Tension was low and spirits were high as people celebrated art, music and each other at Kehinde Wiley‘s annual Southern Fish Fry at Art Basel Miami.

The NYC based artist introduced the party a few years ago as a way to unwind, away from the sometimes uncomfortable exclusivity of most Basel Miami events. Here the environment was comfortable and open, much like Wiley’s demeanor and personality; something he has worked to express through his art. This party was about inclusion, and being welcome.

Wiley once remarked that “painting is about the world we live in. Black people live in the world. My choice is to include them. This is my way of saying “yes” to us.

His work is currently being showcased in Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic, an ongoing traveling blockbuster exhibition, in various museums around the country; many also know his work from the hit series Empire, but also has ongoing is the first museum solo exhibition dedicated to a living male African-American artist in France ever, Lamentation at Le Petit Palais, Paris, which is also only the second for a living African-American artist after Lorna Simpson, a historic achievement that so far has largely gone unrecognized in the US.

Thanks to Wiley in partnership with the Edition Hotel and Bacardi, guests got a chance to relax and enjoy themselves at the family ‘cook-out’-style event in the ‘Tropicale’ garden.

Everybody felt welcome and at home, including rising South African artist Tony Gum who was invited last minute at the insistent request of Wiley, having been introduced only two days prior by his friend, our Editor-At-Large, art consultant Joakim von Ditmar despite the guest list reaching capacity a week earlier.

L’Etage Magazine Founder & Editor-in-Chief Sabrina Boasman, Artist & Columbia Uni Professor Renee Cox, Art Advisor/curator & Editor-at-Large Joakim von Ditmar, South African artist Tony Gum.

It was indeed an eclectic mix of individuals in attendance: former longtime Brooklyn Museum director Arnold Lehman, artists dense with Renee Cox, Derrick Adams, and Hank Willis Thomas, to name but a few, to fashion maven June Ambrose were spotted in the edgy crowd very void of art dealers.

Guests enjoyed food prepared by Top Chef winner and the Edition Hotel’s Matador Room head chef Jeremy Ford, and Chelsea Leyland was the DJ for the night.

It only got better from there. Award-winning rapper and producer EL from Ghana performed songs with unique Afrobeats. He is currently on the much-anticipated tour of none other than Miss Lauryn Hill; collaborating with Hill will no doubt expand his audience.

Needless to say, Hill hit the stage and took the intimate evening to yet another level performing a set the crowd loved; covering a few Sade and Nina Simone songs, new releases influenced by Fela Kuti, and bringing the night to a close with Fugees’ hits “Killing Me Softly” and “Ready Or Not,” and “Doo Wop (That Thing).”

It was different from the majority of Miami Basel events– while most had a commercial or corporate aspect or were for the sake of promoting a brand, this party was all about the people; being together and having a good time was a goal well achieved, the party deemed the event of the week, was the general sentiment amongst guests.

The perfect end to a hectic Art Basel Miami 2016.

Kehinde Wiley, Irina Pantenova, Shaun Ross, Dee TrannyBear and friends. Photo credit © Carly Otness, BFA

The next day, Wiley jetted back to New York to drop off two large coolers of freshly self-caught fish, not used the evening prior– before his last scheduled meeting with President Obama to discuss his recent achievements as an artist, and an American, both on the national arena and the ‘World Stage‘ (one of Wiley’s art series) and to discuss future projects yet to be announced and such as his 20,000 square foot artist’s space Black | Rock Senegal in Dakar, Senegal set to open soon. He plans to work there, and “I’m inviting international artists to engage with themselves and Africa and African artists. I’m excited about the chance to not only work with visual artists but with musicians to be able to create unique moments of interplay between African-American culture, African culture, and the broader diaspora.”

Photo Gallery:

For more info on the artist visit www.KehindeWiley.com

By Joakim von Ditmar @JoakimvonDitmar  Art advisor, art curator, writer