Tucked away in a corner of the Miami Beach Convention Center is Art Basel’s Positions Section, in which 19 galleries offer single-artist presentations. Two of the most dynamic booths on offer in this year’s fair, which runs through Saturday, feature work by Kandis Williams (at L.A.’s Night Gallery) and Marcellina Akpojotor (at Rele Gallery of Lagos and Los Angeles).
For her booth, Williams offers a dynamic installation titled “A Garden” that includes several recent and new works that explore the histories of force migration and diaspora, the movement of plant life, color theory, Black and feminist theory, and the enduring effects of colonization and the racist hierarchies it produces.
Among the pieces on display are several sculptures suggestive of bouquets with collaged elements from 2020 and three new wall-hung sculptures of masses of tan, green, and brown plants that are organized to resemble Josef Albers’s “Homage to the Square” series. Additionally, two slide projectors project blank sides in slightly varying densities of light that also mimic the Albers series.
But the tour-de-force of the booth is Williams’s new film-based piece A Garden, in which various images flit across the screen as theorist and artist Bracha L. Ettinger reads from some of her writing, while on the screen the subtitles display text by W.E.B. Du Bois. On the fair’s opening day earlier this week, Night Gallery founder Davida Nemeroff said that the works on view are “a critique of these taxonomies: plant, human, color theory” as ways to address their “violent histories” and “impact on Black and Brown people. It’s a charged history.”
Nearby, Akpojotor presents five paintings that are animated by collaged textiles and are part of a new body of work titled “Ode to Beautiful Memories.” From afar, these elements appear to be what they represent—people or household objects—but when viewers approach the work they see the detail and myriad of fabric that have been scrunched up together to form the whole.
Akpojotor, who is based in Lagos, amasses the textiles that go into her layered and textured compositions, often forming the faces and bodies of the people depicted, as well as other elements like plants and couches from different people in her life. Together, “the scraps reflect my community,” said Akpojotor, who was present in the booth during the VIP preview.
The booth’s focal point, Song of Home, shows four generations of women seated together—her grandmother and mother on a couch with the artist and her daughter, holding books, near them seated on the floor. In the upper left corner is a portrait of Akpojotor’s late great grandmother. She said, “I wanted to bring the generations together, including those who are no longer here.”
This body of work, Akpojotor said, mines personal history to reflect on her great-grandmother’s “quest for literacy and the legacy that has as each [subsequent] generation has tried to fulfill that dream,” she said. “It’s a celebration.”