Visual Art

Flags with a message kick off another round of MOCA’s Art on the Plaza

Written By Josie Gulliksen
April 7, 2023 at 1:37 PM

Edison Peñafiel’s “Run, Run, Run Like the Wind” is the first site-specific installation in the 2023 edition of the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami’s Art on the Plaza series, which began in 2021. (Photo courtesy of Daniel Bock)

Since the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami began its Art on the Plaza initiative in 2021, MOCA has been the site of art displayed in its reflecting pool, on exterior walls and even hanging from the plaza’s palm trees.

“I feel the artists and works chosen feature all different kinds of entry points and reflect our city as a whole. There are some fun works that very much speak to symbols that people living in Miami will definitely recognize,” says Adeze Wilford, MOCA curator, about this year’s Art on the Plaza installations.

The first of four featured artists for the 2023 edition, Edison Peñafiel, takes advantage of the plaza’s palm trees with “Run, Run, Run like the Wind,” on view from mid-March to late May 2023.

Peñafiel’s colorful flags fly between the palm trees, each telling a poignant tale through images and text.  He says the initial idea was flags that would wave in the wind to reflect a theme, but the work had to be modified.

Edison Peñafiel’s “Run, Run, Run like the Wind” showcases characters on the run and accompanied by text taken from Latin American protest songs. (Photo courtesy of Daniel Bock)

“Originally they were supposed to be on the palm trees but they were getting wrapped around the tree so they went to plan B and now they are hanging kind of like a clothing line,” says Peñafiel.

Moving to Miami from Ecuador in 2002, Peñafiel was part of a wave of migration leaving South America. These nine pieces are about his own personal experience, he says, and also “people I have worked with and their experience and observing how these things happen during these journeys as well as the absurd laws.”

Because he experienced migrants or travelers “doing things that are beyond human, I incorporated these observations into my pieces,” he says.

One of the banners features shoes with wings, which he says represent the migrant’s celestial capabilities. Peñafiel’s inspiration for the image was Hermes, the messenger of God and the protector of travelers.

Also intentional is the artwork’s colorfulness, which he hopes will create a dialogue for visitors who view the pieces.

“I want people to really look at this and see in my work the issues of people escaping migration as well as those that are blocking migration. I’m not pro or against either, I just want to keep the conversation going,” says Peñafiel.

In December of 2022, a call to artists was announced for the 2023 “Art on the Plaza” series. Each artist could receive an award of up to $13,000 and artists were instructed that the work would be meant to activate the space and connect the museum to the community, according to the museum.

“As the banners sway in the wind, ‘Run, Run, Run Like the Wind’ becomes a powerful symbol of movement, hope, fear, and everything in between, evoking the experiences of people seeking new homes and the power of the human spirit in the face of change,” says the artist. (Photo courtesy of Daniel Bock)

Wilford says within this year’s submissions were many that contained themes of social justice and activism “because for a lot of artists working in Miami, this has been their focus. Most of the time, artists are reacting to the world they’re living in.”

In addition to Peñafiel, other artists selected for MOCA’s 2023 Art on the Plaza series are:

  • LIZ N’BOW (Liz Ferrer and Bow Ty)’s “El Mundo Es Mágico,” June (?) to late August 2023
  • Sterling Rook “Almost Home,” September to November 2023
  • Chris Friday “Narcissist” in late-November 2023 to late February 2024

“These are artists with very different perspectives on how to activate our plaza. I want people to see the change every three months. Each encounter will be a very, very different (experience) on the plaza,” says Wilford, adding that with each artist, there are very different methods of display, which was intentional.

An inflatable of a large cow on a jet ski will take over the middle of the plaza beginning in June in “El Mundo Es Magico,” a work by Liz Ferrer and Bow Ty, known as LIZN’BOW.

Bo Ty and Liz Ferrer, known as LIZN’BOW, will create “El Mundo Es Magico,” on the Plaza opening in June to late August 2023. (Photo courtesy of the artists)

“With their piece, which will be a riff off their video work, there’s room for serious conversation but also for play and being imaginative and whimsical. LIZN’BOW’s work also has very particular themes of being inclusive and expansive,” says Wilford.

In September, Sterling Rook’s “Almost Home” on the Plaza is a structure that references Stonehenge and different indigenous people of South America.

“Rook’s structures will be made with palm fronds painted in very vibrant colors, like shades of pink and turquoise,” says the curator.

For the final installation from late November to February 2024, Chris Friday’s piece “Narcissist” will be on display.

For her graduate thesis, Friday created a large-scale 20-foot-long piece made with black archival paper and chalk of a woman sleeping on her side.

“Black people I met said they’d never seen something like this. It’s a powerful image, a Black woman resting, and other people saw it as how they felt. I loved that it was giving off that energy in the Frost Art Museum at FIU gallery. I really liked that she could mean something different to different people.”

It inspired Friday to continue presenting Black figures in spaces people might not expect, such as her exhibition at the Riviera Hotel on Miami Beach during Art Basel where she said, “the figures could be kind of intimidating, which was my intent, to cause some kind of disturbance.”

Chris Friday, who recently wrapped up a solo exhibition at Oolite Arts, was selected as one of the artists for 2023 Art on the Plaza at MOCA. (Photo courtesy of the artist)

She says that she was also responding to “even Miami Beach city officials who felt Black bodies didn’t belong on Miami Beach.” She chose the Art Basel show as a vehicle to make that statement known. “I wanted to say that you don’t get to over-police us.”

Friday plans for her MOCA Plaza installation to be a large-scale piece. She wants the public to see the work as “something beautiful to see and not necessarily see it as a nice Black figure, I just want it to be a beautiful thing to see.”

The MOCA reflecting pond made her think of the poem “Narcissus,” she says because “it’s reflective, is what it is and that’s beautiful.”

WHAT: Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami Art on the Plaza 2023

WHEN: Through February 2024

WHERE: 770 NE 125 St. in North Miami

COST: Free

INFORMATION: 305-893-6211 or mocanomi.org

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