MIAMI – When Juana Valdes was a little girl in Cabañas, a village about an hour away from Havana, she didn't know she was living in poverty. Everybody was poor. She said she also didn't know that being black put her at a disadvantage. She learned that while growing up in Miami.
Valdes, 54, remembers being part of the Freedom Flights, a U.S. resettlement program that brought political refugees from the Communist island from 1965 to 1973. She was eight. Her mom worked as a seamstress. Her dad did manual labor.
There wasn't much of an art scene when she was a teen in Miami, so she knew she had to move to New York if she wanted to pursue her dream. She studied at Parsons School of Design and has been exhibiting her art work since 1994, but she had never been a part of something like the Fair, a show in Brickell that will be open this weekend during Art Basel Miami Beach.
"The Fair has a powerful message and it's no coincidence that is at this mall where marketers objectify women," said the Afro-Cuban-American artist, who teaches at the University of Massachusetts. "Gender inequality is a reflection of a patriarchal society. Think about it: Why should women have to be young and beautiful to be valued? Women who aren't and are living in poverty are overlooked."
The Fair is an exhibit that takes over a 5,000 square-foot space on the fourth floor of Brickell City Center, 701 S. Miami Ave. All of the art work is by women, and none of it is for sale. Zoe Lukov, the director of exhibitions for Fanea Art in Miami, and Anthony Spinello, the founder of the Spinello Projects, a gallery and production house, co-curated the exhibit.
Lukov and Spinello gave young artists the opportunity to showcase their work next to established icons like the Guerrilla Girls, a group of anonymous activist artists that formed in New York City in 1985 who brought their impactful billboards, and Yoko Ono, who brought her Wish Tree installation.
When Taja Lindley, 32, met Valdes, she smiled and complimented her Colored China Rags. The sculptural piece showcases a series of rags made out of bone china, a material that Valdes loves and said has more value when it's white. Valdes inserted the pigment's of different skin tones into the clay and placed them from darkest to lightest on the wall.
Lindley, 32, flew from Brooklyn to Miami for her first exhibit during Art Basel. She used black plastic garbage bags for both The Bag Lady Manifesta and This Ain’t A Eulogy: A Ritual for Re-Membering, and she used white paint to write the names of black unarmed victims of police violence.
"Her work really spoke to me. My installation is a wall of ancestral memory," said Lindley, who used her experience with costuming to build her wide curtain-like work hanging on a wall over the entrance of the gallery. "I was moved by the non-indictments of the police officers responsible for the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown."
Lindley uses social media to promote her work. Valdes, who is still learning about social media, has art work at the Newark Museum, the European Ceramic Work Center and the Nohra Haime Gallery. She has exhibited her work in Holland, Germany, Australia, Belgium, France, and Poland. This weekend she is also exhibiting at the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora in Coral Way Sunday.
On her way out of the gallery, Valdes stopped to give a woman who was cleaning the wall a hug. The woman's dark brown hair was up on a bun. She was standing next to a bucket with dirty water. Her nails looked like that of a coal miner. She wanted them to look that way. It was artist Nathalie Alfonso, who graduated from Florida International University in 2014 and is presenting Cleaning the Line.
"I am using white rags to show the value of manual labor through an exhaustive process," Alfonso said.
Alfonso said the space where Valdes' Colored China Rags was on display brought her to tears. She said it was because it was hanging across from Lugar Comun, a series of 100 photographs by Ruby Rumié showing the relationship between domestic workers and the women who hired them to work at their home.
"You have these women who work hard, who take care of their homes and they are just invisible," Alfonso said. "I am a Colombian immigrant. I cleaned houses. My mom cleaned houses. My art work is very personal and that is what this exhibit brings together, the personal experiences of women."
The Fair -- with the "fair market, fair play and fair trade" motto -- will open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. until Sunday at Brickell City Centre, 701 S. Miami Ave., a mall with high-end stores and luxurious boutiques. Swire Properties and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation sponsored the exhibit. Admission is free.