A year into the COVID 19 pandemic, being thrust into a new way of life under social distancing has made some moments seem as if they were ages ago. The pandemic has forced us to adapt and reframed our perspective on many aspects of our lives. For instance, take the experience of viewing a piece of art for the first time. I can easily recall when I first found myself standing before one of Rafael Diaz’s Anonymous photographs. Each one of the portraits, or better yet non-portraits, as the Salvadorian Madrid-based artist refers to them - is exquisite on its own. My first encounter with the Anonymous series was in a crowded gallery, where the sound of friendly chatter filled the space. Even then, amid the swarm of an opening reception, standing before one of his non-portraits felt as if I was eavesdropping on an intimate conversation. There is an undeniable alluring quality to the works.
They summon investigation, the play of shadow and light leads the eye to wander throughout each composition. Figures partially cloaked in shadows, just barely stepping forward into the light, enough to expose bare skin: shoulders, necks, arms, and backs. The viewer’s eyes are led to trace the curves of the figures, the folds in the skin, curls in the hair, ink-bled tattoos, and the mark of age with the passage of time. The non-portraits take their visual vocabulary from the days of old, they become windows peering back into the Renaissance with their unmistakable Chiaroscuro sensibility.
There is poetry in those distinctive human lines, and Anonymous invokes a visceral reaction. Diaz’s seduction reveals itself upon the realization that the viewer is now part of the artist’s intent. Anonymous is a commentary on the loss of privacy and the invasive nature of digital proliferation in our lives. Confidential information is hacked, we are bombarded by emails, and our movements and tendencies are tracked by algorithms. In each non-portrait, the subject’s face is shrouded, with only their backs and sides bathed in light. There is an agreement of confidentiality between the artist and the subject. This protective veil, is symbolic of a promise sacred to Rafael Diaz, as he is both an accomplished artist and a physician devoted to upholding the ethical values of the Hippocratic Oath.
Where my first viewing experience was one of intimacy, to view them now as they are on display in the heart of Miami Design District, has been reframed by the lingering pandemic. They’ve taken on a new breadth, becoming symbolic of a shared moment in time, and a reflection of our humanness. Stripped away are the layers of clothes; the non-portraits illustrate our shared attributes, revealing that as varied a tapestry as we may be, we are connected and intertwined. Diaz’s work in today’s COVID 19 times takes on a different air, it speaks to the viewer with a renewed priority and importance. COVID 19 has changed the way we meet and engage, the way we fraternize and gather. Friends and families are separated by distance and time but we remain connected by a global, shared experience. Through our bodies we experience birth, growth, and death; at every stage along the way we are suspectable to infection and disease. The paradox of today, reveals that it is not only up to us to negotiate with our own bodies but to also recognize that this precarity is shared and that caring for oneself is also caring for the community.
Anonymous is but one of the many works on view throughout the Miami Design District, thanks to the creative team at DACRA. My compliments to the visionary Curator Claire Breukel for being the catalyst and driving force of this remarkable public art experience. I would be remiss to not mention, the incomparable gallerist, Dina Mitrani - for discovering, fostering, and sharing with us all exceptional works by artists such as Rafael Diaz. I invite you to take a moment for yourself and spend the day visiting the Miami Design District and see first-hand how it continues to blossom into a neighborhood filled with art, design, and creativity - gifting with us a breath of inspiration during these challenging times.