As a hub for many arriving from the Caribbean’s shores, Miami overflows with island culture. This can be felt in the art scene, specifically, with creative minds coming up with paintings, sculptures, drawings and more to express themselves and their unique experiences. From polished gallery walls to sprawling murals, these are the Caribbean artists you can look forward to seeing in South Florida’s “Magic City.”
Hailing from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tomm El-Saieh is a Miami-based artist who’s large form, abstract pieces capture the eye with vibrant colors, layered lines and near rhythmic compositions. El-Saieh draws inspiration from his Haitian, Palestinian and Israeli heritage, as well as his fascination with patterns often seen in Haitian Vodou imagery.
El-Saieh often works with Central Fine gallery in Miami Beach, as well as the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami and the Haitian Heritage Museum. Most recently, his Parachute series was on display in April, 2023 at Central Fine, featuring bold hot pink, lime green and bright orange canvases opposite a wall of whites and grays, all detailed with various lines, shapes and symbolism.
Kandy G. Lopez
Kandy G. Lopez is an Afro-Caribbean visual artist whose primary goal is to learn new lessons from her own work. She most often works with stained glass or yarn to create near life-sized portraits inspired by photographs. In 2020, Lopez made a bold statement with two embroidered artworks depicting African American men laid as entrance rugs at the Miami Dade Courthouse in Downtown Miami, symbolizing marginalized groups constantly being trampled upon by the American justice system.
She teaches as an Associate Professor of Art and Design at NOVA Southeastern University.
Felix Gonzalez-Torres was an openly gay, Cuban visual artist that made significant contributions to the conceptual and interactive art space in the 80s and 90s, before passing away in 1996 after battling AIDS. The artist lives on through the Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation, which maintains his collection of works and carries on the late artist’s mission to foster free thinking and a prolific desire to make the world a better place through art. The foundation regularly loans out his work to exhibits from Paris to London, New York and Miami.
The artists’ painting, sculptures and installations are currently on display at the Together, at the Same Time exhibit within the de la Cruz Collection in the Miami Design District. The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation has also made contributions to an exhibit currently on display at Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) titled, Joan Didion: What She Means, an exhibit honoring the late writer, journalist and artist.
Young, but not new to the art scene, is Syrian-Cuban artist Jason Seife. The 34-year old Miami-based artist has presented solo exhibitions in London, The United Kingdom and even Dubai with inclusions in group exhibitions across the United States. Seife’s intricate paintings resemble mosaics and textiles, with cultural influences of Persian carpets and Islamic art coming to the forefront in terms of patterns, colors and details. He often works with acrylic, ink and natural pigments on canvas and, more recently, hand poured mortar and concrete slabs.
For his first solo U.S. exhibition, titled Coming to Fruition, Seife’s works are currently on display at PAMM. According to PAMM’s description of the exhibit, “The overall effect of wooden frames and paintings on the concrete walls recalls a phenomenon common to both Cuba and Syria: beautifully painted buildings that have been reduced by war or neglect to their wood and concrete shells.”
Grenada-born artist Denzil Forrester’s work is deeply influenced by his childhood memories of Caribbean life, characterized by vibrant colors, movement, action and rhythm. In the 1980s while in London, he began frequenting night clubs featuring reggae music and Rastafarian culture, his art began to capture the joy and celebration found in these club scenes. Tackling the darker aspects of Black life in the UK also plays a significant role in his art, with recurring depictions of police violence, especially after the tragic loss of his friend, Winston Rose, in 1981. His paintings shed light on the systemic issues faced by Black communities.
Despite the shift towards more colorful compositions, Forrester’s work still carries memories of his Grenadian upbringing, including images of Caribbean carnival. At his ICA Miami special exhibition titled Denzil Forrester: We Culture, which ran through September 24, 2023, he aimed to convey the essence of sound, rhythm, and color in his art, complemented by a curated playlist of reggae roots music, enhancing the club themes depicted in his paintings.
Rosa Naday Garmendia
Born in La Habana, Cuba, contemporary visual artist Rosa Naday Garmendia moved to the US with family at the age of eight. She began pursuing art and developed a niche for contemporary art that speaks to social change. Garmendia has had pieces featured in Oolite Arts exhibit space in Miami Beach, where she is a resident, and in 2021 was part of a trio of muralists — alongside fellow Caribbean artists Asser Saint-Val and Izia Lindsay — to paint the This is Miami mural on the HistoryMiami Museum, a sprawling 130-foot panorama. Garmendia is also currently a museum educator and thought leader at PAMM.
Ebony Patterson is a Jamaican visual artist known for bold colors and transformative visuals that symbolize experiences of class, race, gender and violence. Patterson’s calling card tends to be the use of bright colors and flowers to seduce viewers in before revealing the true, deeper meaning of her pieces. Though the painter and installation artist now lives and works in Chicago, her past work in Miami led to a 2018/2019 solo show at PAMM titled, …while the dew is still on the roses…
As one of Patterson’s most significant presentations, the immersive installation included sculptures, paintings, drawings, videos and more that transformed the gallery room into a garden at night, representing the juxtaposed nature of gardens being both beautiful and fleeting. Patterson still travels to Miami from time to time, especially during Art Basel.
Interested in seeing more Caribbean art at PAMM? Head to their website to view their entire collection of work by Caribbean artists across the diaspora dating back to the 1900s.
Art Basel Exhibits
Look forward to seeing these two private shows from Jamaican artists during Art Basel Miami Beach:
Cornelius Tulloch is a Jamaican-American interdisciplinary artist with a focus on fine art and architecture. With a childhood spent in both Jamaica and Miami, color has always been a major aspect of his art. His work often includes self portraits, fruit, flora and other aspects inspired by his Jamaican and African culture.
The Cornelius Tulloch: Poetics of Place exhibit will be on display from November 18, 2023 – February 10, 2024 at the Locust Projects, a non-profit organization that regularly presents new art. The Poetics of Place installation is an immersive, architectural concept designed to establish a shared environment fostering cultural interactions, storytelling and artistic creativity.
Jamaican-Canadian artist Tau Lewis is an up-and-coming sculpturist whose work includes hand-sewn, quilted carved and assemblage structures. The artist has an appreciation for Black culture and often works to uplift that in her art. Lewis also collects, uses and reuses recycled materials and scraps from old projects to incorporate into new works, noting that everything holds a memory and it’s important that each of her sculptures have a connection to each other.
The artist will have an exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami (ICA Miami) running from November 17, 2023 to April 28, 2024. Currently unnamed, the exhibition will feature a mythic world with larger-than-life creatures from Lewis’ imagination taking shape in the form of repurposed suede, leather, fabric and other found objects. Lewis has also recently received the third Ezratti Family Prize for Sculpture from ICA Miami.