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Caribbean Artists Shine at a New Art Fair in Puerto Rico

Take a candid look inside MECA International Art Fair 2017.

Antwaun Sargent

Antwaun Sargent

Installation view: MECA International Art Fair 2017. Image courtesy of MECA 2017.

An art fair with a social mission to stimulate public interest and "collectionism" in local Caribbean artists and galleries runs this weekend, through June 4, in Puerto Rico. The relatively small MECA International Art Fair—MECA is short for Mercado Caribeno, meaning, "Caribbean Market"—is being held at the Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico in San Juan, and features 15 galleries from across the Antilles and abroad, as well as established New York institutions like Gavin Brown's Enterprise, White Columns, and the San Juan-based Galeria Agustina Ferreyra and Embajada gallery.

Installation View: Jesús 'Bubu' Negrón, Colillón. Image courtesy of Embajada.

"Caribbean artists are often grouped in with Latin American artists but they are different," explains Daniel Báez, who co-founded MECA with Tony Rodriguez. Caribbean artists comprise 35% of the artists represented, an impressive number considering the domineering presence of white artists at international art fairs.

"There's a missing link between the international art world and the Caribbean. I decided because we are rarely shown or seen in places outside of the Caribbean that I would bring collectors and galleries here to the Caribbean," says Báez, who grew up in the Dominican Republic before moving to New York and becoming the personal assistant to the art dealer Gavin Brown. "Puerto Rico is the perfect place to start MECA because of its history, strong art scene and connections to the diaspora, the 'States and other parts of the world."

Rirkrt Tiravavanija and Tomas Vu, Green Go Home, 2017. Image courtesy of Green Go Home.

The galleries included have mounted a diverse grouping of sculptures, installations, paintings, mixed-media works, and performances that speak to both local and international concerns. Embajada's booth features the well-known local Puerto Rican artist Jesús "Bubu" Negrón's Colillón cigarette butt sculptures, which recontextualize the everyday; Nolan Simon, showing in 47 Canal's space, explores the body as a landscape with paintings Hand and Pellegrino; David Antonio Cruz, presented here by Alaina Simone, has created the performance Green, how I want you Green and the paintings Thosebutterflyboysaresopretty and Cinderella, snow-white, and Jesus, thosefriendxsofmine, which mix local Caribbean customs with matters of queer identity. Rirkrit Tiravanija and Tomas Vu offer up one-of-a-kind t-shirts screen printed with clay messages that allude to the myth-making and folklore found in their Green Go Home installation.

Installation view: MECA International Art Fair. Image courtesy of MECA 2017.

MECA 2017 also includes a project space, Mecanismos, which is curated by Carla Acevedo-Yates, an Assistant Curator at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University. The exhibition features 12 projects by Caribbean artists, curators, and collectives including Eva Mayhabal, Maurice Sánchez, and the queer Puerto Rican group, Kuniklo Colectivo, all of whom emerged after 2006. The Kuniklo Colectivo, who live in the mountainous Trujillo Alto region of the country, created the intervention, UFO. The psychedelic structure is comprised of bamboo and, according to collective artist Luis Sanabria, "honors traditional Taino indian culture" as a way to explore contemporary identity. "We've been doing this project for two years and we are always trying to bring back the essence of simplicity through color and shape," Sanabria explains.

Kuniklo Colectivo, UFO, 2017. Image courtesy of the artists.

"I really wanted to focus on locality and specificity with Mecanismos," explains Acevedo-Yates to Creators. "I think what differentiates MECA from other fairs in a way are these self-organized projects that give a platform to emerging Caribbean artists. I chose projects that in someway spoke about vernacular Caribbean culture."

"It was really important for me to present a dialogue around appropriating and re-vindicating the local as opposed to this idea of the global and international art fair. Mercado Caribeno is having a conversation with local Caribbean audiences that are at the same time in dialogue with the international art audience," Acevedo-Yates explains. To continue engaging local audiences, the fair also launched MECA Foundation, a roving public program led by Caribbean artists who will lead art education workshops with school groups across the region.

Spencer Sweeney, Untitled, 2017. Image courtesy of Gavin Brown's Enterprise.

"My goal is that MECA will grow into a platform for artists who want to create art in Caribbean and have a space to show it," says Báez. "We should be able to create work here in the Caribbean and stay here and not have to leave for opportunities."

"I only decided to start MECA because I want the Carribean, my home, to become an established market that can sustain its artists," he adds.

Installation View: MECA International Art Fair. Image Courtesy of MECA 2017.

MECA International Art Fair continues through June 4. Click here for more information.

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