Anna Buntova: Miami as a Text 2021-2022

Photographed by Anna Buntova/ CC by 4.0

Anna Buntova is an international student from Novosibirsk, Russia, pursuing her degree in Behavioral Neuroscience at Florida International University’23. As a child of the world, she has always been mesmerized by the dynamic culture of the U.S.A. which spurred her desire to study abroad. First, she received her high school diploma in Saint Johnsbury Academy located in VT. Anna’s passion for connecting and bonding with people of various cultures dictated her fate of studying in Miami, FL, to get her college degree in hopes of becoming an explorer of uncharted areas of human cognition. Through Miami in Miami Honors course she wants to get closer to the idea of the melting pot where many cultures embrace their unity despite their differences.

Downtown as a Text

“History in Modernity”

by Anna Buntova of FIU at Downtown Miami, September 12, 2021

Miami is nothing like me, and that’s why I need to be here – it’s the opposite. I’m practical, where this place is moody, I’m stolid in my interior, where this place has a certain flair, and I’m materialistic in a sense that this place is fundamentally spiritual – there’s a quicksilver quality about this place.

Iggy Pop

Prior to Miami being a cultural landmark, a salad bowl of predominantly Latin/Hispanic backgrounds together with numerous other ethnicities inhabiting its distinct neighborhoods; way before it was teeming with luxurious hotels, lavish restaurants, and booming businesses Miami was a place deplete of today’s dazzling skyscrapers towering over the lands of Brickell and highly frequented touristic sites. It was completely incomparable to what the post-card image of Miami is typically imagined as. Yet, what is more, serendipitous to me is how the route to create the Magic City began in the hands of white barons in the middle of 1800s who exploited black labor to build the Florida railroad and its infrastructure.

Stephen P. Clark Government Center Photographed by Anna Buntova/ CC by 4.0

Our meeting spot in Downtown was Stephen P. Clark Government Center which appeared to me as architecturally boring in the context of Miami’s scintillating atmosphere. This building carries the name of the Miami-Dade mayor Stephen Clark who held his office in the ’70s.

Sauntering around the streets of Downtown Miami we encountered the Mausoleum of Brickell’s family situated on top of the former cemetery of Tequesta people who were a Native American tribe. It sends me chills down my spine to have been able to walk over the underground remains of the original inhabitants who had lived here way before Miami became Miami. Miami-Dade Courthouse located on the NW 12 St has the statue of Henry Flagler, an industrialist and one of the founders of Florida. All of these aforementioned historic places create dissonance for what we are used to perceiving as Miami – the hub of diversity – since all of them derive from white contributors who invested in the resurgence of the dynamic Miami observed nowadays.

All Photographs taken by Anna Buntova/ CC by 4.0

The city of Miami was established in 1896, right after the main railroad running along the east coast of Florida was fully constructed. The population of Florida experienced a significant influx which primarily consisted of African-Americans who would come down to South Florida to complete the work that had to be done with the railroad and infrastructure. Julia Tuttle, who originally owned Miami lands convinced Flagler to continue the railroad towards Miami to plant orange groves for northern farmers. Moreover, she persuaded William Brickell to give up a part of his land to enable Flagler to build the railroad. Miami was rapidly growing in population making it a frequented vacation spot for tourists who would settle in lucrative hotels built by Flagler along the railroad.

The fact that parts of Florida have been owned by white American investors to reap financial benefits in the 1800s makes me ponder how young the history of Miami is at the surface level. However, it is important to note that the lands of Florida were settled by natives, or the so-called Tequesta tribe, which were decimated during the Seminole wars by Spaniards and further vanished when they were moved to Haiti. The slaves would travel down to South Florida to find refuge and a safe place enabling them to further settle in the Bahamas. The regions of Florida are saturated with a history that has been buried for decades, and thus much of it is still unknown.

All in all, it is mind-boggling to think that it took wars, oppression, slavery, and decimation to make Miami blossom with diversity and prosperity which we can all witness at this moment.

Overtown as Text

“The Faith of Overtown”

by Anna Buntova of FIU, September 15, 2021

Stain Glass with Jesus/ Photographed by Anna Buntova// CC by 4.0

From the last trip to Miami Downtown, I remembered how the novelty of lucrative Miami businesses, luxurious hotels, and reserved courthouses was built on top of the remnants of the past deeply archived beneath the contemporary architecture and overshadowed by the modernist abstract statues. This time, our class ventured into a novel territory which is a historic place called Overtown affectionately referencing “going over the town” when en route, once referred to as the Colored Town. As the name suggests, the Overtown used to be a place where the people of color used to reside ever since the Florida East Coast Railroad had been built all the way to Miami for the tourists to relish the tropical climate and orange farmers to grow their citrus plantations.  Overtown was initially created to provide the black workers with a place to live. Discreetly, it was a way for Flagler to segregate black people away from tourists so as to avoid any encounters near hotel and beach areas since it would downplay the luxury of south Miami. Overtown is considered one of the oldest neighborhoods of Miami after Coconut Grove with the richest black heritage leaving its mark as being the cultural hub of black history. Yet, of course, there is always a place for faith in the heart of the cultural community to welcome people all over the nation to “go over town” and see religion from a different perspective.

The most impressive part of the trip which was firmly imprinted in my memory was the image of Jesus drawn on the stained glass in the Greater Bethel Church located in the center of  Overtown. The image of colored Jesus struck me to the bone because of how different the commonly accepted version of Jesus is from the white-skinned blue-eyed version of him. I was familiar with the fact that the construct of Jesus is different in different parts of the world, however, to witness the actual image was a stunning experience. The image of colored Jesus is a symbolic representation of the dominance of the black population in Overtown, but it also tells how multicultural and multigenerational the church is. 

The Overtown left a unique legacy behind. By being oppressed and warding off for so many years, inhabitants of Overtown had to rebuild essential systems of society and one of them is religion along with entertainment and business. Nevertheless, it must be something that is salient, unique and characterizing of the black community. The image of colored Jesus is a symbolic representation of the dominance of the black population in Overtown. It is an integral part of the spiritual upheaval and turning over the new leaf.

Vizcaya as Text


by Anna Buntova of FIU at Vizcaya on October 24, 2021

What is there that money cannot buy? Can a richman lose anything besides their reputation? How can being perpetually satisfied make you more creative? Walking through the Italian Renaissance-inspired villa called Vizcaya with its lavish rooms and breath-taking garden on October 13, I was inspired to answer these questions. The man behind this masterpiece is James Deering who was prescribed by his doctor to move to a tropical climate due to his anemia. Therefore, he commissioned the construction of this entire villa. The construction was finished in 1916 with the celebration and opening party.

Photographed by Anna Buntova/ CC BY 4.0

As one can fathom of an affluent man, James Deering would oftentimes walk around in his white suit and a glass of rum in his hand. He had no family of his own and had nobody living with him except Afro-Caribbean workers who maintained and groomed the gardens. Sometimes he would host parties for guests occasionally. What was so fascinating is how much “stuff” he had in his villa. I almost thought of it as a humongous attic stuffed with relics,  souvenirs, and antiquities. Each of his rooms had unique styled floors and walls and chandeliers and artistry ranging from Renaissance to Baroque to Gothic style to Rococo. Some floors and ceilings represented symmetry and some had asymmetric patterns. The large spaces were open and illuminated to let the ocean breeze right outside of the villa enter inside and colorful stained glass would reflect different color shapes on the floor. In just one room he gathered various cultural objects such as an organ, an instrument used in Catholic churches,  that he never played, and a 600-year old carpet on the wooden slant support representing the fusion of Muslim and Christian religions right on the opposite side.  It seems like he was obsessed with the idea of love and passion evidenced by how some of the spaces contain floral wallpapers and paintings with cupids and angels gazing down from the ceiling. Vizcaya gardens are the representation of the supremacy of humans over nature because even the bushes were trimmed in a very unusual style almost as if a barber was creating intricate haircuts. Nature would never achieve such precision and clear-cut edges.  To think that all of that belongs to one man is bizarre. What does it feel to get everything that you think materialized?

SoBe as Text

“The Fusions”

by Anna Buntova of FIU at South Beach, November 3, 2021

Park Central Hotel at Ocean Drive/Photographed by Anna Buntova// CC by 4.0

This is what I imagine Miami to be. Art Deco district – the most grandiose treasure of Miami’s architectural design of 20th century dating back to the roaring 20s. Art Deco is the style that embellishes the buildings of Miami’s Ocean Drive. This style originates from France where its name comes from – Art Decoratif. It is characterized by geometric shapes and sharp edges influenced by Babylonian and Egyptian ziggurats and Native American artwork. Art Deco, per se, is a fusion of old and new. A lot of the buildings have a very futuristic vibrance in them – with some of them having marine style mixed with neon lights or fused with the look of a submarine and a spacecraft (Just like the hotel in the picture above). The main rule of thumb in any Art Deco building is number 3 – 3 windows, 3 lines, 3 reliefs. Another feature commonly seen is the characteristical “eyebrows” on the buildings that give a shade which makes it look like the building has eyebrows. There are over 800 graced with Art Deco style on the famous Mimi Ocean Drive and the majority of them possess their salient pastel colors which are illuminated even more under the dazzling Miami sun rays.

Overall, Miami Art District is defined by future, fusions, and fashion. Italian designer Giovanni Versace once lived in the Villa Casa Casaurina, commonly known as Versace Mansion, which is a Spanish-styled mansion. The famous designer was known for his brazen fashion design which at the time screamed extravaganza. He wanted people to dress fashionable and flamboyantly even for the most formal places such as work. He came all the way from Italy to establish his second home in Miami Ocean Drive, because he found it welcoming of his sexual orientation as well as his brave fashion sense. Miami has long been having the reputation of the city which does not obey guidelines, standards, and rules. This is exactly how we see Miami even more so than ever before.

Yet, we also have to give credit where credit is due. One of the major protectors and supporters of Miami Art District is a woman named Barbara Baer Capitman. She once said: “My whole life had been Art Deco. I was born at the beginning of the period and grew up at the height of it .” During the Great Depression, a lot of Art Deco buildings were neglected and demolished. The rhetoric talent of persuasion made Capitman the savior of Art Deco in Miami. Her efforts stimulated the change which led Miami Art Deco Historic District be listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings. She created the Preservation League which led long jurisdictional fights to preserve Art Deco architecture.

Deering as Text

“A Different Side of Miami”

by Anna Buntova of FIU at Deering on November 10, 2021

Entrapped in a Sinkhole/Photographed by John Bailly//CC by4.0

What is home? This is the question that I keep asking more and more as I get older. Having lived on the foreign land for the past five years has definitely shifted my perspective on what is home, but not on the concept of family. Living in the city of thousands of foreign to you people who speak more than one language which can be all non-native to you, makes you ponder your belonging and your purpose over again and distracts you from your own roots which makes you care less what you left behind.

On this trip, I realized that almost every person living in Miami is not a true native of Miami.  I was very frustrated to think how easy it is to wipe off the real parts of history. The Tequesta, the first inhabitants of Miami, was also found buried on the Deering Estate site. The place where Tequesta, including Indians, and Afro-Bahamians were buried is called Cutler Burial Mound.  There was evidence found that a large Tequesta community lived on the land which is now known as Deering Estate Park. Some remnants and fossils on the site are 50000 to 100000 years old.  Even though I am completely from the different side of the mountain, so to speak, it still gave me chills to realize that the first inhabitants of Miami were walking across an archeological site at the Deering. The stripped layers of limestone in the sinkhole, called solution holes, reveal thousands and thousands of years at the Cutler Fossil Site.  This site was excavated in 1985 and many artifacts and fossils were discovered from both animals and humans. Some examples of fossils found in the sinkhole are dire wolves, llamas, bison, American lion, Jaguar, and saber-toothed cat which come from the Pleistocene era. About 800 bones were identified which also included human remains. Besides, modified stone tools and evidence of human modification of animal bones used as tools. 

I couldn’t help myself but think how people can erase so much history and ingloriously bury it underground. Most of the people who live in Miami are not native to it. Even though they might be born in Miami, their roots, for the most part, do not trace back to Tequesta, the true pioneering inhabitants of the area before it even became Miami.

Rubell as Text

“The Voice of Today”

by Anna Buntova of FIU at Rubell Museum, November 24, 2021

 remember from the first steps how privileged I felt to visit the place. Mera Rubell herself greeted us near one of her own exhibits she came up with which is two tree branches hanging from a ceiling with a candle on the tip of each branch. The wax that melts off falls on the floor, and as the branches rotate around their axis, they draw, sort of, a Venn Diagram. Mera said that it represents their relationship with a husband in which they should be able to find common ground. I was so struck how a person can materialize such an idea in this artistic abstract way. From that point, I realized that Rubell Museum truly speaks from the heart of the contemporary. Rubell museum has the largest collection of contemporary art exhibits and paintings from people with different backgrounds and different walks of life. The most memorable piece for me was the mirror room called Lets Survive Forever by Yoyi Kusama. She created infinity inside of infinity in which she tried to represent eternal life. The greatest tool that artists possess nowadays is to use a variety of instruments to convey messages that speak loud and wide.

Photographed by Anna Buntova//CC by 4.0

Rubell family has amassed well over 7000 art pieces which makes it one of the largest collections of contemporary art in the world. It took enormous amount of work and five decades to put the museum together.

Photographed by Anna Buntova//CC by 4.0

Untitled as Text

“Survival of The Fittest”

by Anna Buntova of FIU

The last and final trip was the art fair called Untitled Art which gathered artists from all walks of life and all around the world to showcase their far-reaching art pieces. Meandering around the fair I was wondering: how do artists price their art? There were many art pieces that fused technology and the past, pop culture and strong political messages, and some of them were very difficult to judge. Some art pieces were straight-up hypnotizing to look at yet solely seemed “sellable”, but for some pieces, you could tell that an artist put in a tremendous amount of hours to draw out details. Some pieces were creative in the way they were made, in what state of mind an artist was while making his/her art piece, what concerns and worries were in the head of an artist that led to the such and such choice of tools, instruments, and techniques. I truly appreciated the visually pleasing and creative pieces of art, but do people buy them for them to relish their nature or as just a mere decor nowadays? 

Video Taken by Anna Buntova//CC by 4.0

Art market is extremely competitive and to get a booth for your art is a hard feat when so many talents compete. Art fairs like Untitled Art are heavily curated and involve dealers and galleries serving as tastemakers who judge what kind of art is good and what kind of art is not to signal the quality of art and its price. It is the prestigiousness of an art gallery that predicts the price as well. The wealthy people all around the world expect the intersection of luxury, modernity, intelligence, and creativity in the art they buy. Unfortunately, art, indeed, implies a hedonistic side to it. Artists make art for profit and it is hard to blame them for it. Artists should be supported and recognized. It is a privilege to have a collector who shares similar views with an artist and purchases artwork for a price that defies gravity. 

Photographed by Anna Buntova// CC by 4.0

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