Ahdriana Amandi: Miami as Text

Ahdri at Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois, 2019

Ahdriana Amandi is a junior at the honors college at Florida International University and is majoring in Psychology. As a newly transferred student from Miami Dade College, Ahdri is excited to finish her last two years at FIU and is hoping to attend graduate school to become a college professor. Outside of academics, she enjoys roller skating, reading, and traveling.  Although she has spent most of her life in Miami, Ahdri is excited to learn more about her beautiful and historic city through this course.

Deering as Text

Images Taken and Edited by Ahdriana Amandi (CC by 4.0)

“This Is Not Miami

By Ahdriana Amandi of FIU at The Deering Estate, 2nd September 2020

The words “This is Miami” stayed imprinted in my mind as professor Bailly led us through the Tropical Hardwood Hammocks and the Pineland Rocklands- two massively different ecosystems that thrive in Deering Estate’s Nature Preserve. Oolite paved the path we followed, and Gumbo Limbo, the copper trees that seemed to glisten in the sunlight, provided shade as well as a potential remedy for poison wood, which was never too far away.

On the other side of the Hardwood Hammocks were the Rocklands, an area that flourishes in fire. The sharp protrusions of the Miami Rock ridge often peaked through and the sinewy Florida Pine that creates flammable resin welcomes brush fires and suffocates any other plants that aren’t Poison Ivy or Saw Palmetto.

In between avoiding spiderwebs, solution holes, the poisonous plants, and the swarms of mosquitoes that laugh at visitor’s futile attempts to avoid getting bitten, it is hard to imagine that this area was before Henry Flagler, Julia Tuttle, William Brickell, Ponce de Leon, or even the Tequesta. I remember driving home after hiking nearly four miles and feeling absolute disbelief of what I had just experienced, and how our past remains only in small pockets of protected areas such as these.

I do not believe that what I experienced was Miami. What I experienced was something nameless and timeless, something ancient, something before and with the time of man. A relic that has survived our geological ancestors, the founders of our home, and will, in the right hands, outlive ourselves.  

South Beach as Text

Images Taken and Edited by Ahdriana Amandi (CC by 4.0)

“Untitled”

By Ahdriana Amandi of FIU at South Beach, 16th September 2020

When most people think of Miami, they picture Miami Beach; with its beautiful waters and incredible architecture, it isn’t hard to understand why. Our classroom for the day was here, and I couldn’t help but feel grateful for the sun I felt against my skin, the clear blue skies, and the salty breeze in the air that reminds me of my most precious memories of this place. This visit to South Beach, however, felt strange. Ocean Drive, a place that is always filled with music and laughter, was a ghost town. COVID-19 Lockdown and restrictions are still heavily set in place here, and Locations such as Mango’s, Havana 1957, and News Café were empty and/or temporarily closed. The tourists who used to flood these areas are no longer here and throughout our excursion, multiple hosts hawked our group down, offering us wildly low prices in order to get some business. Later, we visited Española Way and Lincoln Road Mall; the only sounds were those of our footsteps. Although the people who make this neighborhood come to life were not here during my visit, I look forward to seeing the people that make this place so vibrant again soon.

As we walked through the streets, Professor Bailly’s comments brimmed with insight of the architecture and the communities who have made south beach what it is. South Beach is home to the largest Art Deco collection in the world, and is easily identifiable by its bright, retro color schemes and Egyptian influence. Alongside Art Deco is MiMo and Mediterranean Revival.  The three designs differ wildly, yet all exist in harmony here. The existence of these three styles is representative of the cultural mosaic that is south beach.

Downtown as Text

Images Taken and Edited by Ahdriana Amandi (CC by 4.0)

“Visions”

By Ahdriana Amandi of FIU at Downtown Miami, 30th September 2020

It is difficult to imagine what stood before Downtown Miami’s iconic skyline and to fathom the amount of history a single place can carry. When thinking about it, the visions appear in my mind, and slowly disappear into the next. When arriving in front of the freedom tower, I can envision the Cuban exiles entering the port of Miami, escaping Castro’s wrath and lost everything. In front of the Brickell mausoleum, I see William and Mary Brickell, trading with the Seminole who had arrived and settled in the land years before their arrival, and ambitious Mary buying real estate and making plans to further the growth of their town. Entering Gesu Church, I remember the story of Don Pedro Menendez and his men forming a mission, Imposing their religion to a sickened Tequesta. When standing on the Miami Circle, I can see the capital of the Tequesta and its people, living and laughing, and the confusion that occurs when Ponce De Leon’s ships become within view, unaware of the impact that this encounter would have on this land.

Before showing us the untouched Tequesta burial site at the Deering Estate, Professor Bailly talked to us about our geographical ancestors and their importance. My mother is a Venezuelan first-generation immigrant, and my father is a second-generation Cuban. Never visiting either home country and never feeling “American” enough, I’ve always felt lost when it came to my cultural Identity. After viewing the fragments of history in downtown Miami, it is easy to understand why I feel unique in my cultural identity. We are a result of the geographical ancestry of this land: we are Miami.

Chicken Key as Text

Images Taken and Edited by Ahdriana Amandi (CC by 4.0)

“Canoes and Chicken Key”

By Ahdriana Amandi of FIU at Downtown Miami, 30th September 2020

There are memories that stay with us for our entire lives and visiting chicken key was one of those moments. Autumn is beginning to start in Miami and although the leaves don’t fall, the wind and cooler weather meant that the 14th of October was a perfect day to head into the water and begin our five-hour long class.

Our class arrived once again to Deering estate, only this time Professor Bailly told us that we must bring gloves and trash bags, and to prepare to row a mile to and from the unpopulated island of chicken key. The class was divided into groups of two, and classmate Claudia and I quickly worked together to row against the current and reach the island.

As we got closer, we began to see that this “unpopulated island” was beaming with life. We watched as pods of pelicans would fly up into the air and swoop back into the water and swallow a mouthful of fish. Fish would occasionally jump up into the air, almost as if they were giving us a show. after tying our canoes up, professor Bailly quickly ran towards the water, and soon after everyone followed.

This feeling of euphoria slowly diminished as I walked along the south side of the island and began picking up old shoes, plastic bags, and shards of glass. We were then told that the trash that ended up here was often debris that floated from Miami beach, an area that was 20 miles away.

I felt a connection to Deering Estate during our first excursion and this second visit only made my love for it grow even more. I’m so grateful that we were able to visit and help clean the island. This trip reminded me that my generation has our future in our hands, and I want to make sure that when I pass it along to the next generation, it will be better than when it was given to me.

Rubell as Text

Sleep, 2008. Oil on canvas 132″ x 300″. Images Taken and Edited by Ahdriana Amandi (CC by 4.0)

“Kehinde Wiley’s Sleep

By Ahdriana Amandi of FIU at the Rubell Museum, 18th November 2020

When you first see the piece from a distance, it is easy to mistake it for a photograph. Taking a step closer, however, allows the magical element that a painting has sets in. Kehinde Wiley’s classical but contemporary, peaceful but powerful masterpiece Sleep (2008) is breathtaking to see in person and leaves a lasting impression upon anyone who has the opportunity to see it. Your eyes are first drawn to the legs and white fabric that covers the subject’s mid-region. This painting is massive, and when looking at it you must take your time to observe and admire each section of the painting, it demands the attention of the viewer. I found myself taking only detail shots of the piece, as I found it to be better representative of the work. The muscles in the feet, the beautiful luminous skin, the lived-in tattoo and the subject’s face all depict a message of peace and serenity. Sleep has many characteristics that are common in Wiley’s work: a singular beautiful hero figure who is the focal point of the painting and is surrounded by vivid ornate flowers. Wiley’s decision to choose black (usually) male figures in his work challenges the stereotypes that black men face and instead gives them beauty and empowerment.  

The busy background but calm subject resonated with me. The clash of modern and classical represents the time it was created and how this era will be remembered in the future. There is a constant fight between old traditions and new ways and combining both in this mystical world that is this painting makes a bold statement that works well together.

Everglades as Text

Taken by Ahdriana Amandi (CC by 4.0)

“River of Glass, Not Grass”

By Ahdriana Amandi of FIU at the Everglades National Park, 23st of January 2021

It feels like I have stepped into liquid glass. Not painful, but rather a smooth and frigid feeling. As we continue to enter the dome, our bodies adjust. Our passionate and kind ranger is providing us information on the flora and fauna but I’m finding it difficult to focus- my mind is flooded with questions and curiosity. How does this part of the everglades benefit the rest of the area? How does the water flow, how does Florida rely so greatly in this park, and what are current and future legislation doing to protect and improve our landmark? How can we get more people to appreciate our beautiful river and what can we do to provide education on issues such as fishing, hunting, etc? What animals live here that are protected, endangered, or invasive? Questions that, as a psychology major, I often don’t have the time to stew over. The more time I spent having the chance to investigate and explore for myself, the more I yearned for knowledge I didn’t have. I felt this feeling of an outsider looking in, a stranger to this world.

Often in life, human beings have a habit of categorizing items in our world: good/evil, life/death. In the everglades, the lines of these category are blurred. The white, spindly trees that look dead and malnourished are actually the strong and though cypress tree. The trees that rot and fall create substrate for other parts of the forest as well as a stronger foundation for other plants to grow in its place. Lichen, a white-green item that looks like mold and periphyton, something that can only be described as an everglade booger supports the life of many micro organisms that help this ecosystem thrive.

After visiting the slough, we had the chance to eat lunch while a volunteer played one of his songs that he wrote about the everglades. It got me emotional when listening to his song because it was comforting to know that this place is loved by others, and how it is important for my generation to continue to fuel the curiosity and love for our parks and spaces.

Locust As Text

Taken by Ahdriana Amandi (CC by 4.0)

“Made by Dusk”

By Ahdriana Amandi of FIU at the Locust Projects, 3rd of February 2021

Made by dusk, an installation at Locust view projects, is an homage to Freya, the goddess of war and fertility. She is often depicted as a beautiful woman clad in white drapery and golden armor. A wooden arch opens to what feels like another world. When entering the installation, it feels like a modern take of an altar room; the goddess would certainly feel honored herself. Gold leaf covers the floor, looking like leaves in the autumn. On the east side, fifty paintings adorn the walls, some of them with golden circles painted on. It’s satisfying to let your eyes trace the patterns and see how many of the paintings connect with each other, and how some don’t.  On the North and South side of the rooms, two enormous canvas encompass the walls. Reminiscent of Rorschach paintings, they seem to space and distort each time you look away. I see skulls, cities, and people.

It’s difficult to reflect on this installation without the context in which I was able to view it. With more cases than ever, COVID-19 and the affects that it has had on my world stays on my mind. The warmth of being in Freya’s light reminds me of the hope that a story can instill. This dusk reminds and us of the resilience that surviving 2020 has given us, and the dusk tells us that it is always darkest before the dawn.

Bill Baggs As Text

Taken by Ahdriana Amandi (CC by 4.0),

“El Farito”

By Ahdriana Amandi of FIU at Bill Baggs Florida State Park, 17th of February 2021

I have lived in Miami for the majority of my life, and I can remember each visit to Bill Baggs park; or as most locals call it- El Farito. My mom would get me to wake up early so that we could find parking and a spot where the shade of the lighthouse would allow us to spend the entire day by the ocean without turning into chicharrones. Although I had visited the park many times, I have never stopped and wondered of the story of the white lighthouse that stands now as an iconic Miami Landmark, and unfortunately, very few Miami natives know the history that this land holds, and it starts as it usually does in Miami history, with our biological ancestors the Tequesta.

Our class started right outside the gates of the lighthouse entrance, Professor Bailly began class with telling us that the indigenous people of this land were nomadic and would come to Biscayne bay during different times of the year. We were read diary entries of missionaries and European explorers complaining of the humidity and the ungodly number of mosquitoes, it’s comforting to know that many parts of ancient Miami hasn’t changed. Our class was then told of the history of the lighthouse, one of the oldest structures that still stands and is functional. We were then told the story of Thompson and Carter, and the battle that took place at the lighthouse during the Seminole wars. As we walked, we pasted a painting that was printed next to the original lightkeeper’s home, and I felt a wave of shame surge over me. The painting depicts the Seminole as these “savages” even though they and other tribes were kicked out of their native land and being colonized; although what had happened here in 1836 was unfortunate, depicting these people as the villains of the story is untrue, and people who do not know the history of the park or of the lighthouse may see the indigenous people in a negative light.

It is incredible to me that throughout countless hurricanes, a battle, and a beacon of hope, this cultural piece of Miami still stands strong today. The lighthouse provides another reminder that history isn’t so black and white, and that although many parts of our city has heartbreaking history behind it, it is important to always seek the truth and never forget the past that our home has.

River of Grass As Text

Socially Distanced Pine, Taken by Ahdriana Amandi (CC by 4.0)

“Growth”

By Ahdriana Amandi of FIU at The Everglades National Park, 3rd of March, 2021

When visiting the Everglades, Ranger Dylan told us about the impact human beings have had on this land, and how the Everglades is an excellent example of human tampering/mismanagement. During our last visit, the class had the opportunity to go slogging in a cypress dome that was knee-deep in water and for the most part, untouched by most people. This visit, however, led us to the donut hole, an area that was once used to farm tomatoes, although you wouldn’t believe it unless you were told; the land looked barren and the limestone, which looked like overgrown pavement, doesn’t seem like it would be any sort of place to do such a thing. We eventually reached a solution hole, and inside there were hundreds of small fish swimming about.

As we stood at the edge of the hole, Ranger Dylan and Professor Bailly talked about the invasive species and plants that are currently damaging the everglades, as well as the recovery of the acres of land we were standing on. After spending an entire semester having the opportunities to explore the incredible Miami Landscape, it’s hard to believe that individuals would intentionally harm/disrupt Florida’s ecosystem. They then spoke about how the park has spent the past three years restoring this area, and how nothing on the land we were standing on was planted. About 100 feet away from us, two Florida Palm trees stood tall and proud, reminding us of the life coming back to this area.

We then left to another location of the park, and there we saw another plot of land similar to the donut hole we first visited. We were then told that this plot of land had been restored one year more than the one before, only this one was full of life, swamp, and birds. During our time here, we even had the chance to see a phalanx of Wood Storks soar above us, giving us an opportunity to appreciate these creatures up close.

 Learning about our past begs us to ask the question: how can we learn from the mistakes of our ancestors/ generations before us? What kind of impact do we want to leave for our loved ones, and what sort of actions can we take that support our want to improve ourselves and our Planet. Seeing the growth between these two areas remind me that there is a fighting chance for humanity and the rest of our ecosystem to grow and advance together, and that the earth, when given the chance, will do its best to restore itself. Bailly said it best when we visited Chicken Key. People need to experience landmarks and parks to love and feel the need to protect them. Having the chance to experience this place firsthand has flourished a passion to want to find ways to coexist with our environment, and help others gain love and appreciation for this land too.

Frost as Text

“Accumulate, Classify, Preserve”

By Ahdriana Amandi of FIU at The Frost Art Museum 17th of March, 2021

Acumulate, Classify, Preserve, Display features Roberto Obregon’s life work of his obsession with the rose, alongside with breaking apart constructs that are associated with the flower and creating new meaning. As you walk into the exhibition, the mural “Ene Eme y Ene De, 1994” depicts two figures who influenced him greatly- Norma baker, otherwise known as Marylin Monroe, and Marcel Du champ. Throughout his work, it is clearly shown that Obregon placed life and decay at the center of his work, and each rose felt as if I was looking at his fingerprints, images he left behind before passing away. In the exhibition, it feels that you can feel the delicacy and precision in each petal he plucked and numbered. His work felt dedicated to existence and the process of aging.

In his work, I felt his ability to turn this symbol of love into a symbol of life, decay, and the passage of time. His work also sparked a connection in my courses for my psychology degree and it reminded me of the value of enriching education with art. Conceptual art like Obregon’s  allows us to appreciate the process of creating meaningful work that amplifies discussions; Obregon’s art is a vessel, a way to take previous understanding and further connect it to other ideas.

This idea made me wonder, how would an engineer student view his work? A biology student? A communications major? All of these facets of learning are small pieces of humanity’s larger goal which is to further understand the world and each other.

Gables As Text

“The Biltmore”

By Ahdriana Amandi of FIU at The Biltmore Hotel Miami, 31st of March, 2021

The Biltmore, one of Coral Gable’s most iconic buildings, was built a year after the founding of the city in 1925 and has remained as a symbol of the city’s history and beauty. It was built by the founder George Merrick and it was used as a place to hold galas and events for the city. Individuals and families such as Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, and the Vanderbilts paid multiple visits to this hotel.  It is truly a beautiful building and worth the visit.

It is difficult to imagine that the building was used as a military hospital during the second world war, or that the University of Miami medical school was first started in the same halls. It is even much stranger to imagine it being abandoned for nearly 15 years. In my mind, all I could see were the famous figures of the 1920’s holding galas and beautiful people enjoying their afternoons by the poolside, or possibly visiting the speakeasy on the 13th floor.

Something that stood out to me when visiting was the inspiration taken from the Giralda, the Sevillian bell tower in Spain, and how both the Biltmore and the Freedom tower in Downtown, Miami were both inspired by this UNESCO world heritage site. When entering the building, there are clear Sevillian baroque inspirations from the building, as well as the Moorish influence from when the Giralda belonged to the Moors, and the beautiful ironwork and buildings that were handcrafted in Mexico, not even to mention the rococo architecture, Mediterranean influence, and the Bahamian’s stone masonry that we saw while walking throughout the building.

When visiting the hotel, I was reminded of how so few Miamians know the true history of our cities, and often write off Miami history as “unremarkable” and “forgettable”, when this belief is far from the truth. Exploring the halls and taking a step back in time while visiting reminded me of one of the very first things I learned while taking this course, which is that our city has always been a fusion of cultures and influences that when put together, creates that feeling of “Miami”. When we examine individual pieces of, it is easy for many to write off. It is only when you take a step back and examine Miami’s history as a whole, both the good and bad,  that you are able to fully appreciate and respect the beauty of our city.

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