When conquistador Juan Ponce de León claimed the region of Florida for the Spanish crown in 1513, he named it ‘La Florida’ after its lush and abundant vegetation. Equally abundant is the state’s multifaceted history, which this year’s Conversations program looks to unpack. It centers on Florida as a flourishing meeting ground for the US, the Caribbean and Latin America, as well as its status as a fragile, endangered ecosystem.
Exploring the relationship between the Americas, with Miami as a pivotal hub, this edition of Conversations aims to shine a light on some of the histories and personal memories that have not been recorded in the continents’ official archives. It celebrates the resilience of Afro-Latino, Latinx, and feminist artists who are finding creative forms of expression to address topics such as gender, race, and systems of belief. In addition to its history of displaced populations and extraction unleashed by the conquistadors, the state of Florida is now at the forefront of debates around climate change, as its fragile ecosystem is battered by extreme weather and rising sea levels.
The program starts with a celebration of the practice of Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, who draws on her Cuban heritage to address global histories of enslavement, indentured labor, motherhood, and migration. Using multiple media, Campos-Pons conveys a complex concept of self, noting: ‘I am from many places. I live with that multiplicity in my mind, and in my soul, and in my body.’ Franklin Sirmans, Director of Pérez Art Museum Miami, and Crystal Williams, President of the Rhode Island School of Design, will be in conversation with the artist to chart her career over the last four decades.
Artist Guadalupe Maravilla will meet with collector, curator, and philanthropist Estrellita B. Brodsky to reflect on their respective commitment to championing diverse perspectives from Latin America. The talk will offer an intimate insight into how the connection between them has been shaped by their shared vision of art.
Inspiration and mentorship will be at the fore in a panel featuring acclaimed singer-songwriter and philanthropist Chance the Rapper in conversation with Lauren Haynes, Director, Curatorial Affairs and Programs, Queens Museum. They will discuss the mutual influence of hip-hop and other cultural fields including the visual arts, what inspiration and mentorship have meant to them, and how to champion and empower the next generation of creatives.
The program will then zoom in on Brazil, the country with the largest art market in Latin America. Against the backdrop of President Lula da Silva’s government reinstating the Ministry of Culture and increasing funding to the arts, collector Pedro Barbosa, artist and gallerist Márcio Botner, curator and researcher Thiago de Paula Souza, and gallerist Luisa Strina will reflect on how the scene is developing.
Circling back to Florida’s unique ecosystem, which features hurricanes and subtropical swampland, artists Anne Duk Hee Jordan, Noémie Goudal, and Lee Pivnik will discuss topics such as cohabitation and notions of deep time to consider the impact of human life and technology on this fragile environment.
Writer and editor Julia Halperin will then lead a conversation looking into the vital space, time, and new connections that residencies can offer artists, featuring representatives from across the Floridian art scene, including Cathy Leff of Bakehouse Art Complex, Esther Park of Oolite Arts, Sadie Woods of Atlantic Center for the Arts, and Lorie Mertes of Locust Projects.
An early champion of technology's potential for creative exchange, Nam June Paik (1932–2006), who spent the last years of his life in Miami, will be the subject of a tribute by Hans Ulrich Obrist, Artistic Director, Serpentine, and artist, poet and AI researcher Sasha Stiles. It forms part of a series of panels titled ‘Intersections in Art’ that bring together practitioners across art forms.
Other Conversations include: ‘Biohacking Creativity: What Does It Mean for Non-Humans to Make Art?’ – with artists James Bridle, Eduardo Kac and Xin Liu – which will investigate how artists are enlisting bacteria, fungi, and viruses as collaborative agents, resulting in complex, algorithmically driven artworks.
Institutional leaders Silvia Karman Cubiñá, Director, The Bass, Jillian Jones, Deputy Director, Buffalo AKG Art Museum, and Tonya M. Matthews, President, International African American Museum, reveal their plans for the future in ‘Renewing the Institution: How Do Museums Remain Relevant?,’ a panel moderated by András Szántó.
Finally, the panel ‘Found in Translation: The New Languages of Art’ – with artists Tania Candiani and Juana Valdés – will explore how artists build their own forms of expression and create meaning in the gaps between languages and within historical records. In line with the thinking of Chicana feminist scholar Gloria Anzaldúa in Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987), many participants in this year’s Conversations program are looking beyond the confines of identity and nationality to develop their own artistic languages, whilst staying true to their own realities and values.
Emily Butler is Art Basel Miami Beach’s Conversations Curator.