Monica Barletta: Miami as Text 2020-2021

Monica Barletta at the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

Monica Barletta is a sophomore in the Honors College at Florida International University. She is currently a Biology major on the Pre-med track, and hopes to attend the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. Outside of school, she enjoys creating art and spending time with her friends and family.

Monica Barletta at the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

Deering as Text

“The Influence of Cultures at Deering”

By Monica Barletta of FIU at the Deering Estate, 9 September 2020

The Deering Estate is a 444-acre plot of land containing some of Miami’s oldest pieces of history that can still be viewed today. This estate’s background dates back to the late 19th century when the first house on the property was built by the Richmond family. The property was later turned into an inn for travelers until 1915 when it was purchased by Charles Deering.

Deering was a very wealthy business owner who made his money from creating farming tools, but more importantly, he was an avid art collector. Deering’s interest in art is what makes this building such an interesting place to visit, as he incorporated art styles from so many different cultures throughout his estate. Built in 1922 from concrete and limestone, the second house on the property became known as the Stone House. This house is what stood out to me the most during my visit because of the way aspects from many different cultures can be found in the art and architecture.

Stone House – Deering Estate, Photo taken by Monica Barletta

The outside of the building is made from limestone, which is found in Florida, but is created in a Spanish style to look similar to his house in Spain. Features of Islamic architecture can also be seen around the house from the dome-like arches of the windows to the sea-shell mural on the ceiling. Inside of the Stone House, Deering’s collection of art is displayed, vases from China, stained glass panels from France, and Catholic statues from Spain are some of the many pieces he acquired from around the world. The way all of these small things are taken from so many cultures and come together is what makes the house so intriguing.

Deering Estate, Photo taken by Monica Barletta

South Beach as Text

The Versace Mansion”

By Monica Barletta of FIU at the South Beach, 23 September 2020

The Iron Gates at the Versace Mansion

Bringing in over 23 million tourists annually, South Beach is considered one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world. Ocean Drive owes its huge success to Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace, who completely redefined this street’s culture.

The history of the Versace Mansion dates back to the 1930s, originally called La Casa Casuarina, it was built for Alden Freeman to be a replica of Christopher Columbus’s son’s house. The house was converted into an apartment building following Freeman’s death and remained that way until Gianni Versace came across the building and immediately fell in love with it. Versace had planned to attend his sister’s boutique opening in Bal Harbour and continue on to Cuba but cancelled his trip after visiting South Beach. He purchased the apartment building along with the properties next door and spent million in renovations, creating the renowned Versace Mansion.

Buildings on Ocean Drive

 Once Versace moved into his new home, tourists and celebrities from all around the world came to Ocean Drive, hoping to catch a glimpse of the designer on his morning walk to the famous News Café. Through the designer’s South Beach inspired clothing collections and photoshoots, the area became famous and transformed from a community of drug addicts and retirees to a huge tourist attraction.

The steps on which Versace was shot

Sadly, in 1997, Versace was shot by the serial killer, Andre Cunanan, on the steps of his home returning from the café. Although Versace only lived in his mansion for a short 5 years, he completely revitalized South Beach and its culture. His influence still remains today, as the Versace Mansion is the third most photographed home in America and the area around it is now known for its accepting and lively environment.


“A Historical Look at the Versace Mansion.” CR Fashion Book, CR Fashion Book, 2 May 2019,

Goldberg, Carrie. “You Can Spend a Night In Gianni Versace’s South Beach Mansion.” Harper’s BAZAAR, Harper’s BAZAAR, 28 Mar. 2018,

Bakehouse as Text

“Using Art to Raise Awareness”

By Monica Barletta of FIU at the Bakehouse, 7 October 2020

Florida is home to many coral reef systems that benefit us in a variety of ways. We depend on our reef systems for income and protection. People come from all over to visit Florida’s reefs as they provide a home for a diversity of beautiful animals and plants. These reefs are a huge part of Florida’s economy, bringing in about $3.4 billion each year and supporting 36,000 jobs in Broward and Miami-Dade County alone.

Clay corals that have been applied to the sculpture

Coral Reefs do more for Florida than just bring in money, they also act as a buffer against storms and floods. For the past few years, coral reefs have been dying at an alarming rate due to climate change, pollution, and physical destruction. The loss of these reef systems would be devastating to Florida, which is why we have to do everything in our power to help protect them.

Art can be used as a way to spread a message and bring awareness to an important issue. Lauren Shapiro at the Bakehouse has been creating an exhibit that allows the local community to engage and learn more about reefs. The workshop involves creating clay structures from silicone molds of coral skeletons and reef animal bones that will be applied to the structure. The artists also give lectures while everyone works in order to educate the participants on why protecting the reefs are so important and how to help protect them.

Lauren Shapiro with her sculpture
Monica Barletta at the Bakehouse workshop

This art project is very unique because it brings together science and art to bring awareness to corals reefs. This topic may not be very interesting to some people but making this a hands-on activity that brings the community together is getting people to understand the importance of reefs.


“Florida’s Coral Reefs.” Florida Department of Environmental Protection,

US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “NOAA CoRIS – Regional Portal – Florida.” NOAA Coral Reef Information System (CoRIS) Home Page, 29 June 2009,

Rubell Museum as Text

“A Hidden Meaning”

By Monica Barletta of FIU at the Rubell Museum, 21 October 2020

Mera Rubell speaking to the morning class

The Rubell Art Museum is home to many beautiful pieces that each tell their own story. One of the paintings that caught my eye was Peter Haalley’s Two Cells with Circulating Conduit. This piece stood out to me because as simple as it is, it has a very deep message that I did not notice until it was pointed out to me.

Two Cells with Circulating Conduit by Peter Halley

While at first glance, it just looks like two squares that are connected at two points, the actual meaning of it is much deeper. The boxes are meant to represent the way everything in life is a repetitive pattern. People fall into familiar routines until life just becomes a repetition of the same events such as constantly taking the same road to work and back home each day. If you take a step back and look at the piece as a whole, the way the boxes connect form what looks to be like a prison and the lines look like the prison bars holding them together.

What is also very interesting to me are the materials used in this painting. The background and lines are painted using acrylic paint, but the orange and black boxes are made of the textured material that make up the popcorn ceiling. The painting was created in 1987, and popcorn ceilings were very popular among American households at the time. At this time, materials like this were considered unorthodox to be used in artwork, but Halley used this in order to represent 1980s culture and the repetitive cycle of urban life.

While usually paintings this simple do not catch my eye, the message the artwork conveys is cleverly portrayed. I was fascinated with how Halley uses simple geometric structures to symbolize the confinement within our own lives to say that we are all trapped in a prison of our own making.

Mirror room at the Rubell Art Museum
Sleep by Kehinde Wiley

Deering Hike as Text

The History Preserved in The Mangroves by Monica Barletta of FIU at Deering Estate on November 4, 2020.

Photo taken by Monica Barletta

Deering Estate is a historic site that is known for the preserved history that it contains. Visiting Deering is like traveling back in time, as the site holds many objects and buildings that are perfectly conserved. Even after already visiting the estate once before, there was still so much more to see going through it a second time. Instead of touring the inside of the Richmond Cottage and Stone House, this time we hiked through the nature trails.

Photo taken by Monica Barletta

Hiking through the Deering Estate is a unique experience because there are many different habitats that one can walk through. In this trip we were able to experience the beautiful tropical forests and pine rock lands, but my favorite part was walking through the mangroves. Besides the fact that it offered us protection from the relentless mosquitos, we came across plenty of cool things that have been preserved for years.   

Before even stepping into the water, we found remnants of shells that could have been used as tools by the Tequesta, which were the Native American tribe that lived there even before any of buildings had been on the property. Seeing these shells was very interesting to me because the same shells we held in our hands could have been used thousands of years ago.

Photo taken by Professor John Bailly

The most fascinating thing we encountered during our trip was the crashed Cocaine Cowboys Plane. The history of the wreck was that a few “cowboys” stole the plane from a nearby airport in order to transport cocaine but encountered difficulties and crash landed. The plane crashed into the mangroves of Deering Estate sometime during the 90s and has been there ever since. I loved being able to see and touch this relic that had the mangroves growing through the plane.

Downtown as Text

“The Miami Circle” by Monica Barletta of FIU at Downtown Miami on November 25, 2020.

ASC class at The Miami Circle taken by John Bailly

Downtown Miami is known to be the heart of the city, containing some of Miami’s most popular destinations from the American Airlines Arena to the Perez Art Museum. Before Miami became the city that it is today, this area was home to the Native American Tribe called the Tequestas.          

There are plenty of structures and artifacts throughout Miami that the Tequestas have left behind, but one of the most notable ones was the Miami Circle. This archaeological site was discovered in 1998, and its approximate age is between 1,700 to 2,000 years old. It is thought to be the capital of the Tequesta civilization, as well as a site for trading and ceremonies. This structure is composed of 24 holes arranged into a perfect circle that have been carved into the limestone ground holding many artifacts from tools to animal bones.

            Despite living in the Downtown area for almost 6 years, I was never taught about the rich history behind the area before this class. While most other history classes would not cover the darker side of Miami’s history, Professor Bailly did not hold back. Attending this lecture made me realize just how much public-school education whitewashes the history of Miami that is being taught to its students. Although there are a few signs placed around the area to indicate the Tequestas had lived in the area first, that is still not enough. Miami Dade’s education system should work better to educate about the true history of the city even before it was colonized by the Europeans.

Sign at the Gesu Church

            The true history of Miami is a lot darker than we learned in history class. Not only was the city built using slave labor, but the Native Americans were run off of their own land and left to die out. This may not be the proudest moment of our history, but that does not mean that we should hide it.

Everglades as Text

“Slogging Through the Everglades” by Monica Barletta of FIU at Everglades National Park on January 13, 2021.

Image taken by Monica Barletta at Everglades National Park

Found on the southern tip of Florida, the Everglades contains 1.5 million acres of wetland preserves and is home to a diverse array of wildlife. Florida is fortunate to contain such a unique ecosystem that people from all over the world come to visit. Despite living in South Florida my entire life, I could still count the number of times I have visited the Everglades on a single hand.

The first class back from winter break was a hike through one of the park’s many trails led by Park Ranger Dylann Turffs. As soon as the entire class was gathered, she gave us a brief lecture on how important the Everglades are to Florida, from providing a huge portion of drinking water to the protection it offers against flooding. After, we all drove deep into the park to get to the trail that went through the mangroves.

Image taken by Monica Barletta at Everglades National Park

My favorite part of the class was the few minutes we were allowed to walk around freely in silence. It was a very unique experience as I got to see and hear all the animals I did not even notice were there before. It felt very surreal as I felt very connected to nature in that moment, especially after listening to the poem the Ranger read aloud right before.

This lecture made me realize that I should take advantage by visiting and supporting this park more often, because not everyone is as lucky to have such a unique environment so close to home. This trip was probably one of my favorites we have had from the class thus far and has given me newfound respect for a place that I have lived so close to my entire life.

Photo taken by Monica Barletta at Everglades National Park

Wynwood as Text

“Redefining Art” By Monica Barletta of FIU at Wynwood on January 27, 2021

From the murals on the walls of its buildings to the pieces contained within the many art galleries, Wynwood has become Miami’s Art District. Wynwood has become increasingly popular in recent years, drawing in many people from all around come to visit. Among the district’s art galleries are The Margulies Collection and The Locust Projects, both of which we were able to visit in our class’s lecture.

These two galleries were very different once you walked through their doors. The Margulies Collection is just what I expected when I was told we were going to visit an art gallery: many pieces of work we would just stare at and move on. There were many “Do Not Touch” signs displayed throughout the museum which is a huge contrast to the Locust Projects. There were swings to sit from, cannons to shoot gold foil from, projections on the wall you could walk through, and even a vending machine to purchase mini art from. It was clearly designed in such a way as to seem warm and inviting. It was a completely different type of art which was made to be interactive with the guests.

Image taken by Professor John Bailly at The Locust Projects

Although I usually would not picture a swing set when someone asks me to imagine a piece of art, the Locust Project’s main display in the gallery were their swings. This made me think of the story Professor Bailly told us during class of Marcel Duchamp, who completely reinvented what art is when he submitted an upside-down urinal in an art contest, making people question what “art” truly is. This class’s lecture made me consider my own definition of art and realize that it can be whatever the artist wants it to be regardless of whether it fits the standards of others. I had never understood the saying, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” as much as I did during this class. It certainly fits this scenario as some may just see this as a playground while others, such as myself, see this as a beautiful work of art.

Image taken by Monica Barletta at The Locust Projects
Image taken by Monica Barletta at The Locust Projects


Bill Baggs as Text

Cleaning Up the Beach” By Monica Barletta of FIU at Bill Baggs State Park on February 10, 2021

Photo taken by Monica Barletta

            While most people sit in a classroom or on zoom to learn, our class spent the day learning at the beach. This week’s lecture took place at Bill Baggs State Park. Located on the island of Key Biscayne, this park holds one of Miami’s oldest standing structure: The Cape Florida Lighthouse. This huge lighthouse has been around since 1825 and has served many purposes throughout history. One of the rangers from the park told us a few of the lighthouse’s most famous stories including when the local Native Americans attacked and set it on fire. This park is a place I have visited many times throughout my life, but I never realized just how much history there was behind it.  

Photo taken by Monica Barletta

            We started off the day with a tour from the ranger, giving us a brief history about the beach and the few buildings that were still standing. I found this discussion very interesting, but my favorite part of the day was definitely the beach cleanup. We walked across the beach picking up the trash left behind on the sand, and later, took a moment to cool off as the class raced into the water together which is really a moment I’ll never forget.

            As much fun as this experience was, it also made me realize how much trash there was on the beach and in the sand. There were some big pieces, but the small microplastics are the issue for animals and they were everywhere. Beach cleanups are something I will definitely consider doing more often on my free time, especially for this beach that I basically grew up visiting and holds such an important place in my life.

Photo taken by Monica Barletta


Frost as Text

The Preservation of Beauty” By Monica Barletta of FIU at The Philip and Patricia Frost Art Museum on March 10, 2021

            Located at Florida International University, the Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum exhibits a variety of work from cultures throughout the world. Although I have passed the Frost Museum countless times on my way to my classes, I had never been inside despite always telling myself I would visit one day. The day luckily came during this class’s lecture as it brought us on a tour inside the museum. We were shown many installations displayed at the Frost Art Museum, but the one that really caught my eye was the work of Roberto Obregón, whose work was centered around roses. 

Photo taken by Monica Barletta

Obregón worked with only 36 roses throughout his career to create many works of art. Hearing that he worked with the same 3 dozen roses caught my attention because of the tradition of giving a dozen roses as a declaration of love. This custom of giving roses in bundles of 12 represents perfection and complete devotion, which I believe is symbolic of his work as well. Seeing perfection in the roses, he devoted his entire life’s work to preserving, photographing, and drawing these flowers. 

Photo taken by Monica Barletta

Obregón’s art is a display of conceptualism that values the meaning of what the art represents over the actual object. The wooden cabinets displaying his work immediately captured my interest as soon as I walked into the room. Although the cabinets were not originally part of his work, they are perfect for displaying his drawings and the preserved roses each drawing was based off of. Working with conceptualism, the concept of organizing and preserving the individual rose petals is more important than the actual rose petals. When looking at this work, I believe that the roses are symbolic of beauty, which decays over time as their colors fade despite his attempt to preserve them.

Photo taken by Monica Barletta

Coral Gables as Text

Hotel, Motel, Holiday Inn” By Monica Barletta of FIU at Coral Gables on March 24, 2021

This week’s class brought us to the city of Coral Gables. Despite coming here countless times, I had never stopped to think about the history behind this city. The Coral Gables Museum gave us a brief background on how the city was formed and how it became so popular. This plot of land was bought by George Merrick in the 1920s, who immediately began construction to make it a suburb after the City Beautification Movement that was popular in the early 20th century.

Photo taken by Monica Barletta

Our class included a tour of one of Coral Gables’ most famous buildings: the world-renowned Biltmore Hotel. Commissioned by George Merrick in 1926, this hotel has hosted presidents, celebrities, and even royalty since its construction. What immediately caught my eye before even entering the hotel is the huge tower at its center. This tower, we later learned, was constructed to look like the Giralda, the bell tower of the Seville Cathedral in Spain.

Photo taken by Monica Barletta

 There was clearly a lot of Spanish and Islamic influence in the construction of the hotel, as it was built in a Spanish Colonial Revival style. This influence can be seen throughout many aspects of the hotel from the tall towers (stemming from Islamic minarets) to the ornamented arches around doorways, but what really drew my attention were the ceilings. Each room had its own unique pattern on the ceiling, each of which had extremely intricate designs. They were all designed with simple Islamic geometric patterns, these patterns are prevalent in Spanish architecture since Spain was conquered by the Moors in 711. It was incredible to learn about the history of this art and architecture, and then be able to see it with my own eyes. This lecture truly opened my eyes as I can now walk through Coral Gables and notice these small design details that I did not pay attention to before.

Photo taken by Monica Barletta

Vizcaya as Text

Miami’s Inspiration” By Monica Barletta of FIU at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens on April 7, 2021

Photo taken by Monica Barletta

This week’s class took place at the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. This museum felt like a continuation of the lecture about Coral Gables, as well as the Deering Estate because of the way they are all connected and have influenced each other. Before taking this class, I had no idea how important the Deering Family was to the development of Miami. James Deering was part of the family that owned The Deering Harvester Company that sold agricultural machinery to farmers. This company soon made the family one of America’s wealthiest families and provided James the money to build his Vizcaya estate.

The Villa Vizcaya was the winter estate of James Deering from 1916 until his death in 1925. Before even walking through the doors of the estate, you can tell that Deering spared no expense when it came to building Vizcaya. Every detail inside and out is expensive and grandiose, from the huge stone barge that would have greeted visitors coming from their boats to the decorated Roman triumphal arches that led to the gardens.

Even though there are aspects throughout the estate that incorporate characteristics from many different cultures, the estate was primarily built in the Mediterranean Revival style. This inspired George Merrick as he was designing the rest of Coral Gables to be a suburb in 1926. Deering’s over-the-top style drew people from all around to come visit and served as inspiration for much of South Florida. There is no doubt that the Deering family had a huge impact on the formation and development of Miami.

Photo taken by Monica Barletta

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