Hours after the opening of Art Basel Miami Beach, I somehow found myself being ferried on a private yacht to watch an elaborately staged production of the late Virgil Abloh’s last designs for Louis Vuitton on a floating runway at Miami Marine Stadium. With a guest list to rival the Met Gala, the pomp of a presidential inauguration, and the decadence of late imperial Rome, the evening seemed to distill the extravagant fantasy of Miami Art Week.

For nearly two decades, Miamians have become strangers in their own town during the annual festivities. In 2020, the pandemic necessitated a pared-down showcase that centered on local institutions and artists, but this year—for better or worse—the fair was back in full swing. The Miami Beach Convention Center played host to 253 galleries spread across several sections, the majority presented within the unwieldy “Galleries” section; it was in the more niche sectors—“Survey,” “Positions,” “Nova,” and “Meridians”—that I found the most thoughtfully curated booths, showing work that explored the emotional truths, stereotypes, and preconceived notions rooted in specific places.

In “Survey,” which highlights historically significant artists, Richard Saltoun presented a singular body of work from the Tanzanian-born artist Everlyn Nicodemus titled “Women in the World.” This extraordinary suite of paintings emerged from conversations with women in Denmark, Tanzania, and India as part of a three-year traveling exhibition documenting histories of trauma across distinct places and experiences. Very different formulations of place are deconstructed in the gleefully maximalist photographs of Farah Al Qasimi at Helena Anrather in the “Positions” section, which focuses on emerging artists. Capturing man-made constructions of paradise with a deadpan, tongue-in-cheek aesthetic, the artist explores how capitalism tries to sell the notion of heaven on earth and reveals it to be a cheap, tacky mirage. In the same section, Mexican artist Paloma Contreras Lomas created an immersive hand-drawn satirical American hellscape for her solo presentation with Pequod Co. Drawing on the North Florida dystopia imagined by author Jeff VanderMeer, Area X (2021) unearths the dark truths latent in sci-fi depictions of the United States.

While figuration was all-pervasive this year, there were several outstanding series by artists delving into their own lived experiences. Across Biscayne Bay at NADA Miami (organized by a collective of non-profit spaces and individuals), Calderón showed paintings from Danielle De Jesus portraying life in Bushwick, the New York neighborhood where she grew up and from which her mother was recently displaced due to the area’s rapid gentrification. The strength in these works lies in her ability to capture her neighbors with a sense of intimacy, dignity, and care. De Jesus’s works find a complement at the Rubell Museum, which shows a suite of recent paintings by Reginald O’Neal set in the historically Black neighborhood of Overtown, Miami. Drawing on personal memories both tender and traumatic, he creates moody tableaux with a dream-like quality. The best of the works on view is At the Feet of Mountains (2020), which depicts an ambiguous nocturnal scene—men gathered outside in conversation (or confrontation)—that is a masterclass in light and shadow.

At ICA Miami, Inuit artist Shuvinai Ashoona shows a dizzying array of artworks depicting Indigenous life in the Arctic. Presented in a salon-style hanging curated by Gean Moreno, her drawings and prints combine mundane, majestic, and fantastical scenes to give insight into both the Kinngait community and the artist’s imagination. Working more abstractly, Carlos Rosales-Silva presented a series of vivid, geometric paintings with Selenas Mountain exploring the blend of Mexican, Indigenous, and American artistic traditions that made up the border culture of his youth. Made from acrylic paint and materials including sand, crushed stone, glass bead, and dyed stones, the works draw on the built environment of El Paso, Texas, where the artist spent his formative years. Employing a lyrical, documentary style, Russian-born, Miami-based photographer Anastasia Samoylova showed her ongoing “FloodZone” series of photographs at HistoryMiami, created in response to the impacts of sea level rise in the Southern United States. Centered on images around her home in South Florida, the visually arresting survey unravels preconceived notions of the region while highlighting the existential threat of climate catastrophe.

While it might not have been obvious to visitors from the international art world passing through the city for a week, these are not the only changes that have recently threatened quality of life for Miami’s cultural community. In the past year South Florida has seen the highest increases in monthly rents of any region in the country, rising an average of 36 percent, which has made local housing unaffordable and caused numerous artist spaces to shutter. It is increasingly untenable to be an artist or cultural worker in this city, which makes the extravagance of Miami Art Week harder to stomach than usual. For all this, and with a resurgent pandemic making the jet-setting nomadism of art fairs feel particularly jarring, there is a curious paradox in the fact that the best work of Miami Art Week expressed the importance of belonging to a situated place, whether real or imagined.