Friday evening, the National YoungArts Foundation (YoungArts) will conclude National YoungArts Week 2019 with the opening of the Design Arts, Photography and Visual Arts exhibition featuring works by 41 of the most promising artists from around the country. Entitled “Infinite Possibilities,” the exhibition, curated by Diaspora Vibe Cultural Arts Incubator Founder Rosie Gordon Wallace, promises to leave visitors feeling hopeful and inspired at the start of a new year.
Over the past week, YoungArts—an organization established in 1981 to identify and nurture the most accomplished young artists in the visual, literary, design and performing arts—has welcomed 159 students to participate in its signature weeklong intensive program. Over the course of six days, students working across 10 disciplines presented their work to the public and attended master classes with artists such as Tony Award-winning actress Karen Olivo, singer and songwriter Betty Wright, prolific choreographer Camille A. Brown, interdisciplinary designers The Haas Brothers and visual artist Yashua Klos.
Friday’s exhibition opening will give attendees the opportunity to meet each of the exhibiting artists. While some of their works deal with uncomfortable, and even painful, themes, and others confront current affairs head on, they all reflect a hopeful spirit and serve as a testament to the power of the artist’s voice. Wallace chose to focus on this uplifting and empowering message, and of the ability in these works to incite change within their communities. The artists featured in the exhibition represent a variety of cultural backgrounds spanning the globe. In this exhibition, their voices are being heard clearly.
One such artist is 18-year-old Aisha Mpiana. Born in Zambia, Mpiana allowed her immigrant experience to inform both the content and aesthetic of her work. Elements of texture, pattern and symbolism celebrate the heritage that Mpiana once rejected. “The whole process of accepting my culture was very hard, not only for me but for my family as well,” Mpiana says. “I wanted to make my work so that a viewer can see it and know that their culture is beautiful, everything about them is beautiful and there’s no reason to despise yourself and that part of yourself.”
Jamaican native and YoungArts Visual Arts Finalist Njari Anderson also learned to embrace his experience as a young immigrant through art. Reflecting on memories of his boyhood, his work utilizes materiality to communicate themes of identity and nostalgia. The heavy layering of fabric allows the viewer to visually perceive the weight and complexity of his intersectionality as an artist, a young Black man, an immigrant and a son. “The works detail stories from my personal life about being African American, or being an immigrant or the struggle between trying to find a portion of yourself that can sustain you but also be enough to sustain what your family hopes for you to be,” Anderson says. “As an artist, and especially being an immigrant, there are a lot of expectations. [My family] struggled to get here…you’re going to throw that away? Throw all of their struggle away to go chase something that isn’t defined?”
Anderson’s work is, as its essence, an extension of himself and his experiences. “I think that’s where my work really culminates and all of these layers combine into one tangible and visual piece that communicates.”
Photographer Yemazen “Honé” Sellassie is captivated by processes on every scale. “I’m mainly film based, so you have the whole process—you develop the film, you make the photo—but then what else?” Sellassie asks. “Instead of putting it in a gallery right then or showing it to a classmate or showing it to a teacher, I’m going to keep going with it.”
Utilizing experimental film techniques, Sellassie’s work investigates the Black narrative through nature, loss and self-discovery, often drawing inspiration from their younger brother’s
experience as a Black boy. “There are a lot of other photographers of other races that come in and try to photograph but they don’t know me and they don’t know my people and they don’t understand,” Sellassie says. “And they definitely don’t understand what it’s like to be a minority in poverty; that’s a whole other level.”
Also working in an experimental medium is Daniel Narvaez. A proud Puerto Rican, Narvaez discovered his medium of choice by chance. “My specialty is paper cut light boxes and I first stumbled upon the medium when I was scrolling through Instagram,” Narvaez shares. “I found these two artists, their names are Hari & Deepti. I was very interested in it so I gave it a try.” Narvaez’s four paper cut light boxes are a commemoration of his four years in high school and a dedication to the influential individuals he encountered along the way. Thinking of his YoungArts experience in Miami, Narvaez adds, “I feel welcomed here. I do not feel like I am the only one anymore. There are artists all around me now and that really took me back to a place that I missed.”
Meet the 2019 YoungArts Finalists in Design Arts, Photography and Visual Arts at the opening reception of “Infinite Possibilities” on Friday, January 11, at 7.30 pm at YoungArts, 2100 Biscayne Boulevard. The exhibition will be on view in the YoungArts Gallery and Jewel Box until February 3, 2019.