I arrive at the Diaspora Vibe Gallery, which lends its space to the exhibition of promising Caribbean and Latin American emerging artists, on a Tuesday afternoon. The gallery feels unusually lonely today, as Jamaica-born owner, Rosie Gordon Wallace, and her team prepare to leave for their 2nd International Artists Biennale in Phillipsburg, St. Maarten (April 16th-23rd) where artists from Cuba, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and other countries will present their work in an interactive, intercultural exchange. However, their present exhibition, Women’s Work, featuring Jacquenette Arnette and Wura-Natasha Ogunji, among others, is still on display at the gallery and draws me in.
A gorilla with a new nose, an orangutan with veneers, and a meercat with breast implants lead the way to the revolutionary step of the cosmetic surgery industry into the jungle. With their white flags raised, the animal kingdom has surrendered to the beauty standards society has imposed upon the world. A refined nose, perfect teeth, and an ample chest serve as guidelines for the perfect…no, the “normal” living being of today. Sound ridiculous yet? Artist Jacquenette Arnette successfully communicates this feeling to spectators of her series of surgically altered animals titled “I only saw rainbows when the bandages came off”. Arnette’s exhibit reprimands the little narcissus in all of us; the gorilla with the button nose and the meercat with a c-cup look as ridiculous as the artist seems to consider our obsession with body image to be. Further along the wall, a Koala with a six-pack draws a giggle from any spectator with a decent sense of humor once they realize that what at first glance seemed like a pleasant collection of jungle animals turns out to be a somewhat satirical yet tasteful mockery of plastic surgery mania. The artist makes no excuses for her series of “plastic” jungle animals as she states that she often opts “for a more organic and literal interpretation using tools such as humor and irony” in her wok where we, as spectators, cannot help but laugh at ourselves.
In a smaller area of the cozy second floor gallery, Wura-Natasha Ogunji, who has been an artist in residence in Altos de Chavon and has received grants from The Pollock-Krasner Foundation and the Brooklyn Arts Council, displays her work of thread on paper. Drawing inspiration from Yoruba beliefs, Judaism, and Haitian Voudoun vévé ceremonial drawings, Ogunji’s delicate pieces grasp the spectator’s attention through their peaceful aura and story-telling principle. One of her pieces, “What if I do not feel brave?” depicts a human figure, stitched in white and barely visible thread, being guided by two brightly colored birds. The human’s barely visible body calls upon our sympathy with a vulnerably vanishing being, as do many of her other pieces.
Women’s Work, at Diaspora Vibe Gallery in Miami’s Design District, is both entertaining and moving. The combination of artists and their diverse concepts lends itself to the complete experience and welcomes the art lover as well as the newcomer.