While there are certainly struggles in the life of any artist, New York offers support structures unimaginable to an artist in late-‘90s Panama. When the Panamanian artist and entrepreneur Miky Fabrega decided he wanted to start producing and curating his own shows (after dabbling in music, film, and media), his native land offered little support for emerging artists. There were few established artists and even fewer galleries, all of which were exclusive. "There wasn’t a scene when I started," he says. “I basically designed and created my career.”
Fabrega got into graffiti and began corresponding with Shepard Fairey, who had just begun his OBEY project. Shepard sent him a stencil, inspiring Fabrega to create a stencil of his face as a pirate and plaster it throughout Casco Viejo, the old city of Panama. “After that, a succession of very fortunate events started to roll out,” he says. By 2000, the Americans left Panama and “we, as a group of young artists and thinkers, started to question our own identity.”
That questioning eventually led Fabrega and four partners to open Diablo Rosso in Panama City, “a think-tank space and launching pad for emerging artists and designers.” As the project unfolded, more artists emerged. “A scene was created,” he says. Central America and Latin America followed. “There is really a scene now, and our presence was instrumental.” Twelve years later, Fabrega’s career as an artist has taken him across the globe, but his graffiti stencils in Casco Viejo remain untouched. Having been embraced by his native country, they remain as a tribute to Fabrega and his fellow first-generation, free and creative Panamanians.
In helping pave a path for other artists, Fabrega also established his own career, the focus of which is often identity. “My work is a reflection of myself and the struggle of my country,” he says. “My generation has witnessed the birth of a nation, and we are giving shape to it. We have been under dictatorships and invasions, but it’s a small country trying to make its way into the world. My work deals with all of those growing pains.” He has exhibited internationally, including at the Central American Biennial in El Salvador and at Dean Project in New York. He’s also featured on Grey Area with his series of Split Identity tables—bright, bold end tables with mismatched legs.
"We all choose to show a different side to the world, and those sides change from place to place and time to time," he says. "I started thinking about the identity of objects and their personality and just envisioned one of the tables." The idea came to him in a dream, and the execution of it raised the identity question yet again. "I got hold of a group of people working with wood around Casco Viejo, the old part of the city of Panama. These people have been making the same tables and chairs for decades, so they thought I was insane when I came to them with the idea. In a funny way, their identity was also questioned during the making of them."
Fabrega’s latest installation and performance, Drawing Me, Drawing you, was part of the Spring/Break Art Show during New York’s Armory Week. Over the course of five days, the artist invited visitors to draw him while he drew them. The project questioned the relationship between the viewer, the artist, and the piece itself. Check out more of Miky’s work below.