Posted By Jonel Juste November 19, 2020 at 9:07 PM
At the center of the “The Eternal Return and The Obsidian Heart” exhibition is a life-sized carousel that circles endlessly in a performance of fantasy and delirium. (Photo courtesy of MOCA North Miami)
The Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami reopened its doors to the public with an exhibition whose title fits with the moment: “The Eternal Return and The Obsidian Heart.”
Created by Mexican-born artist Raúl de Nieves, the exhibition originally was scheduled to open in April but had to wait seven months to finally be installed in the museum. It “offers a holistic look at the ways in which Raúl de Nieves rejoins the spiritual with the material in contemporary consumer culture,” says curator Risa Puleo.
The exhibit features a 14-foot-tall by 50-foot-wide installation titled “Basilio,” representing cosmic time with its depictions of planets circling the sun. There’s also a working carousel, referencing the cyclical time of Eternal Return, or “the idea that time is composed of a limited number of events that endlessly recur in different sequences and combinations,” according to the museum.
“Raúl is a very young and very prolific artist,” says the museum’s executive director, Chana Budgazad Sheldon. “His large installations joining the spiritual with the material are quite magical.”
This cosmic representation of time in colorful configurations of planets moving around the sun is part of “The Eternal Return and The Obsidian Heart.” (Photo courtesy of MOCA North Miami)
Born in 1983 in Michoacán, Mexico, and residing today in Brooklyn, the multimedia artist, performer and musician is inspired by childhood memories, growing up in a place where public religious rituals and private devotional acts involved costumes, performances and theatrical components.
“The exhibition is the first to consider the relationship between de Nieves’ sculptural work and his solo and collaborative performances, and in doing so, it also offers a comprehensive view of the artist’s practice,” Puleo says.
Safe reopening in 2020
To welcome back the community, MOCA North Miami had to comply with safety guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The museum requires social distancing and face coverings, among other measures. It has placed signage and hand sanitizer throughout the museum and implemented enhanced cleaning and disinfection protocols.
Typically, a reception accompanies the museum’s vernissages, but not this time.
“There was nothing special, it was just about bringing the art back in the museum [and] opening our doors,” Sheldon says. “We just installed the artworks in a way everyone can socially distance and enjoy the exhibition.”
The Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami is enforcing safety guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in order to welcome back its public. (Photo courtesy of Greater Miami and the Beaches)
‘Art on the Plaza’
While closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, MOCA North Miami kept busy with an initiative known as “Art on the Plaza.”
From June 15 to Sept. 30, passersby had the opportunity to peruse a large, black-and-white photograph displayed at the museum’s outdoor plaza, accompanied by four simple words: “I Am A Man.” A work by Miami Herald photographer Carl Juste, the image showed Elmore Nickelberry, who was part of the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike of 1968, and his son, Terence, with a sign representative of those carried during the 65-day strike.
It was a powerful statement during a time of protests inspired by George Floyd, who was killed in May while being arrested by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
“It was a way for us to bring artwork safely to the public, engage in social conversation, and connect with the community,” Sheldon says. “We had a great response to having art outside.”
This new type of programming, created during the pandemic, is here to stay, Sheldon says: “It is something that we will continue early next year. We will be commissioning local artists to create temporary artwork on MOCA Plaza.”
Executive director Chana Budgazad Sheldon says the museum received positive feedback about its oudoor programming during recent closures. (Photo courtesy of Daniel Bock)
To keep in touch with the North Miami community, the museum also turned to virtual activities such as exhibitions and conversations with artists.
“We immediately pivoted to online programming, as many museums did,” Sheldon says. “Our teen, youth and family programs went virtual. That’s the way we could stay connected with the community.”
One such program, “Corporal DADE,” was a virtual exhibition exploring Miami-Dade County’s dynamic makeup. It took place from May 29 through Aug. 31, presented by interdisciplinary Miami artists including Aurora Molina, Almaz Wilson, Laura Prada, Lucia Del Sanchez, Mateo Nava, Mateo Serna Zapata, Sonia Báez-Hernández, and Susan Feliciano.
Haitian art exhibit
Up next for the North Miami museum is “Life and Spirituality in Haitian Art,” with art from Haitian painters such as Hector Hyppolite, Jacques-Enguérrand Gourgue, and Célestin Faustin. This exhibit will precede Miami Art Week.
Both this exhibit and “The Eternal Return and The Obsidian Heart” will remain on display through March 2021.
During a time like this, showcasing art is more important than ever. “Museums are able to provide a sense of community. It’s a place to reflect, especially in the time that we are in. To be part of the healing process, the transformation,” Sheldon says.
“It is wonderful to open again and welcome the community back to the museum, and to be surrounded by art again.”
The Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami, at 770 NE 125th St., is open from noon to 7 p.m. Wednesdays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. It is closed on Mondays and major holidays. Cost is $10 for general admission; $3 for students and seniors; and free for children younger than 12, MOCA members, North Miami residents, city employees and veterans. For more information, visit Mocanomi.orgor call 305-893-6211.
MDC Museum of Art and Design is back with ‘The Body Electric’
Posted By Marialexia Hernandez November 13, 2020 at 5:36 PM
Marta Minujín created “Simultaneidad en Simultaneidad” (1966), a collage of situations happening simultaneously and creating the illusion of “total participation.” (Photo courtesy of the artist)
Months before the pandemic that shut doors of institutions throughout the region and around the world, Rina Carvajal was scouting projects for Miami Dade College’s Museum of Art and Design (MOAD).
The museum’s executive director and chief curator discovered “The Body Electric,” an exhibition by The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis that is a searing commentary on the way technology has evolved and continues to change our lives.
She planned to bring the exhibit to MOAD in November, but she’d had no idea back then that it would mark the museum’s reopening after nearly eight months of closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Honestly, all this virus situation that we have gone through with the pandemic has shown more than ever how dependent we are on technology,” Carvajal says about the theme of “The Body Electric,” which runs through May 30 at the museum’s space in downtown Miami’s Freedom Tower.
Though not organized chronologically, the exhibition features influential artists beginning from the late 1950s through the present day.
“There is certainly, you can say, a canon of artists engaging with new technologies with the screen and exploring issues surrounding the body and identity,” says Pavel Pyś, curator of visual arts at the Walker Art Center, who first organized the exhibit. “How have artists engaged with that space between the analog and the digital, the real and the virtual, the place of the world and the space of the screen?”
Pre-pandemic, “The Body Electric” was displayed in its original Minneapolis home and at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Bringing it to Miami for display in the times of COVID-19 created challenges and opportunities. Both curators agreed that organizing the exhibition for Miami was more complex, robust and ambitious than it had been for previous venues.
Because of its subject matter, the exhibit was to be extremely interactive – but how to make it touch-free now?
“We wanted to do it in a way that was user-friendly,” Carvajal says. “We didn’t want to put apps or QR codes that people have to put on a phone or download an app. I did a lot of research just to figure out how we are going to do this, and we found the solution that was technologically easy for people, so people can enjoy the show.”
The solution: The team at MOAD created extended labels for most of the exhibition to help people understand why these artists are in the show and why their works are important.
In order to support audience participation without having touch points, organizers had to adapt the space and create immersive environments by investing in new technologies and working with some of the artists to adjust their masterpieces.
“The exhibition was full of single-channel videos that would [typically] be experienced on headphones,” Pyś says.
Then there was the major installation by Trisha Baga, an incredibly immersive experience titled “Mollusca & The Pelvic Floor,” which required the use of 3-D glasses.
“There were many conversations that we had among the curatorial team in terms of how we adjust the show … but also with some of the artists in terms of adjusting their work to be shown in a way that is safe, given that we are in this situation,” Pyś says.
As far as selecting the art, Pyś says he discussed Miami audiences with Carvajal and wanted to highlight a diversity of voices.
“We added works that we felt were necessary to see in Miami by artists who maybe hadn’t been seen much in this city,” he says. “So that was one of the key things. I wanted the exhibition to have a greater relevance to the community.”
With the large space inside The Freedom Tower, organizers were able to add 27 artists, some of whom were Latin American, who had not been included in previous presentations.
Additions for Miami included Marta Minujín, an Argentinian artist and pioneer of performance art, video, and soft sculpture, and Venezuelan artist Claudio Perna, who explored conceptualism through collage and photographs, among other artists.
“I think it’s relevant to Miami because there’s such a large population from Latin America living here that people will be interested in knowing what was the contribution of some of Latin American artists to this conversation,” Carvajal says.
“It’s a gigantic show. You have 50 years of history of artists interfacing with technology and showing the importance of technology in everyday life since the invention of television.”
WHAT: “The Body Electric”
WHEN: On display through May 30, 2021
WHERE: Museum of Art and Design at MDC, inside The Freedom Tower, 600 Biscayne Blvd., second floor, downtown Miami
MUSEUM ADMISSION: $12 for adults; $8 for seniors and military; $5 for students (ages 13-17) and collegestudents (with valid ID); free for MOAD members, children 12 and younger, and MDC students, faculty and staff. Purchase tickets online or in person at The Freedom Tower.
INFORMATION: Call 305-237-7700, visit mdcmoad.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Call 305-237-7710 for accessibility issues.
Commissioner, an alternative arts patronage model, begins its 3rd season
Posted By George Fishman October 29, 2020 at 5:14 PM
On Oct. 17, Commissioner collectors and alumni gathered at the Design District’s historic Moore Elastika Building for “When we open every window,” a performance, installation and artwork reveal designed by GeoVanna Gonzalez. (Photo courtesy of Andrea Lorena)
What does it take to be an art collector? One imagines well-heeled patrons swooping through galleries and art fairs, dropping big bucks on A-list trophy pieces created by celebrity artists. But how do “regular” folks – interested in acquiring art, yet intimidated by the hype and price tags – get involved?
Enter the subscription program Commissioner, an alternative patronage model that is beginning its third season of operation. It’s the brainchild of Miamians Dejha Carrington, a communications strategist for the National YoungArts Foundation, and Rebekah Monson, co-founder and COO of WhereBy.Us, a platform that helps build media businesses.
Commissioner offers a down-to-earth membership approach for people primarily attracted to learning about the art-making process and supporting the local arts ecosystem – while starting their collecting journey.
“Why would we go on [the website] Artsy and buy something from some guy in Australia or Germany or China or New York or L.A., when there’s such an incredible community here that’s your neighbor?” said Justin Clarke, a Commissioner alumnus.
Its platform harnesses the power of cooperation and pooling resources to directly commission original artwork – locally. With a roster of 153 current members and alumni, they’ve commissioned more than 400 works by some of Miami’s most talented artists – principally for young collectors.
An annual membership of $1,500 (or $500 quarterly) entitles 40 “Collectors” to a series of exclusive cultural programming and four limited-edition artworks, specifically commissioned by the curatorial team. Ten third-season Collector memberships remain on offer.
“We look for rigor in the artists’ practice. We look at what they’ve done and what they want to do, and always we want to see which artists we are very excited about,” said Carrington during a Zoom call. The curatorial team seek diversity in medium, identity and perspective – and consider an artists’ ability to create an edition of 40 pieces (plus artist proofs).
Commissioner isn’t trying to undermine the gallery system. In fact, Primary, a Little River gallery founded by Typoe Gran, Books Bischof and Cristina Gonzalez in 2007, is a curatorial partner in selecting Commissioner’s artist roster and hosts many of its events. Gran was the first artist chosen to create artwork for Commissioner’s inaugural Collector members.
GeoVanna Gonzalez created “When we open every window” as a boxed set of miniature sculptural elements that correspond to the large installation and performance she staged. (Photo courtesy of Andrea Lorena)
The pooled resources generate a financial benefit, while prioritizing relationships with the artists over the works themselves. It’s not a buyers’ club.
“The intention is to make sure that you’re connecting with the person before the object and understanding the process,” Carrington said. “We wanted the combination of being able to commission new work and to keep the group of collectors and members engaged through a program that would be happening very regularly. It’s this idea of not only figuring out the economics but also figuring out how to build community and keep the interaction both between the members and with the artists.”
Commissioner initially was funded by the Knight Arts Challenge and Locust Projects’ WaveMaker Grants. Membership fees, supplemented by corporate and organizational sponsorships, provide ongoing support.
The unveiling and delivery of the artworks is organized as a celebratory event – a reveal – open to the Collector group and a set of Patron-level participants. The artist presents the work – which the collectors see for the first time – and provides insight into the ideas, techniques and materials that underlie the collage, digital media, photograph or sculpture that was created. This dynamic, explained Carrington, “puts the artist in front of the object.”
This was exemplified in the reveal for artist A.G., at Primary on Sept. 25, 2019. As Clarke recalled, “This reveal was particularly interesting because the artist, A.G., has a real flair for theatrics. Everything was dramatic and theatrical in how he presented the piece.”
His untitled digital print on vinyl was described as “prop: newspaper with special effects blood, sweat, & tears.”
For her commissioned work, Johanne Rahaman created a set of diptychs, consisting of one photograph depicting life in her native Trinidad, paired with one from her series documenting Black communities in Florida. Titled, “You Can Never Go Home,” they encompass a wide gamut of moods, activities and personalities. Her reveal featured a photography workshop at The Center for Subtropical Affairs, during which participants used the lush locale – and each other – to create a story of the environment and the creative community they’re generating.
Commissioner also offers special program access during Art Week and regularly organizes studio tours, including at Fountainhead Residency, co-founded by Dan and Kathryn Mikesell. These are supplemented by visits to private homes, where members see how seasoned collectors research, select and live with their treasures. The Commissioner website profiles its artists through non-jargony text and a short, but cogent, video.
Johanne Rahaman created a series of 10 diptychs juxtaposing images of carnival in Miami, Goombay in Key West, and life in Trinidad. Titled, “You Can Never Go Home” (2018-2019), her photographs are windows into everyday moments that highlight entrepreneurship, beauty, sensuality, aging, mortality, youth and resilience. (Photo courtesy of the artist)
Members are encouraged to collect on their own, recruit friends and generate a ripple effect. Clarke ran with this idea, creating a monthlong pop-up gallery downtown during Art Week in 2019. “Life in Every Breath” featured the photography of his friend, Enoch Contreras.
“I really wanted to give him a platform to show the world his eye,” Clarke said. “He’s trying to tell the stories of the indigenous peoples of Bolivia and why this mountain of ice is sacred to them, and how global warming is affecting them and the mountain.”
Clarke and Contreras also published a coffee table book, which sold out.
Inevitably, the pandemic disrupted Commissioner’s program, which shifted resources from summer gatherings to commissioning a fifth artwork – a multicolor resin sculpture by Gavin Perry – and adding other special projects, such as virtual art-making workshops. Season One and Two members were allowed to renew.
During Season Three, GeoVanna Gonzalez’s Oct. 17 artwork reveal was unique and COVID-safe. The young and highly accomplished artist took her socially based practice into the Moore Elastika Building in the Miami Design District, where she orchestrated three performances in which her collaborators – all shared householders – gracefully assembled and re-assembled a set of sculptural “props” for a choreographed dance. This was accompanied by music and Gonzalez reading her poem, “When we open every window.” Inspired by the whirl of activity in and around her great-grandmother’s Los Angeles home, Gonzalez’s abstract sculptural forms evoked the furniture, open windows, steps and curb where friends and family hung out.
Each taking home a boxed edition of miniaturized forms that the artist team fabricated and painted, the Collectors were encouraged to re-invent – on tabletop scale – the physical and emotional exchanges they witnessed during the reveal. Several days later, while celebrating her just-announced Ellies Award from Oolite Arts, Gonzalez said, “Performers told me that people in the audience were tearing up from seeing the performance, so it really seems to have touched people in a particular way.”
Safety-enhanced studio, gallery and private collection tours are scheduled for November and beyond. For more information, visit Commissioner.us.
ICA Miami presents ‘Tomás Esson: The GOAT’ exhibition through May 2021
Posted By Rebekah Lanae Lengel October 28, 2020 at 7:06 PM
The exhibition, “Tomás Esson: The GOAT,” is on display at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami through May 2, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Zachary Balber)
“Tomás Esson: The GOAT,” the latest installation at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, is the Cuban painter’s first-ever solo museum presentation.
Throughout three decades, Esson’s work has been called grotesque and challenging, and has been censored, with exhibitions being shut down in his native country. Since moving to the United States in 1990, Esson has lived between Miami and New York, and he has pieces in the permanent collections at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City; Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego; and Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst, Aachen, Germany, among others.
The opportunity to support Esson with a solo exhibition at this transformational juncture in his career resonated with ICA Artistic Director Alex Gartenfeld.
“Tomás is such an important artist who has been based in Miami on and off for almost 30 years. It’s so crucial to our mission to be able to support not just international artists but artists living and working in Miami who are making a profound impact on the international scene – and Tomás is a great example of that,” he said.
“Tomás’ work is provocative and it has a history that is closely related to censorship, and so this is the time to kind of reckon with the ideas that are central to his work,” Gartenfeld added. “Tomás’ work has been consistently critical of the political regime in Cuba and has done so by employing revolutionary iconography, as well as very provocative imagery relating to mythology and sexuality.”
Set in three rooms, the exhibition allows the viewer to trace the trajectory of Esson’s work – something Gartenfeld says highlights the depths of his artistry.
The exhibition, which will remain on display through May 2021, features never-before-seen pieces and highlights different periods of Tomás Esson’s life. (Photo courtesy of Zachary Balber)
“Over the course of three decades, you see him moving from figurative mythological to a hybrid style to an almost completely abstract style, and just the consistency and steadiness of Tomás’ development, I think in this exhibition, is really striking.”
The exhibition, which will remain on display through May 2021, features never-before-seen pieces and highlights different periods of his life, including his early career with works such as “The Retrato (Portrait) Series” and his “Wet Painting” series. It also features a monumental, 100-foot-wide wall painting done by Esson in black and white, with mythical and malformed figures that are signature to his work.
“There are new works which are site-specific and responsive installations,” Gartenfeld said. “One of the wall paintings are drawings on paper which are assembled into a mosaic-like wallpaper using some of his very humorous, very kind of sexual iconic imagery from the late ’80s and early ’90s and turning them into an immersive installation.”
ICA Miami is also creating a catalog to accompany the exhibition, due in the spring, which will offer a significant contribution to
the scholarship of Esson’s work through a critical exploration of his oeuvre.
Added Gartenfeld: “I’m hoping that people take a sense of what kind of incredible artistic practice is happening here in Miami, and a sense of how painting can be political, critical, humorous and sexual at the same time and teach us new things about ourselves and our society.”
ICA Miami reopened in September. The museum has implemented new cleaning procedures and polices to ensure the safety of visitors. In addition to requiring advanced timed tickets for entry, attendees are limited to one hour in the museum and are required to wear facial coverings while inside or in the sculpture garden. Visit Icamiami.org for more details.
WHAT: ICA Miami presents “Tomás Esson: The GOAT”
WHEN: Through May 2, 2021
WHERE: Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, 61 NE 41st St.
COST: Admission is free, but visitors must reserve timed tickets in advance
$1 million Miami Beach relief fund helps arts groups look to the future
Posted By Michelle F. Solomon September 17, 2020 at 4:00 PM
The Rhythm Foundation offered a Fete de la Musique livestream performance in June 2020. (Photo courtesy of The Rhythm Foundation)
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber sees cultural institutions as vital to the heart and soul of his city.
“We believe that the best version of the city is as an art-and-culture destination,” he said. “And if we don’t have a vibrant arts community, that version becomes less attainable.”
In an effort to help keep one of the city’s most valuable assets viable, the mayor and City Commission – in partnership with the Miami Beach Cultural Arts Council – approved distribution of $1 million in funds to 13 arts groups. What came out of that funding has exceeded the original intent: The COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund that was intended to help Miami Beach arts organizations stay afloat during the pandemic has ended up giving them a nudge into the future, forcing them to look ahead to a post-pandemic world and consider what can keep them relevant and a significant part of the community.
It happened almost organically, with the money and the downtime of the past months combining to help groups explore beyond what they had been doing for so long.
“We had to put on our thinking caps on how we could continue our mission, which is to promote, preserve and protect, but how to do it in this new era?” says Daniel Ciraldo, executive director of the Miami Design Preservation League, one of the beneficiary groups. “What the funding did was allow us to continue, but to pivot toward digital, which makes us resilient in the future.”
The Miami Design Preservation League’s walking tour app had been in the works, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made it even more essential. (Photo courtesy of MDPL)
In addition to the preservation league, the other recipients included: The Wolfsonian-Florida International University; The Bass Museum of Art; The Rhythm Foundation; Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach; Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU; O, Miami; Miami Beach Botanical Garden; Miami Beach Urban Studios-FIU; Miami City Ballet; Miami New Drama at the Colony Theatre; New World Symphony; and O Cinema South Beach.
Before the pandemic, the preservation league had wanted to develop an app to guide visitors on its Art Deco walking tour. Thanks to the grant from the city, the project went full steam ahead and the app is now live.
The organization also has been digitizing its historical archives, including photographs from the time of The Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 and beach fashions from the 1940s. “So much of it was in storage,” Ciraldo said.
This image in the Miami Design Preservation League’s online archives features high-dive champion Tony Zukas at the pool at Roney Plaza. (Photo courtesy of MDPL)
The archives aren’t only great for the future, he said, “but great for right now, [for] people who want to learn about the preservation movement but right now don’t feel comfortable visiting in person.”
Meanwhile for The Bass museum, which reopened its doors Sept. 16, this has been “the moment to experiment,” said executive director Silvia Karman Cubiñá.
“The money helped us keep the staff on and helped us to look at new ways of conceiving what a museum could be – not just in a logistical approach but philosophically, too,” she said.
Adopting new technology to help make The Bass more relevant had been on the bucket list, Cubiñá said, but those tasks were always put on hold for varied reasons.
While The Bass has as its mission to be a steward for art in Miami Beach’s public places, the pandemic and the funding from the city led to planning of a more cohesive outdoor project: the Art Outside program. Designed to bring public art directly to the people, outside of the confines of a museum building, works are being created specifically for the program. These include an outdoor banner display by Karen Rifas that was installed during the summer in partnership with Oolite Arts and a mural that is being created by Arturo Herrera.
Works come together in context, according to Cubiñá. The art spread throughout the city, including along Washington Avenue, Lincoln Road, and the Miami Beach Boardwalk, is meant to be a curated outdoor exhibit – with the route beginning and ending at The Bass. The idea is to offer a re-envisioned museum experience that meets visitors where they are, which right now, in many cases, is outside, Cubiñá said. That’s in addition to the museum offering some of its public programs on a digital platform.
“We rejuggled every job description to see how we could service our members through digital,” she said.
For The Rhythm Foundation, which was tapped by the city to manage the North Beach Bandshell in 2015, the challenge was: How do you keep an arts organization going when your existence is built around live performers and an audience sitting close together in an almost 1,400-seat oceanfront amphitheater?
Director James Quinlan said they did the “pandemic pivot” – streaming performances that are presented live at the bandshell but without an audience.
“The grant allowed us to continue doing what we do by having virtual programming on a live stage,” said Quinlan.
The grant also helped the foundation invest in multiplecameras and high-tech sound equipment, which has in turn expanded business for the city’s bandshell and its offerings.
“Groups are now coming to us because of our capabilities. We have more organizations performing in this venue than ever before,” said Quinlan. “We have an entire fall season of virtual programs that are our own, but we’re also working with other cultural organizations to have a diverse range of deep cultural offerings.”
Karen Rifas’ “Hang in There” (2020) features 32 vinyl banners hanging throughout the city, as part of The Bass museum’s Art Outside public exhibition project. (Photo courtesy of Zaire Kacz)
Deputy director Benton Galgay said the relief funds have helped with practical expenses, too. For example, when the green light is given for the live venue to open to the public again, the foundation will be able to get ready at a moment’s notice, with additional signage needed to safely usher in audiences and other security measures.
“We now have the ability to change gears to go from a virtual space to a live space and welcome in members of the public safely,” said Galgay, though he added that producers plan to also keep livestreaming events even post-pandemic.
In establishing the relief fund, 16 organizations were chosen as “cultural anchors,” defined by the city as “institutions physically based in the city of Miami Beach, whose primary mission is year-round artistic and cultural programming that contributes significantly to the cultural life of the City of Miami Beach,” according to Brandi Reddick, the city’s cultural affairs manager.
Of those 16 organizations, 13 applied and received the grant.
The grant amount was based on each organization’s annual budget. Those with budgets below $750,000 could apply for up to $50,000 in grant money; those with $750,000 to $3.5 million could receive up to $75,000; and for those above $3.5 million the threshold was $100,000.
There are plans to launch the second Miami Beach Cultural Arts COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund in the upcoming fiscal year – with an additional $1 million coming from an emergency reserve fund that was established in 1998.
“I can’t imagine that this isn’t an emergency,” Gelber said. “We’re using it for exactly what it was set up for.”
That second fund disbursement will be assessed by the cultural arts council beginning in October. According to Reddick, the council has not yet finalized the criteria. When it does, guidelines and application instructions will be available at Mbartsandculture.org.
Two Locust Projects exhibitions tackle themes of home, migration
Posted By Rebekah Lanae Lengel September 8, 2020 at 7:36 PM
A still from Juana Valdes’ “Rest Ashore” at Locust Projects. (Photo courtesy of Locust Projects)
Miami’s Locust Projects presents two new exhibitions this month, both exploring themes of home, migration and sense of place and community.
Juana Valdes’ “Rest Ashore” and Raúl Romero’s “Onomonopoetics of a Puerto Rican Landscape” will be available from Sept. 12 to Oct. 24 at the nonprofit exhibition space at 3852 N. Miami Ave. The space is open by appointment only, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays.
“Both are dealing with the migrant experience and immigrant experience. Both really give us a moment for pause and reflection,” says Locust Projects’ executive director Lorie Mertes. “There’s a lot of divisiveness and a lot of conversation about immigration, and there are various sides of the conversation, but both of the shows bring a real sense empathy for that person in that journey that someone takes when they make the decision to seek a better life.”
Valdes’ “Rest Ashore” is an immersive video installation, which represents a departure from her traditional arts media of ceramic work, sculptures and printmaking. Viewers are invited to explore different waves of the Cuban migration, from the exodus of the 1950s to the “balseros” (rafters) of the 1990s.
For Valdes, who emigrated from Cuba to Miami in 1971, this was a deeply personal exploration.
“I’m almost reliving my past, but from a completely different perspective, so it’s been interesting,” she shares from her studio in Amherst, Mass., where she is an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “I knew that this show was a way to talk not just about my experience but the Cuban experience in these waves of migration, and the ways they have shaped Miami. It’s about how you welcome people, how policy impacts the well-being of futures and communities.”
The exhibition – which makes use of archival footage as well as new imagery – welcomes visitors into a space bedecked with stacks of old cathode-ray television sets. From there, they work their way through the exhibition, to scenes projected on sails showing ocean waves and shores strewn with luggage and clothing, evoking scenes reminiscent of not only Cuban immigration, but of immigration from all over the world.
“My work really uses metaphor a lot. It’s always used a lot of visual imagery to compile information, through icons or objects, or just the way things interact with one another,” Valdes explains. “I feel like in the past, I have really managed to compress that into objects and not moving forms, but I felt that for this investigation, into the impact of migration and refugees, that I needed a medium that would be able to tell a story in a way that I thought would be more compelling – and video and the moving image had the ability to do that.
“Once I started to work on the filming and bring out all the ideas, I knew it was the right medium to be able to convey the kind of trauma and loss that I felt I wanted to put forth.”
Raúl Romero works on his cargo-bike/sound transmission mobile station for his project at Locust Projects. (Photo courtesy of the artist)
Romero’s “Onomonopoetics of a Puerto Rican Landscape” – presented as part of Locust Projects’ public art initiative “Art on the Move” – is another immersive experience, though this one is auditory.
Using a cargo bike, Romero has created a mobile sound transmission station that will broadcast his field recordings of the coquí frog – representative of his native Puerto Rico. He and other performers will drive around Miami, but for those who don’t catch the cargo bike on its journey throughout the city, viewers can hear the sound of the coquí through motion-activated sensors along Locust Projects’ North Miami Avenue exterior.
The idea is to explore how sound can evoke memory and a sense of place for Miami’s immigrant communities.
“The distinct sound will be transmitted alongside the everyday urban sounds onsite at Locust Projects and throughout Miami, creating an augmented soundscape,” according to a Locust Projects statement.
Today, Romero lives in Philadelphia, but the second-generation Puerto Rican immigrant grew up in Florida. He explains how his exploration of sound works to connect people through memories and shared experiences.
“Most of these things start with questioning, looking at identity, and thinking about culture and certain values,” he says. “Here is something, specifically, this sound, and it has all of these other representations. What does that mean to other people, and how do they connect back?”
In developing the project, Romero says he took inspiration from Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory and the beaming of transmissions into outer space, putting it on a more terrestrial plane.
“I’m taking the idea and that imagery of using a satellite dish, and thinking of the sounds of the coquí as a way where it is a transmission of culture, so from the sounds of the coquí, our culture is being sent out,” he says. “There is this idea that we are constantly searching, and looking out to create this sense of communication and connection, and this does that, reminding somebody of a place through a sound and a memory.”
People will also be invited to share their own experiences and stories of the coquí, or the native and iconic sounds from their own lives. To contribute sounds, leave a direct voicemail at 305-699-4233 or send a recording to Miami@coquicalls.com. Running concurrently to an exhibition in Philadelphia, these sounds will become part of an online archive of sounds and stories.
What: Locust Projects presents Juana Valdes’ “Rest Ashore” and Raúl Romero’s “Onomonopoetics of a Puerto Rican Landscape”
When: From Sept. 12-Oct. 24; by appointment only from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays
Where: Locust Projects, 3852 N. Miami Ave., Miami
For more information: Call 305-576-8570, email email@example.com or visit Locustprojects.org
Oolite Arts: New acquisitions program, new home, new virtual offerings
Posted By George Fishman August 24, 2020 at 8:01 PM
Oolite Arts CEO Dennis Scholl and artist Diego Gutierrez in his studio at Oolite Arts. (Photo courtesy of Christina Mendinghall)
About five years ago, Oolite Arts’ board chairwoman Kim Kovel visited the Cranbrook art center in Michigan. While touring the art museum’s collection of works created by students – many of whom became renowned as alumni – Kovel had a revelation that percolated over several years.
“She came to me six or eight months ago and said, ‘How would you feel about having an Oolite art collection?’” said Dennis Scholl, Oolite’s CEO and president, in a recent interview.
The idea: To acquire and display the works of Oolite’s artists-in-residence and alumni.
Scholl loved it and suggested that after a few years of exhibition in Oolite’s new facility – currently in the planning stages – the works be gifted to museums, chosen to best support each artist’s developing career. Scholl and wife Debra, renowned collectors who also initiate traveling exhibitions and make major gifts, have strong connections to many museums.
Scholl and Kovel agreed it was a very good, virtuous circle. With an approved budget and a long list of candidates, the Oolite Arts Acquisitions Program was born.
A committee, led by board members Lin Lougheed and Marie Elena Angulo, selected works by seven current and recent Oolite studio residents and presented these to the full board.
“We originally were going to only take one or two,” Kovel said. “But in the end, we decided to take all of the recommendations, just because of the times and the need in the community.”
Additional funds were promptly budgeted, totaling $46,000, Scholl said. The acquisitions include two commissioned pieces – a baroque-style interior charcoal drawing by Gonzalo Fuenmayor, and a vividly painted, expressionistic masked portrait of a young man wearing a bandana by Michael Vasquez. Both are improvisations based on prior works, expanded in scale.
Michael Vasquez’s work in progress is not yet titled; acrylic, acrylic spray paint, acrylic paint markers on canvas; 40 x 30 inches. (Photo courtesy of the artist)
“These are artists who are working at the top of their game and in our community among the best,” Scholl said.
In phone interviews and transcribed excerpts from recent videos, the artists commented on their works.
“I’m really interested in showing the process that goes along with making the painting, and so I’d like to leave things really dirty and gritty. I don’t like to have a refined finished product. I don’t see it like that. For me, it’s more capturing an energy.”
“It’s a Victorian-style room used as a storage space for Hollywood-style letters, spelling out ‘BANANAS.’ When I came to the U.S. [from Colombia], I was making work with bananas as a way to exoticize myself, coming from a ‘banana republic,’ and bananas became a vehicle to explore my identity, power dynamics, immigration, luxury, labor.”
“The [Malcolm X] text and phrasing are re-phrased as a ‘we’ statement and layered on and about impressions of flowers and leaves — the botanical and natural. The rest is art, so the artwork is my layering of those things together as an offering, a kind of reminder, a marker – hoping the viewer goes there.”
Adler Guerrier’s “Untitled (We will join Malcolm) IV,” 2017; solvent transfer, graphite ink, colored pencil, collage, and enamel paint on paper; 30 x 22-1/4 inches. (Photo courtesy of the artist)
“Partially revealed elements are essential components in my work. This veiling alludes to protection – preservation as a way of cloaking historical elements previously distorted by external forces. Both the Oolite purchase and the piece currently on exhibition endeavor to protect their coded meanings, otherwise skewed by commercial fabric production.”
– Yanira Collado, both pieces she cites in the quote are known as “Untitled”
“We live in an irrational, absurd and surreal time. I am building improbable structures, which would collapse in the real world, but let me dream, believe in and explore on paper. These works, more so than ever, reflect the ever-tenuous relationship to what we believe we know and reality. It’s a delicate balance.”
Anastasia Samoylova’s “Miami River,” 2018; archival pigment print; 40 x 50 inches. (Photo courtesy of the artist)
“[In Miami Beach], it’s like I don’t have to invent light anymore. It already exists here, and it reflects off of the multitude of shiny surfaces. It is sort of this jungle, but it’s so unnatural already, and so there’s plenty of artifice for me to work with that I’m absolutely fascinated.”
“I’m most recognized for my figurative paintings and portraiture that explore identity, pride, place, and belonging. With this new commission, I am acknowledging the current moment of social progress and the health crisis, and creating an image that’s imbued with a sense of resilience and a will to overcome.”
In selecting next year’s acquisitions, the board plans to adopt a more formal jurying process.
Kovel, who also heads her family’s antiques publishing business and has a background in finance, said Oolite administers an endowment of about $95 million – primarily from the 2014 sale of a Lincoln Road property. That bounty still requires judicious management to maintain a positive balance sheet, particularly with commitments such as the annual Ellies artist awards and its new $30 million building project.
Karen Rifas’ “1225,” 2017; acrylic on Arches Hot Pressed 140 lb. watercolor paper; 45 x 45 inches. (Photo courtesy of the artist)
“Helping artists help themselves” is the oft-quoted motto from later founder Ellie Schneiderman. Oolite Arts, once known as the South Florida Art Center, offers an array of services – with a particular focus on residents and alumni (more than 1,000 since 1984). Scholl calls it “a 360-degree holistic support system, with a place and opportunity for every artist in the county.”
Among the benefits afforded Oolite residents and alumni is the chance to exhibit alongside nationally and internationally celebrated artists “in the same show with equal dignity,” said Scholl. “That’s the best thing you can do for an artist. Every year, artists are given two or three such opportunities.”
As an organization intimately connected to working artists, Oolite quickly responded to the economic pain induced by the pandemic with an emergency relief fund, offering grants of up to $500 to artists who demonstrated need. Initial seed money was supplemented by individual and institutional contributions and, to date, about $200,000 have been awarded to 464 Miami-Dade County artists. Moreover, no staffers were laid off or had hours cut, Scholl said.
Despite the pandemic, planning for Oolite’s new mainland home – at 75 NW 72nd St. – continues relatively unimpeded. Scholl expects the schematics from Spanish architectural firm Barozzi Veiga to be made public this fall, with an anticipated buildout by spring 2023.
“I’ve got really the dream team in terms of the facilities committee helping us and guiding us,” said Scholl, praising Oolite board members with architecture and development expertise.
In addition to more education facilities and 22 studios, “it’s going to have a theater, a significant exhibitions space, a makers’ space where people can come in and use very interesting tools – CNC routers and things like that. So we’re going to be a lot of different things,” Scholl said.
Complementing these expanded facilities, there will be scholarships and outreach available to open opportunities for residents of the Little Haiti/Little River community.
Already, before the COVID-19 pandemic, Oolite’s Video Art Club engaged middle-school students at nearby St. Mary’s Cathedral School. “We bring in some of the best filmmakers in our community and invite them to make a film,” Scholl said. The students develop the story, design the sets, even use green screen for special effects.
While the new facility is intended to pull Oolite’s audiences to its mainland neighborhood, Kovel and Scholl both said that retention or sale of Oolite’s second Lincoln Road property is one decision they’ll make only when the new dynamics can be assessed. Considering these turbulent times, that’s an uncertainty they can live with.
Following Centers for Disease Control guidelines, Oolite’s facilities remain closed, but staff and board regularly meet via Zoom sessions. Programming has also adapted to virtual platforms, as a range of film screenings and commissions, curatorial talks, professional development workshops, and hands-on classes are offered – currently at no charge to participants. Meanwhile, instructors are paid.
“Idioms and Taxonomies,” curated by Laura Marsh, is the current exhibition, featuring 16 Oolite artists-in-residence whose work encompasses diverse two- and three-dimensional mediums and timely themes. Absent physical access to the facility, a seven-minute video tour provides an intimate virtual walk-through, suggesting the tactile qualities of high-touch work, but also advanced digital media. View the current exhibition by going to Oolitearts.org/exhibition/idioms-and-taxonomies.
Miami writer tells pandemic story in ‘The Decameron Project’
Posted By Michelle F. Solomon August 19, 2020 at 3:44 PM
Miami’s Edwidge Danticat was one of 29 authors asked to contribute to The New York Times Magazine’s “The Decameron Project.” (Photo courtesy of Lynn Savarese)
“I’m thinking of a Joan Didion quote,” Miami writer Edwidge Danticat says. “‘We tell ourselves stories in order to live. ‘”
The National Book Award finalist and 2009 MacArthur Fellow believes stories are “how we make sense of what’s happening around us.”
That was the thinking behind The New York Times Magazine’s “The Decameron Project” issue, which was published July 12. The issue marked the first time – in the magazine’s more than 100-year history – that its pages were devoted entirely to works of new fiction. The coverline of the issue: “When reality is surreal, only fiction can make sense of it.”
Danticat was one of 29 authors (and one of two from Miami) tapped to write a short story for the magazine’s project, a 21st century pandemic bookend of sorts to Giovanni Boccaccio’s almost 700-year-old “The Decameron,” which was written in the midst of a global epidemic of bubonic plague that hit Europe and Asia. The book that inspired the project consists of “100 tales processing fear and grief caused by the Black Death of the 14th century,” according to a statement by the magazine’s creative director, Gail Bichler. In the current project, “against the backdrop of the coronavirus, writers from around the world tell stories that help us unpack and understand this moment.”
Among those recently using “The Decameron” and “The Decameron Project” to understand this moment were members of a University of Miami book club.
The group, created through UM’s Center for the Humanities, decided to tackle both works during its July and August virtual gatherings. They discussed the collection of novellas in which Boccaccio sends 10 wealthy Florentines, three men and seven women, fleeing to the countryside to escape the Black Death. There, they pass their time in quarantine by telling 10 stories per day over the course of 10 days.
The University of Miami’s Center for the Humanities Virtual Book Club discusses “The Decameron Project” on Aug. 13, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Meghan Homer)
“‘The Decameron’ is one of the literary masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance,” says Megan Homer, assistant director UM’s Center for the Humanities. “The introductory framework provides an unusually vivid picture of the impact of a premodern pandemic, which we thought would be of interest, given the present COVID-19 pandemic.”
The 2020 pandemic has certainly upended daily life, but what struck Danticat was the age-old ritual of how we mourn and how it has been, as she says, “irreparably altered.”
“I knew when they asked me, I wanted to write about that,” Danticat says.
At the time, Danticat says, she was “sitting in my home in Little Haiti like everyone else, so it was a good time.” Ordinarily, she’d be out making the rounds, speaking or promoting a book – most likely it would now have been a book tour to promote the paperback release of her hardcover book, “Everything Inside.” Published in 2019, it’s a collection of stories set in locales from Miami to Port-au-Prince and beyond, and is the recipient of numerous book awards.
She found the notion of writing fiction – creating characters in the moment when a true-life event was happening – intriguing.
“Fiction takes a lot longer to write than news commentaries, for instance. It takes a while to process an event enough to create characters around it,” Danticat says.
She admits she was torn about contributing a serious piece: “What I knew about ‘The Decameron’ was that many of the stories were raunchy or love stories, and there was a debate inside of me if I should write something that was lighter to try to help people forget the moment.”
But she couldn’t stop thinking about the isolation of a person dying alone and the loneliness of their loved ones: “I wanted to write about characters that captured this moment. One of them was the situation of people having to be in a hospital alone, of not being able to have a loved one hold your hand when you are suffering – from the intake process to the time people die, and the period of time where they never see their loved ones again.
“That distance of people dying alone was very jolting to me,” she adds.
Her short piece, “One Thing,” is about a high school science teacher named Ray and his wife Marie-Jeanne. The story follows them from the time that Marie-Jeanne drops her husband off at the emergency admission section at a New York hospital.
“Two people in what looked like spacesuits had wheeled him inside. He could still breathe on his own then.”
The writer paints the picture of Ray wearing a face covering, and of Marie-Jeanne back at home and wondering where her husband is in the hospital, which floor, which room.
“The night nurse wouldn’t say, perhaps so she and others don’t storm the building and rush to those floors to hold their loved ones’ hands.”
There is symbolism as husband and wife connect over the phone, still dreaming of their summer plans of visiting caves in the south of Haiti, a trip financed by family and friends through the couple’s recent wedding registry.
“Returning to Haiti for that trip was a dream that they had. For me, there is so much symbolism in that cave, and it’s a cave that I really love, where I go so often when I am in Haiti,” says Danticat, who connected that “to where we are today in the midst of COVID-19. Caves are our oldest homes, where they found the oldest writing and the oldest pictures. The notion of a cave birthing us all.”
The other Miami writer who took part in “The Decameron Project” is Karen Russell, who contributed a piece titled, “Line 19 Woodstock/Glisan.” Her short story is about a public transit bus driver, Valerie, who works the night shift and calls her riders “The Last Bus Club.”
“Covid had shifted the Last Bus Club’s demographics – now a majority of her riders were people for whom ‘state of emergency’ was a chronic condition.”
There’s mention of a Ziploc bag given to Valerie by the transit company, bearing only a single paper mask and eight Clorox wipes, and of another bus driver who had put up a Dollar Tree shower curtain to protect himself but was ordered to take it down.
“It’s fascinating to see how consistently we turn to storytelling as a way to process our experiences,” says UM’s Homer. “I think the potential for literature to have an impact is perhaps especially significant in our present circumstances.”
Thinking back to the original “Decameron,” Danticat ponders “The Decameron Project” withstanding the test of time.
“It will be interesting to look back at these works perhaps in 20 years, because I feel like the kind of fiction you write now will have to be judged in hindsight. You will have to look back and say, ‘Oh, this was just a sliver of this moment.’ Who knows where we will be? Will face masks be a daily part of our existence, for instance?” she says. “Writing fiction in the middle of that uncertainty, well, it’s like an open-ended ending.”
The New York Times is scheduled to release a hardcover edition of “The Decameron Project” on Nov. 10, 2020. Published by Simon and Schuster, the book will include all 29 stories featured in the magazine and be available for $25 online and in store booksellers.
Little Haiti Cultural Complex: The center of artistic life in historic Miami neighborhood
Posted By Jonel Juste August 17, 2020 at 5:07 PM
The Caribbean Marketplace, also called “Mache Ayisyen,” or Haitian market, is a landmark building modeled after Port-au-Prince’s famous Iron Market. (Photo courtesy of LHCC)
You know you’ve reached Little Haiti when you see the bright-yellow facade of the impressive, gingerbread-style Caribbean Marketplace building at the corner of Northeast Second Avenue and 59th Terrace.
The Marketplace is part of the Little Haiti Cultural Complex, the center of artistic life in this historic Miami neighborhood. Typically a vibrant and energetic space, it is a place to experience Haitian culture, art, language and cuisine – where people meet and mingle while enjoying concerts, shows and other events.
Though live activities are at a standstill due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the space continues to serve the community – as a spot where city staffers can conduct outreach such as food distributions, says Sandy Dorsainvil, manager of the complex.
The Little Haiti Cultural Complex boasts this mural by accomplished Haitian artist Ralph Allen. (Photo courtesy of Zyscovich Architects)
“People can have a virtual tour of our current art exhibit,” Dorsainvil says. “A virtual tour of Little Haiti is also offered, and we are looking to … host live online concerts.”
The complex was the brainchild of the late Miami Commissioner Arthur E. Teele, “who had the vision of creating a cultural haven in Little Haiti,” she says. It opened in 2006 with a theater, art gallery, courtyard and the Caribbean Marketplace.
Also called “Mache Ayisyen,” or Haitian market, the marketplace is a landmark building modeled after Port-au-Prince’s famous Iron Market. In pre-pandemic times, the marketplace was mostly busy on Saturdays, when it hosted vendors selling Caribbean food, fashions, arts and crafts, while live music played in the background.
“The community was happy to have a place dedicated to its culture and the preservation of its art forms,” Dorsainvil says.
Exhibits, theater, dance & more
The LHCC has several programs that promote Haitian culture in Miami. From art exhibits to live concerts to dance rehearsals, there has always been something happening at the complex.
The 2,150 square feet gallery – with its open space, climate control and museum-quality lighting – facilitates up to seven professionally curated art exhibits per year.
“Our more popular exhibits happen during Haitian Heritage Month [in May] and during Art Basel [in December],” says Dorsainvil, who is an expert at creating programs and events that capture the artistic contributions of the people of the African Diaspora in a way that appeals to the global community.
The LHCC opened in 2006 with this courtyard, as well as a theater. (Photo courtesy of LHCC)
The LHCC is the site of dance practice for groups such as Delou Africa, Tradisyon Lakou Lakay, and Nancy St Leger NSL Danse Ensemble; and it offers traditional drums and horns classes by well-known Haitian street music band Rara-Lakay Nurednet. There are also art and language classes (Creole and French).
“Little Haiti Cultural Complex is a second home to me. It’s a meeting place for the Haitian community,” says dance instructor Nancy St. Leger, who since the pandemic teaches her classes online.
The complex’s Proscenium Theatre has 300 auditorium-style seats with six wheelchair-accessible spaces, two balconies with an additional 40 seats, a 1,370-square-foot stage, and a state-of-the-art control booth. Recent events held in the theater include February’s Haitian American Community Agenda Conference 2020, which united community members, organizations and leaders to create strategies for the advancement of South Florida’s Haitian-American community.
“Several local and national organizations hold annual events there,” Dorsainvil says. “Several Haitian presidents met the Haitian-American community in the Proscenium.”
Little Haiti on the map
In fact, the complex long has attracted Haitian dignitaries and other high-profile figures in the political and entertainment industries. Then-Vice President (and current presidential candidate) Joe Biden visited to discuss the situation in Haiti following the earthquake that hit the island nation in January 2010. President Donald Trump also visited Little Haiti in September 2016 and stopped by the Marketplace as part of his campaign run.
Inside the Caribbean Marketplace. (Photo courtesy of LHCC)
Actress Gabrielle Union had a photoshoot here in June for her New York & Co. clothing line; and famed artists such as Rihanna and DJ Khaled have shot music videos amid the complex’s exuberant murals. Grammy Award-winning musician Wyclef Jean, considered a pride of Haiti, has performed at the complex multiple times.
Annually, the complex sees more than 100,000 visitors, according to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau website, Miamiandbeaches.com.
“We can definitely say that this center put Little Haiti on the map,” Dorsainvil says. “This facility gives tourists a reason to come in the community.”
Adds St. Leger: “Some people drive all the way from West Palm Beach to come to the cultural center … The complex changed the face of the historic Haitian neighborhood. It removed some misconceptions about the area. Now people know it’s a safe place to enjoy art, music and Haitian culture.”
In Miami Corona Project, artist Xavier Cortada creates daily journal of city’s plague year
Posted By Elisa Turner August 12, 2020 at 7:09 PM
Xavier Cortada’s daily journal entries are titled, “Miami Pronouncement,” and they record the number of deaths that day – grim snapshots of an unfolding history. This one is “Miami Pronouncement (July 31, 2020): 96 Dead.” (Photo courtesy of Xavier Cortada)
In a video posted on his Miami Corona Project, artist and University of Miami professor Xavier Cortada draws one corpse after another on lined paper. They are lumpy stick figures, achingly childlike and blunt. Their heads and feet are doodled knobs.
As he draws, you hear the whispery sounds of his pencil brushing back and forth on the paper. The sounds could be fading gasps for air. Cortada is making a journal entry for July 30, 2020. There were 60 Coronavirus-related deaths reported in Miami-Dade County that day.
Although the short video may be hard if not tedious to watch, it is an insistent, even meditative, testament to the devastating crisis we are experiencing.
“We have yet to see 100 people die in a day, but that is coming,” Cortada said in a recent interview. “When I created this project, I wanted to mark this moment in history. I wanted to document what was happening in Miami and create a place, just like I did with my other social practice projects, where the community could come together to mourn, to learn, and to express themselves.”
For years, Cortada has created socially engaged, collaborative art. Miami Corona Project is very much consistent with his activist, community-based practice.
Cortada attended International AIDS conferences in Switzerland and South Africa in 1998 and 2000, respectively, to create collaborative murals with conference participants. More recently, Cortada has created numerous community art projects to promote awareness of Miami’s vulnerability to rising seas and climate change.
“I understand how people can be in denial about sea-level rise,” he said. “They can also be in denial about this particular virus and the pandemic in general.”
Cortada aims to show connections between climate change and the pandemic. “Our climate emergency exacerbates the pandemic,” he said.
“Miami Pronouncement (July 14, 2020): 32 Dead,” by Xavier Cortada, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Xavier Cortada)
Rising temperatures make it more likely that other diseases can come to Miami, he added, “whether it’s through mosquitoes or animal transmissions.”
For the Miami Corona Project, available at Cortadaprojects.org/projects/corona, Cortada has been creating a daily journal of Miami’s plague year in 2020. The project may well extend into 2021.
“I’m committed to doing this every single day until there’s a vaccine,” he said, “or until there’s some natural organic way that tells me it’s OK to stop.”
Since beginning the project on March 13, he has invited the community to join with him by searching the site for information and solace. It is presented in conjunction with the University of Miami’s COVID-19 Rapid Response effort.
Cortada’s online platform is composed of three main sections.
His daily journal entries in the section titled, “Miami Pronouncement,” record the number of deaths that day – grim snapshots of an unfolding history. These entries began on March 27, when the first death in Miami-Dade County was reported. Israel Carrera, 40, died of COVID-19 on March 26.
“I did not want us to forget them,” he said of those who have died. “I did not want their loss to be in vain.”
A “Conversations” section presents his talks with local leaders about the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and asks for messages of hope. They discuss how some are dealing or not dealing with the global catastrophe as it hits home.
The interactive section titled “Share Your Voice” is exactly what it says, a place where community members can write about their experiences in dealing with loneliness, grief, anger, frustration and unemployment brought on by the virus. One comment simply pummels the site with words including “isolation, alone, stressed, rage, reset.”
Other snippets, or voices, from the section:
“Coronavirus has impacted my daily … life and has made me fear for my life every time I walk out the door.”
“It’s helped me focus on what matters most. Family, friends, food, nature. I don’t plan to go back to the old normal. I realize I am blessed to have everything I need. My heart breaks for the many who do not.”
“Coronavirus, moreso than anything, has been mentally exhausting. I feel as though it’s illuminated parts of our culture that have been toxic but somehow hidden – up until this pandemic, they’ve slipped between the cracks as people haven’t wanted to acknowledge them. However, now it’s as though we’ve put a magnifying glass to them and we are forced to stare at the ugliness that we as humans put other humans through.”
On the main page of the project website is an unflinching image, a piece of digital art identified as: “Miami Pronouncements (March 26-June 15, 2020): 826 Deaths in Miami-Dade,” by Xavier Cortada, 2020. Against a background representing pages of journal entries documenting multiple days of death, there’s an athletic, muscular man taking a knee. In these days of Black Lives Matter protests, that’s a pose redolent of defiance and sacrifice.
What could be seen as suffocating swirls of arms belonging to an octopus coiled on the man’s back are actually embellished wings, Cortada explained. They imply that the man is a cautionary figure, an angel of death. The man wears a mask recalling those worn in Venice during the plague. As if bearing a gift, this eerie “angel” holds out with one hand a dazzling hot pink sphere, the artist’s stylized symbol for the virus itself.
We know from countless images in the media that this sphere signifies the novel coronavirus. But if we weren’t so awash in that grim collective awareness, Cortada’s symbol would not necessarily reek of fatal peril. It could look almost frilly and cute.
In this context, call it forbidden fruit. That pink sphere is oddly seductive but ominous, offered by a compromised, masked figure. In one fell swoop, in this image, Cortada evokes the very human, natural temptation to gather and touch, a universal longing in our desperate time – but one strictly forbidden by public health experts.
“I’m painting an angel of death telling you that I’ve got this in my hand and it could come to you, too,” he said. He wants more people to understand that the pandemic is “not just about [somebody else’s] suffering, it’s about a communal suffering.”