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St. Croix Artists LaVaughn Belle and Leonardo Benzant Represent at Prizm Art Fair

Prizm Art Fair opened in Miami Nov. 29 to the theme of “Vernacular A la Mode” that beckoned to St. Croix artists LaVaughn Belle and Leonardo Benzant. St. Croix native and independent curator Andrew Lockhart participated in the fair with a selection of their work to represent the U.S. Virgin Islands.

LaVaughn Belle and Leonardo Benzant share a Prizm Booth. At left is “For those of us who live at the Shoreline” 002, top, and 001 at bottom, by Belle. Back is “Women as Shape Shifter,” acrylic, oil, and sand on canvas by Benzant. At right is “The New Universe,” fabric, glass beads, and ceramic beads and microfilament by Benzant (Photo courtesy of Leonardo Benzant)

Prizm Art Fair, launched in 2013, promotes artists from Africa and its global diaspora. The international show takes place annually in December at the same time as the celebrated Art Basel Miami Beach. Prizm Founder/Director Mikhaile Solomon is an African American woman with Caribbean heritage. She thinks of Art Prizm as a catalyst and a trajectory where there is a space created for more artists to exhibit. 

Lockhart’s curatorial platform, Under New Management, worked well with Belle and Benzant. “There is an unspoken language that reveals itself as a viewer takes in the works of these two artists, both individually and collectively, one that allows expression of introspection and most importantly, self-discovery,” Lockhart said.

Lockhart grew up on St. Croix and attended St. Dunstan’s and St. Croix Country Day schools. The years after leaving St. Croix took Lockhart from an undergraduate degree to publishing magazines, from earning his Master’s to running a small agency. He worked in public relations for New York galleries, moved into the art world and ran “Anonymous Gallery” for about eight years. “I left the gallery to focus more on private sales and realized there was a space within the art world for an independent curator.”

When Lockhart connected with Belle, his childhood friend, “she was the first artist I knew personally, and it was an exciting moment for us to enter into this major art fair together …and I was super proud … this little kid from St. Croix to be doing this,” he said.

Belle was born in Tobago to Tobogonian and Barbadian parents and moved to the U.S. Virgin Islands as an infant. She explores the material culture of coloniality and her art presents counter-visualities and narratives. Belle makes visible the unremembered. She is an artist who works in a variety of disciplines that include media, performance, painting, installation, and writing and public intervention. Her work has been exhibited in the Caribbean, the U.S., and Europe and featured in a wide range of media.

“For those of us who live at the Shoreline_001,” Proof #1 of 10 by LaVaughn Belle. (Photo courtesy of LaVaughn Belle)

Belle is the co-creator of the groundbreaking “I am Queen Mary” monument that confronted the Danish colonial amnesia, which commemorated the legacies of the resistance of the African people who were brought to the former Danish West Indies.  

Belle said her first submission to the Prizm Art Fair was in 2017 when she showed the small Marquette replica of the “I am Queen Mary” monument. “It was to get people interested in the monument,” Belle said.

“This year is my first time showing a body of work at Prizm and it was exciting and rewarding to be a part of such a major event.” Belle liked the camaraderie of the artists, the gallerists, and the relationships that developed through patrons visiting her booth and exchanging a lot of information, she said.

“Where else would I have met someone from the MET, art advisors from major collections and museums? That’s what is so valuable about seeing the machine of the art world,” she said.

Belle would love to see more V.I. artists show a greater presence — or even the Department of Tourism engaging in the Prizm Art Fair. Attendance is very good for networking and very important for visibility, she said.

“For Those of us who Live at the Shoreline_002,” Proof #1 by LaVaughn Belle. (Photo courtesy of LaVaughn Belle)

Her submissions are collages and paintings. The “Storm Series” (how to imagine the Tropicalia as monumental) collages are “another kind of map-making,” she said. “When you think about a storm, all aspects are present — not just the bad part, it’s the rejuvenation, the repair that’s happening, the things that need to be taken out, a social layer and a political and ecosystem appear,  in a way — a geography, so to speak.”

Storm (how to imagine the Tropicalia as a monumental when the ocean rips into the sky by LaVaughn Belle). (Photo courtesy of LaVaughn Belle)

Inspired by the 2017 storm where Belle had a lot of damage done to her work in her studio, she took some of the wet and torn papers that ripped as she tried to salvage them — and they became archives of the storm. She incorporated the “cuts and burns” from her other art series and it all developed into her “Storm Series.” 

Storm (how to imagine Tropicalia as monumental-as in sacrificial and buoyant by LaVaughn Belle). (Photo courtesy of LaVaughn Belle)

“I began thinking of how the ‘tropical’ is totally constructed — it’s actually based on a deconstruction of the original people who were here — the original landscape that was here — the plantations — then a total reconstruction for the tourism industry. And, of course, she said, just living — thinking of all the histories together — deconstruction and construction.”

Belle’s idea of how most people view art is that it’s mostly about pleasure. “We’re not often trained how to look. It’s not only about beauty — it’s about communicating things — how we understand the world outside of touch and taste and sight — that is communicated by what we see.”

Storm (how to imagine the Tropicalia as monumental as on where imperfections meet by LaVaughn Belle). (Photo courtesy of LaVaughn Belle)

Belle holds an MFA from the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana, Cuba, and an MA and BA from Columbia University in New York. Her studio is based on St. Croix.

A two-year St. Croix resident, Leonardo Benzant migrated from New York with a visual art background of paintings in acrylic, oil and sand on canvas and mixed media sculptures that include textile, fabric, beads, wrapping, sewing, and found objects.

“Women as Shape Shifter,” acrylic, oil, and sand on canvas by Leonardo Benzant .(Photo courtesy of Leonardo Benzant)
“Women as Shape Shifter,” acrylic, oil, and sand on canvas by Leonardo Benzant. (Photo courtesy of Leonardo Benzant)

“Paraphernalia of the Urban Shaman M:5” is part of Benzant’s selection at Prizm. This work explores characters and archetypes that are inspired by personal and collective memories, oral history, and spiritual traditions of the African Diaspora.

Benzant has shown his art at other fairs, but this is his first time at Prizm. “I decided to do it this time because I liked the theme, ‘Vernacular A la Mode.’” It signals the different cultural expressions and modalities that you find in the African Diaspora, and I relate to that very much, he said. 

“The New Universe” sculpture, fabric, glass beads, and ceramic beads and microfilament by Leonardo Benzant.(Photo courtesy of Leonardo Benzant)
“The New Universe” sculpture, fabric, glass beads, and ceramic beads and microfilament by Leonardo Benzant.
(Photo courtesy of Leonardo Benzant)

Being here on St. Croix, Benzant observes things that he doesn’t see stateside, he said. “There is a magical, historical presence that you feel here — a resonance — the history — the colonial structures, the fortress … as you go down into the dungeons that have a historical ancestral quality that you pick up upon,” he said.

Benzant sees differences on the island in plants and insects — the sense that everything in nature is alive and has a soul. “I incorporate that sensation in my work. It informs my palette background,” he said. 

Benzant attended Pratt Institute in New York. He is the recipient of numerous awards, and his work has been widely exhibited and is included in public and private collections. He was born and raised in Brooklyn and is Dominican-American with Haitian heritage. “I practice Afro-Cuban spiritual traditions,” Benzant said.

Belle and Benzant shared a booth at the Prizm Art Fair Nov. 29 through Dec. 4.

For more information:

lavaughnbelle.com
leonardobenzant.net
www.ndrnwmgmt.com

 

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