Noted artist and art promoter Najee Dorsey first visited the Art Basel Miami Beach festivities two years ago. He describes his experience in just two words: “eye-opening.”
“What I found was art and people I was able to connect with; it opened my eyes to a new world,” said Dorsey, the founder of Black Art in America (BAIA), a virtual network attracting hundreds of thousands of black art enthusiasts, collectors and artists from around the world.
The self-described ‘artprenuer’ said the creation of BAIA in 2010 was a necessity inspired by a void in the industry where outlets weren’t actively promoting works by artists of color.
“We, African-Americans, are a part of an untapped village and we kind of stayed to ourselves. My whole thing is to show how we can expose more people to our art and let our artists know there’s a larger world for our community.”
In his latest venture, the 39-year-old mixed media artist started a movement, Do You Basel?, a campaign geared toward exposing his online community members to Art Basel ― coming to South Florida Dec. 6 – 9. The campaign includes several group discussions and receptions at local venues featuring prominent African-American artists and collectors.
“We’re calling on the largest art lovers from around the world to take in Basel with us,” Dorsey says. “We want people ― who would have never come to Miami otherwise ― to see art on a scale they’ve never seen before. Miami has become the new center of the art world.”
He adds: “We’re working to get people in art so they can go back to their communities and spread the word and to come to Basel every year from this point forward.”
Dorsey, who received a Patron’s Purchase Award from the Polk Museum of Art in Georgia in 2006, says the art work he promotes are relics from the black community allowing future generations to visualize how African-Americans once lived.
“We’re only students and we’re here for a limited amount of time. We want people to come to Miami meet new friends and enjoy documenting, preserving and promoting the contributions of the African-American arts community.”
He notes that he finds motivation from the black culture and said that he hopes BAIA will engage the masses in what he calls “The Cosby Effect.”
“I don’t think most of us African-Americans grew up in an environment where art was present,” he says. “Those of us who grew up with The Cosby Show and Good Times ― these shows had a great impact on us. They affected how we saw ourselves; we saw that we can get involved with art and get involved with our culture.”
Dorsey began painting at the age of 5 and sold a picture to his mother to buy candy. The Blytheville, Arkansas-born painter has been based in Atlanta for the past eight years. Many of his works, including sculptures, depict life in the South such as themes surrounding juke-joints, social injustice and the jazz era.
“Some people argue that the greatest black export is black culture,” he says. “The work being produced in the African-American diaspora is some of the most exciting and most sought after work.”
Public collections of his work can be found in the African-American Museum in Dallas; the Marietta Museum of Art & Whimsy in Sarasota; and Liberty Bank and Trust Company in New Orleans. Next year, his work will be exhibited in his first solo museum show from Sept. 28 to Feb. 10, 2014 at the Columbus Museum of Art in Columbus, Ga.
“At the end of the day, I know I’m just one grain of sand on the beach of culture and I am contributing,” he says. “I know what Black Art in America does and what we produce has value. I want to see it be exposed and appreciated by as many people as possible.”