Jared Johnson: Miami as Text 2021-2022

Photo taken by Shae J./ CC by 4.0

Jared Johnson is a 21-year old senior at Florida International University. He is majoring in Computer Science with a minor in Business Administration. After graduation, he wants to work in cybersecurity while continuing to expand his online businesses.


Downtown as Text

Mouth of the Miami river. Photo taken by Jared Johnson/ CC by 4.0

“Desecrated Land”

By Jared Johnson of FIU at Downtown Miami, 08 September 2021

When people think of Miami, they might think of it as a place with endless packed beaches, or a place with expensive luxury condos and constant nightlife, or an immensely diverse city with many cultures coming together. However, very few people take a moment to reflect on what Miami used to be, and the culture of the natives, before it was developed into an urban center.

The Miami River was the source of life for the different natives that used to inhabit the area over thousands of years. As Miami became more and more urbanized, lots of the culture was lost and, in its place, tall, ominous structures were erected. However, a few artifacts are left standing today to acknowledge their impact on the community. Standing on the bridge looking around I can imagine the small communities and Tequesta tribes that used to live there. On the south side of the river, I can even see remains of an ancient village, called the Miami Circle. 

As I cross the river and enter Brickell, there is a nearby landmark which used to be the tomb of the Brickell family, who were known for bringing wealthy landowners down to Miami in the early 20th century. Directly next to it is a luxury condo building which was built on an ancient Tequesta burial mound. It is quite fitting for the tomb of the Brickell family to be next to a desecrated burial ground, representing a common theme throughout much of US history where wealthy landowners would forcefully remove natives from their land.

From now on, every time I cross the Miami river and see all the luxury high rises, I am reminded of the native tribes and the land that was stolen from them.


Overtown as Text

Greater Bethel Methodist Church. Photo taken by Jared Johnson/ CC by 4.0

“Community”

By Jared Johnson of FIU at Overtown, 22 September 2021

All too often, people have stereotypes or preconceived notions about places without ever going to experience it for themselves. Overtown, like many other places, exists due to a history of racism and segregation. It was originally founded as a place where black people were forced to live because Flagler did not want to bring his railroad if Miami was not segregated. It was then named Colored Town. However, if you look beneath the surface, it is much more than that. It was once a cultural center for black musicians and performers, as well as the front lines of the battle for civil rights in the 1960s. 

I had the honor of visiting two historic churches in Overtown, Greater Bethel and Mount Zion, and hearing different perspectives from members of these churches. They spoke about their relation to the church and their own personal experiences. They recalled memories of their childhood about what the church was like and the important role it played in the community. The church was central to organizing events in the community and provided a place for people to come together and support each other in times of difficulty. They also served as community strongholds against civil injustice, having had Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders speak at these churches. 

Over the years, development has encroached on the town and displaced many people from their homes. From condos to roadways, the landscape of Overtown has changed from when it was a thriving community and cultural center. One of the memories recalled by a member of Mount Zion was when I-95 was under construction. The state decided to have it go directly through Overtown and gave Mount Zion the option of either having the church itself torn down or have the pastor’s house torn down. She explained that having the pastor’s house directly next to the church was important for people to gather and feel more connected to the church. Having it torn down did not only make some people feel less connected, but it also displaced the pastor and his family. 

After listening to the stories and experiences of the two guest speakers from the churches, I now have a much better understanding and appreciation for Overtown, and the role that the churches played in support for their community. In a decade or two, these two historic churches may be some of the only monuments left, in a sea of condos and commercial buildings, representing the importance of the community in Overtown. 


Vizcaya as Text

Vizcaya Overlooking the Garden. Photo taken by Jared Johnson/ CC by 4.0

“Nothing and Everything”

By Jared Johnson of FIU at Vizcaya, 20 October 2021

Miami is known for many things. One of its most well known qualities, for better or worse, is that it is a place where people go to display erroneous amounts of wealth, where humility is nowhere to be found. Vizcaya is a Miami landmark which captures both nothing and everything at the same time. Finished in 1914, Vizcaya was constructed to serve as the estate of James Deering, a very wealthy businessman at the time. From the moment you walk into the courtyard, it is evident that Vizcaya is a very different historical site in that it does not reflect the history of the local area. In fact, some could say that it has set the tone of Miami for a century.

As soon as you enter the back garden, you are met with Roman style arches, seemingly unfit for a mansion in the tropics. Deering was advised to not have symbols of battle on the arches since Vizcaya was in no way related to war. However, Deering had the money and liked the style of the arches, so he incorporated it anyway. This illustrates a common theme in Miami, if you have the money and can do something, you should. Upon entry into the mansion, it became clear that the out of place arches were no fluke. Each room had a different theme and design, ranging from an open concept courtyard with tropical plants to an east-Asian themed bedroom. Deering did not have a family of his own to hang portraits on the wall. So in place of this, he hung portraits of children and people whose name was Deering, but there was no relation. There was no single style or theme to be found anywhere in Vizcaya, other than wealth and indulgence itself. 

I feel that Vizcaya, in all of its magnificent glory, truly encapsulates the stereotype that many people have of Miami. That alone makes Vizcaya a true Miami landmark.


South Beach as Text

South Pointe Beach. Photo taken by Jared Johnson/ CC by 4.0

“Architecture”

By Jared Johnson of FIU at South Beach, 3 November 2021

South Beach is a place that is known throughout the world for having a massive party scene and nightlife. While it does have these things, it is also much more. South Beach is a place with a dark history, tourists from all over the globe, and world famous architecture styles. 

Originally, Miami Beach, and Miami itself, were small communities where everyone knew each other and there was no widespread segregation. When Flagler came down with the railroad, segregation quickly followed. Shortly after, Carl Fisher started buying up all of the land to turn Miami Beach into a tourist destination where only white people were allowed to live. Fisher’s development ended up destroying the mangrove forest on the island which led to all sorts of environmental problems. 

As Miami Beach endured multiple development booms, three main architectural styles emerged over the decades. Mediterranean Revival, Art Deco, and MiMo are the main styles you will encounter walking around South Beach. Each style is very unique and distinct. Mediterranean Revival style is known for tile roofing, stucco walls, and window grilles. This was already present in Miami at the time, as seen in Vizcaya. Art Deco is the style that Miami Beach is likely most known for. This style consists of geometric shaped buildings, white facades with pastel highlights, and glass bricks. Architects of this era wanted to shape buildings to resemble machines from the future. The third, and most recent, style is MiMo. This is a modern style consisting of lots of glass windows and curvy architecture. 

Personally, Art Deco is my least favorite of the three different architectural styles. However, I can appreciate its presence in Miami Beach as one of the only areas with such a high concentration of Art Deco buildings.


Deering Estate as Text

The Original Cutler Road. Photo taken by Jared Johnson/ CC by 4.0

“Natural Miami”

By Jared Johnson of FIU at Deering Estate, 17 November 2021

The Deering Estate was built by Charles Deering in the 1920s to serve as his personal estate. It now serves as basically a nature preserve where it essentially represents a time machine to what Miami would have looked like had it not been developed. It consists of 8 different ecosystems, home to a plethora of wildlife. The ecosystems in Deering Estate are: Salt Marsh, Beach Dune Chicken Key, Remnant Slough, Tropical Hardwood Hammock, Pine Rockland, Submerged SeaGrass Beds, Deering Estate Flow-way, and Mangroves. 

The most notable ecosystems that we walked through were the Pine Rockland and the Mangrove forest. One thing that I thought was absolutely fascinating was the fact that the trees in the Pine Rockland actually require forest fires in order to preserve their ecosystem. This could prove to be problematic when you have this ecosystem in such close proximity to urban areas. So the entities managing these ecosystems have had to perform controlled fires, sometimes spanning for miles. The mangrove forest caught my attention just because it was so different from what I had been used to seeing most of my life. There is very little solid ground and it is essentially a forest growing in brackish water. Inside the mangrove forest we found a plane from the 1980s that had crash landed, presumably used in drug trafficking. 

The Deering Estate also houses many burial grounds for ancient tribes, some dating back at least 10,000 years. We were able to visit an archaeological site that is believed to be a burial ground and, due to privacy concerns, a site that less than 500 people had been able to visit. This was an experience that was hard for me to wrap my mind around. 

Over the years Miami has evolved significantly, but the land preserved by the Deering Estate has remained unchanged. Everyone should take the time to visit and understand what the land really looked like, before it was taken hostage by development.


Rubell as Text

Jared in Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Room. Photo taken by Jared Johnson/ CC by 4.0

“Afterlife”

By Jared Johnson of FIU at Rubell Museum, 24 November 2021

The Rubell Museum gives us an alternative perspective on art. This institution is owned by the Rubell family who collects modern art. Modern art is defined by works of art created in the last 30-50 years. The aim of this genre is to have people develop a connection to the works of art in a way that is not possible for older works, due to a difference in lifestyle and values.

This museum contains a number of modern works that caught my attention. The three that stood out to me the most were Yayoi Kusama’s two Infinity Rooms and Cajsa von Zeipel’s influencer sculptures. From the moment I entered the dark Infinity Room, I felt like I was floating in space with stars all around me. This allowed me to connect with this work in a way that I would not have with traditional art. The light Infinity Room made me feel the opposite, but had a similar impact. From the moment the door opened, the bright, white lights made me feel like I had traveled to some kind of afterlife. These two Infinity Room exhibits offer a unique experience while complimenting each other with their opposite environments. The piece of art that I connected with the most happened to also be the one that was the most difficult to look at due to the grotesque nature of the sculptures. Cajsa von Zeipel’s influencer exhibit accurately represents the mindset of our modern society. The exhibit figures were constructed out of silicone and symbolize the skewed perspectives we are often given on social media. The physical representation of the sculptures depicts the essence of society at its core, when all of the filters are removed.

The Rubell museum is an invaluable addition to the art scene in Miami, offering a different perspective that allows people who live in the modern era to connect with art in a way that would not have been possible before.


Untitled as Text

Bradley McCallum’s “Of Light”. Photo taken by Jared Johnson/ CC by 4.0

“2020”

By Jared Johnson of FIU at Untitled, 01 December 2021

The Untitled Art Fair is a highly exclusive event in the art world, where galleries from all over the world are put on display. The aim of Untitled is to sell the works of art, so naturally, this event attracts wealthy people from all over. Untitled is an event that has modern art on display which, similar to the works at Rubell, is intended to allow people in the modern day to connect with the works in a different and unique way.

Attending Untitled Art was a very unique experience because I was not only able to see plenty of modern art, but I was also able to observe the atmosphere of a commercial art fair. This event naturally attracted plenty of wealthy people, so at times I felt very out of place. However, the point of coming to Untitled was not to fit in with the crowd, but to look at and connect with the various works of art on display. 

There were multiple works on display that I found interesting, but one caught my eye more than the rest. The piece of art was by Bradley McCallum and is called “Of Light”. Although I saw it after class had ended, it was still one of the pieces that I most connected with. This piece of art was a collage of pictures depicting different events of 2020, from the COVID-19 pandemic to the George Floyd protests. There was also unique lighting going throughout the pictures to enhance the visual experience. At the top, there was a red neon line that represented the 7-day moving average of COVID cases for the United States. Anyone who lived through the unsettling events of 2020, and acknowledged reality, will be able to connect with this piece of art. 

Although it was overwhelming at times and I felt out of place, just being able to attend the Untitled Art Fair and look at all the various works of art was a fascinating experience.


Everglades as Text

Anhinga Trail at Everglades National Park. Photo taken by Jared Johnson/ CC by 4.0

“Flow”

By Jared Johnson of FIU at The Everglades National Park

The Florida Everglades is a unique ecosystem not commonly found in other parts of the world. The Everglades was originally formed because excess water would cause Lake Okeechobee to flood to the south and the water flowed down. Over time, as humans began to develop the land, the flow was reduced significantly. This resulted in more available land but damaged the ecosystem. Recently, there have been extensive restoration projects undergone at the Everglades in order to restore the natural flow. 

Slogging through the Everglades was very unique as I was able to experience terrain and wildlife that I would not usually encounter. As soon as we stepped off the main road, the water instantly encompassed everything. However, the water was unexpectedly clear due to the high concentration of Seagrass. The Seagrass maintains water quality by trapping particles within their leaves. They rely heavily on sunlight so once we entered the Cypress Dome there was significantly less Seagrass. The Cypress Dome is a cluster of Bald Cypress trees that grows taller towards the center of the dome and shorter as you approach the edges. Something interesting about the Bald Cypress tree is that it is one of the few trees in South Florida that actually loses its leaves in the winter. This creates a wintery environment, found in many other parts of the country, that South Florida lacks.

My first Everglades slog, and immersing myself in the Everglades in general, was an enriching excursion that allowed me to experience a lesser known aspect of South Florida. This will not be my last time walking through the Everglades, and experiencing everything it has to offer.


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