For the second iteration of the ISLAA Artist Seminar Initiative at the University Galleries of the University of Florida, the work of artists Valerie Brathwaite and José Gabriel Fernández informed the two-semester program of a curatorial seminar followed by an exhibition. Students in art history and museum studies programs took part in a seminar led by Kaira Cabañas in spring 2023.
Vital and Veiled: Valerie Brathwaite and José Gabriel Fernández highlights segments of each artist's most emblematic series: In the case of Valerie Brathwaite, her stones, flowers, and "soft body” sculptures, which she has been creating since the late 1960s, are a way of exploring sensuality in nature (or nature’s sensuality). Her sculptures employ a variety of materials such as bronze, clay, ceramic, plaster, cement, and fabric, resulting in a unique hybridization of collage, painting, and sculpture. Brathwaite’s sculptures are imbued with great vitalism in her forms and choice of materials, contributing to contemporary discussions around the new materialisms from her perspective as a Black woman from the Caribbean. In the case of José Gabriel Fernández, the exhibition focuses on his explorations of representations of masculinity and veiled homoeroticism in bullfighting, which he initiated in the mid 1990s and include studies of the capote, or bullfighter’s cape, as a generative shape for his ultramodern abstract sculptures. His work marries a keen aesthetic sophistication with veiled references to sexuality and contributes to expanded narratives on queer art.
Both artists have explored sensuality through sculptural experimentation and print media in their own way. They also question how artistic practice relates to identity, a theme they began exploring before the emergence of identity politics in contemporary art. Their decades-long dedication to this type of aesthetic investigation provides another foundation for an in-depth discussion for other conversations related to contemporary art, art from Latin America and the Caribbean, and current curatorial discourses.
A fully-illustrated catalogue of the exhibition, with contributions by the curators and essays by Luis Pérez Oramas and Rachel Silveri, will be published by University Galleries.
Vital and Veiled is complemented by two additional exhibitions from the series On View: Curatorial Studies. Valerie Brathwaite: Works on Paper is curated by Macarena Deij Prado and open to the public at the Gary R. Libby Focus Gallery from September 21 to November 18, 2023. The exhibition presents a series of Brathwaite's historical drawings, mostly from the 1970s, in which she explores ideas of an inner landscape and the expanded possibilities of drawing. José Gabriel Fernández. A Brief History of Drawing is curated by Claude Mohr and will be on view from January 12 to January 27, 2024. There, Fernández will show a series of seven “action drawings” titled Pequeño Manual de Dibujo (Little Drawing Handbook), which disrupts notions of artistic didacticism and Euclidian geometry through the introduction of certain ”events,” like burning, into drawing as a practice. The actions are documented through a series of seven dissolving slide projections that continuously loop.
The exhibition and publication are sponsored by the Institute for Studies on Latin American Art (ISLAA) and the School of Art + Art History (SA+AH), University of Florida, Gainesville. Additional support for the exhibition has been provided by the Harn Eminent Scholar Chair in Art History, the Division of Cultural Affairs of the State of Florida, SA+AH, the College of the Arts of the University of Florida, and Henrique Faria.
October 10, 5PM
Exhibition tour by Macarena Deij Prado of Valerie Brathwaite: Works on Paper
October 26, 6PM
Lecture by Dr. E. Carmen Ramos: “Freddy Rodríguez’s Geometries: Diaspora, Networks and Context,” College of the Arts, University of Florida, Lecture Room FAB 105.
October 27, 5–7PM
Opening of Vital and Veiled: Valerie Brathwaite and José Gabriel Fernández
November 11, noon
Exhibition tour by Jesús Fuenmayor of Vital and Veiled: Valerie Brathwaite and José Gabriel Fernández
January 18, noon
Exhibition tour by Claude Mohr of José Gabriel Fernández: A Brief History of Drawing
The graduate program in Art History at the University of Florida offers a global art history program covering a breadth of content from across time and space. The program also offers a graduate certificate in curatorial studies.
The University of Florida University Galleries’ mission is to be a platform for relevant and experimental art research and a place where pressing contemporary conversations are amplified and shared with the university and expanded communities. The University Galleries advances the School of Art + Art History’s commitment to the visual arts by offering an experimental space to bring people together around art and ideas, improving accessibility and inclusivity through direct student and community engagement; increasing the school’s visibility as a center for critical discourse around artistic research, production, and scholarship, leading with preeminent programming.