Why Octavia Yearwood thinks art is at the center of Miami’s ‘heartbeat’


Last month, our partners at Commissioner co-hosted Libations, a multi-disciplinary, interactive art experience created by local artist and author Octavia Yearwood. Part performative, part storytelling, Libations aimed to explore why art collecting matters to artists, to Miami, and to the world as an experiential feast to kickstart Art Week.

Octavia wove together voices of local artists and collectors sharing the value of art and collecting in their experiences and in the city into an audio collage. Guests brought objects that “symbolize what it means to give” and then contributed them to a table set to honor collective experiences and community giving.

The memento-laden table featured centerpieces from Miami sculptor Morel Doucet — ceramic tea pots and cups, encrusted with sea life and resembling sunken treasures that recall our natural history and the existential threats of climate change for our city. “For me, Morel’s work has the ancestors within it. I always feel closer to my ancestors when I view his work,” Octavia said in an email interview. “Morel’s work also captures what I love and am also sometimes concerned about in regards to our world.”

We asked Octavia a little more about her work and Libations in the email interview below, which has been edited for length.

You’re a multimedia artist, author and speaker. Tell us a little about your work and your mission.

My work is always about connecting, loving and tapping into naturally embedded human empathy. The empath you knew, before you even knew yourself. My mission is to create programming and experiences that bring people back to that. It’s always intentional, whether it’s in political, educational or parental spaces, to remind people what they needed as a child.

What was the inspiration for this Libations event and installation?

All Libations are about giving or paying homage to people, places or things that have had an impact on your life. Libations for Commissioner was about highlighting the importance of the collector to the artist, and the community as an educator. Since Commissioner members are essentially learning about what it means to be a collector, I created a soundscape featuring some of my favorite collectors and curators so they can share their knowledge with them, and I asked the Commissioner collectors to meditate on the words together. The storytelling usually happens live with the storytellers at the table installation, but I approached it differently and was able to get people involved that weren’t only locals.

The installation is always fun and important to me because for me it supports the visual learner and is another way to bring people into the stories. The table has elements of the past, present, and future as it pertains to me and the other storytellers. What I did differently with this installation was to allow the Commissioner collectors add to the table — or “give Libations” — to receive their Art Basel passes. Again, it’s a physical representation of what being a collector is. If I can remind every person that comes to a Libations how important giving or sharing your story is, I’ve achieved my goal.

What inspires you about Morel’s work? Why did you want his art to be the centerpiece of the table?

For me, Morel’s work has the ancestors within it. I always feel closer to my ancestors when I view his work. Morel’s work also captures what I love and are also sometimes concerned about in regards to our world. I wanted his work to be the centerpiece of the table because his work also depicts what is generally unseen; the landscape of the sea, similar to someone’s past, their feelings, and thoughts. It just made sense to me because the context of his work embodies LIBATIONS. I chose the teacups, in particular, to symbolize what we’re pouring into one another.

What value does collecting local art bring to the Miami community?

Sustainability, of not just the artist though, to the legacy of Miami as it relates to art and community building. I believe the only way our city will continue to be a contending major city is if we grow our family. Everyone has to be OK and sustained in our house, and the best way to do that is to make sure everyone eats, especially the artist. Artistic energy in Miami is so important. The visual aspects become a bonus when you think about how a child has now been shown they can thrive in another way at home, or an adult feeling proud to be in the neighborhood they live in, or even safer because of art. When we collect local art, the Miami community heartbeat beats that much louder.

Learn more about Octavia at her website, and follow her on Instagram. Learn more about Morel Doucet at his website.

This article is presented in partnership with Commissioner, a membership community to help foster new collectors of Miami art. Learn more about Commissioner on their website.