024 (“Garden of Humanity”); Dec. 2- Dec. 10 (“Cartographies of Displacement,”“I’ve Known Rivers” and “Required Reading Public Art Project”)

WHERE: 675 Ali Baba Ave, Opa-locka (“Fragmented Worlds/ Coherent Lives” and “Required Reading Public Art Project”); 650 Ali Baba Ave., Opa-locka (“Cartographies of Displacement”); 757 Ali Baba Ave., Opa-locka (“Garden of Humanity”); 490 Opa-locka Blvd., Opa-locka (“I’ve Known Rivers”)

TICKETS: Free admission with RSVP at https://www.eventbrite.com

Visit https://www.tennorthgroup.com/art-of-transformation for more information