This December in Miami, Atlanta artists will carve out space for themselves at Art Basel while advancing a conversation about recognizing Black women artists, as TILA House — a five-day experience presented by Atlanta’s TILA Studios — is set to coincide with the week of fairs, exhibitions, public art and parties.
For many, Art Basel represents the pinnacle gathering of the art marketplace in the United States, as an estimated 75,000 people flock to Miami to feast their eyes (and wallets) on art from around the world. Art Basel is a single fair, but the “Art Basel” name has become a catchall for the entire slate of city-wide art events and exhibitions that take place during its run. For artists, curators, gallerists and collectors, Art Basel represents a moment to reunite and recalibrate their relative standings among peers and colleagues.
And with all the art world’s eyes trained on Miami for a handful of days, the Art Basel environment also provides an opportunity to address important ideas, in particular the underrepresentation of Black female artists in museums, galleries and collections with respect to their White male colleagues, something that TILA Studios has been working to counteract since its inception as a co-working and community space for Black women artists in East Point.
“When I started TILA Studios a year ago, I wanted the world to know the many Black female artists that are missing from fine arts institutions,” says Tiffany LaTrice, TILA Studios’ founder and executive director. “But now, TILA is growing into a community of collaboration between women.”
For almost any artist presenting at an art fair, from your local curbside market to Art Basel, there is some level of financial commitment required. And for the upper echelon fairs in Miami, the sheer expense of making the trip for an individual artist can require up to a five-figure investment in some cases. But TILA Studios is reshaping the typical Art Basel experience by taking 10 artists — its inaugural Garden Fellows – to Miami December 5–9 for an experience of empowerment, exposure and exhibitions. The 2018 Garden Fellows are Christa David, Sachi Rome, Shon Pittman, Jasmine Nicole Williams, Evelyn Quiñones, Ebony Black, Ariel Dannielle, Ayanna Smith, Angela Davis Johnson and Grace Kisa.
“I wanted women to have the same feeling I had the first time I visited Art Basel,” says LaTrice. “To see themselves and feel empowered knowing they had a seat at the table.”
For its experience in Miami, TILA Studios is doing much more than making room at the table. It is literally taking over an entire house. A private dinner, a portrait day party and a guided mediation session are just a handful of the opportunities where art industry leaders can connect with the artists at TILA House, in addition to the EmpowerHer Brunch — a gathering of 250 Black women artists, curators and influencers at the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) on December 5 at 1 to 4 p.m. In many ways, the entire TILA House experience will be a home away from home, as its programming during Art Basel mirrors the role TILA Studios plays as a visual arts incubator, co-working and gallery space serving Black women artists.
“I attended Art Basel last year as an enthusiast, and now I get to attend Art Basel to show my work with nine other amazing and talented artists,” says Quiñones. “It feels like a dream.”
During Art Basel, all of the Garden Fellows, plus two additional Atlanta-based artists (Kofo Durojaiye and Lewinale Havette), will have their work on display during the brunch at PAMM via a digital experience powered by Loupe Art, while two of the fellows, Christa David and Jasmine Nicole Williams, will also be exhibiting elsewhere in Miami at PRIZM Fair. The selection of the Garden Fellows and the work they’ll be presenting was co-curated by Grace Gardner, TILA’s in-house curator, and Daricia Mia DeMarr of the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Art Program. The curators say the 10 artists were selected, in part, because of the creative ways they approached narrative elements in their work and past exhibition history.
“There are artists who use media in a very interesting way,” says DeMarr when asked about reviewing the work of the Garden Fellows. “I think that was one of the things that stood out the most — how artists are using mixed media and found objects and a variety of media applications.”
Metro Atlanta arts organizations often position themselves as intermediaries that help artists better connect with the local audience, yet TILA Studios is using this time in Miami to create a unique bridge between Atlanta artists and the rest of the world.
“Basel represents visibility and access,” says Gardner. “I think with Art Basel bringing tens of thousands of people from around the world to the city of Miami, it just makes those goals that we have possible.”
The impact of what TILA Studios is doing and what it represents gives off a feeling that is more expansive than the modest space it occupies in East Point and more far-reaching than the 10 Garden Fellows that will be feted in Miami. Indeed, the TILA House is a manifestation of an assertion of value, and the continuation of a legacy of Black women artists connecting, communing, creating, critiquing and committing to uplift each other and make a way for each other’s success.
‘The exciting part with this is that [Williams] is offering us the opportunity to go down there and see and meet all the other Black female artists, curators, galleries, museums and all the people who work in the museum system,” says Kisa. “You don’t have those opportunities that often. That, I’m very excited about.”
Atlanta has long had an identity as a place where Black culture thrives and is exported. And while Black women often drive and support that culture, their contributions and leadership often go under-recognized. But with the help of TILA Studios, perhaps the next Kara Walker, Amy Sherald, Amy Keith or Mickalene Thomas will have the visibility and support to take their careers to the highest levels, with Atlanta as their platform and the world as their audience.
“I hope the artists return to Atlanta feeling empowered,” says Gardner. “I hope they feel like they have returned to Atlanta with a larger network; I hope they also feel like they have really developed a community that will continue to stay with them as they go down their different career paths.”