Black artists from London and Philadelphia are making waves in Miami Beach with Aṣẹ, a philosophical concept from Nigeria.
MIAMI BEACH – More than a year has passed since the promise of a global racial reckoning, and it’s time for an update. Vince Fraser, a British digital artist with roots in the West Indies, and Ursula Rucker, a spoken-word poet from Philadelphia, are investigating this and other urgent questions in Aṣẹ: Afro-Frequencies, an immersive new art exhibition taking place in the seemingly unlikely location of Miami Beach, Florida. Seemingly unlikely but also appropriate: Though renowned for its Latin culture, Miami’s population is eighteen percent Black, and the city consistently draws a worldly crowd that can grapple with the tough questions that this stunning show brings to the beach.
Aṣẹ (pronounced “ah-SHAY”) is a Nigerian philosophy and Yoruba word that broadly refers to the life force inside each of us and the power to create and call things into being. Fraser and Rucker synced up with Sandro Kereselidze and Tati Pastukhova, co-founders of ARTECHOUSE, an independent organization focused on the intersection of art, science, and technology. Together, this eclectic group crafted a body of work that explores aṣẹ and its relation to the African diaspora through sight and sound.
The exhibition spans two floors of ARTECHOUSE's three-story home on South Beach’s Collins Avenue, a street dotted with pastel-colored Art Deco buildings a block away from the Atlantic Ocean. Entering the venue, you step out of the Florida sunshine and are quickly enshrouded in near-total darkness. Blackness.
"Visions of the Black Experience" is the central work on the first level. The space is anchored by a reflective floor, adding a deeper dimension to the 360-degree projections that splash across the room’s four walls as Rucker’s words and honey-coated voice punctuate the air. Images of the Black Lives Matter flag and its iconic clenched fist twist and rain down from above. Beautiful and fraught objects swirl and spiral: gold and silver chains, machine cogs, skeleton keys, George Floyd’s face. A crowded dystopian cityscape is besieged by black baby-doll heads with glowing blue eyes. Stay in this room as long as you can.
The second floor is less esoteric and more interactive. "Egungun" (a Yoruba word meaning “masked”) consists of thirteen framed video screens. As you progress and position your head in the center of each, an African mask virtually covers your face. “[They] often represent an ancestral spirit, and when you put that mask on, you possess that spirit,” Fraser explained to me during a video chat from his home in London. “As a Black person living in a Western society, people tend to have a stereotype of who you are and what you should be. Sometimes you have to wear a mask to pretend to be something maybe you’re not.”
Around the corner, tribal percussion beckons from the end of hallway. The sound leads to a dark mirrored space with a kaleidoscopic light show. Inside is a kind of psychedelic drummer-less drum circle, where you can move and dance to the space’s pulsating light and sound.
While Aṣẹ: Afro-Frequencies is designed to be a live and interactive event, Fraser has yet to visit due to Covid-19 travel restrictions. (“I’ve gotta see my own exhibition, you know?”) But some elements can be seen in a behind-the-scenes video and on the artist’s Instagram channel. It may not be the real deal, but at least you possess the power to create and call your own great things into being.
Plan Your Trip
Aṣẹ: Afro-Frequencies runs through November 7, 2021 at ARTECHOUSE Miami, 736 Collins Ave, Miami Beach.