Jena Nassar: Miami as Text 2022

Jena Nassar Miami as Text 2022

Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

Hello everyone! My name is Jena Nassar and I am currently in my last year at FIU as a Nutritional Sciences major. I am on the pre-optometry track and will be attending the NSU College of Optometry in 2022. Since my freshman year, I have always looked forward to the opportunity to Study Abroad as an Honors College student. Through the tribulations and uncertainty of the past two years, it was unclear whether an experience like this was still feasible. So as we’ve returned to in-person learning, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity I have to broaden my knowledge through this interdisciplinary course, and to do so with Professor Bailly and the lifelong friends I’m sure to make along the way. I cannot wait for the experiences that are to come– I’ll see you in España!

Deering Estate as Text


by Jena Nassar of FIU at the Deering Estate on January 28th, 2022

Photos by Anusha Ghaffar (CC by 4.0)

Charles Deering’s lavish estate and grounds have been an excursion I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing a few times with Professor Bailly. With such a grand home and an incredible Biscayne Bay view center stage, it’s quite easy to be captivated with the material aspects of his estate– but this is just merely the surface. With each visit I have to the Deering Estate, there is a new aspect of the grounds I can hone in on and feel enthralled by. What truly resonated with me this time was the theme of erasure. 

Charles Deering was an incredibly wealthy, white man whose home was built during a period of intense racial segregation. While appreciating the beauty of the estate, the genius of its architecture, and the grandeur of the basin, it is owed to the people who built it that we remember who they were. Many of the workers part of the estates construction were African-American or Afro-Bahamian. Despite the efforts and incredible contributions they provided to the grounds, their working conditions were dreadful. Some were even injured and killed in a fatal dynamite explosion on the estate grounds. Yet their relevance in the history of the Deering Estate can be so easily, and unfortunately, overlooked.

Perhaps why the story of the forgotten workers resonates so deeply with me is that this erasure is still a commonplace in today’s society, though some wouldn’t believe it is. Everyday, in countries from all over the world, thousands of people, including women and children, are subjected to atrocious conditions and die as a result. Even worse, the rest of the world doesn’t bat an eye because, “it’s not our people.” Just as the African-American and Afro-Bahamian workers of Deering’s estate, subjection to horrible conditions and erasure is just part of the sick and twisted price one pays for being from a different world. One would think that the blotting-out of groups from historical timelines is an atrocity the present day world would not come close to repeating; yet, today we stand with the erasure of Palestinians, Syrians, Yemenis, and more in a similar way. 

Photos by Anusha Ghaffar (CC by 4.0)

Following the acknowledgement of the estate’s unsettling but relevant past, the grandeur of the Mediterranean revival style house can be appreciated for its magnificence. With its large Prohibition Era wine cellar, views of Biscayne Bay that are never short of breathtaking, and the sights Deering was sure to have from the balconies, the house showcases the peaceful life he enjoyed during his residence. Throughout every part of Miami, it’s incumbent upon the explorer to search beyond the postcard destinations and to truly understand its incredible history– both the good and the bad. 

Vizcaya as Text

“J’ai Dit”

by Jena Nassar of FIU at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens on February 18th, 2022

Photos by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

James Deering’s extravagant villa and gardens are a little piece of Europe right in the heart of Miami. Its grandeur is a culmination of Italian and Spanish architecture, while the gardens boast Italian and French attributes. 

With year-round staff maintaining the grounds as house-workers and gardeners, Deering’s home is comparable to that of a little village. And in his village, what he says, goes. Deering did not care for societal restrictions or taboos– he played by his own rules. But how is it possible Deering managed to incorporate so many aspects of European art and architecture into his South Florida villa, with its own set of limited resources and unique environmental conditions? 

Many of the installations within James Deering’s villa are a result of transatlantic shopping-sprees. Many prominent sculptors and artists within Europe were commissioned to create work for his estate in Miami. Because sculptors of the skillset he desired were not present locally, an example of this are the Italian sculptors brought to create oolite sculptures of lions at the entrance of Vizcaya. However, when he couldn’t bring the artists, he would simply bring the art. There was no limit to what he would import– whether entire, intricate ceiling installations, or grand fountains. Many of his most magnificent artworks were brought from Europe in pieces and put back together in Miami.

Photo by Xsaiver Horn (CC by 4.0)

“J’ai Dit”

The words shine brightly through the stained glass at the top of the North staircase. Meaning, “I have spoken,” the phrase perfectly encapsulates the idea of a God complex James Deering seemed to have. Deering never married, never had children, and has no evidence of romantic relationships with women. I can’t help but to think his way of life didn’t just revolve around filling his home with lavish materials and prominent house guests, but was an attempt to fill a void of companionship.

Downtown Miami as Text

“Scattered Fruit”

by Jena Nassar of FIU in Downtown Miami on March 11th, 2022

Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

Downtown Miami is a historical hub for culture, art, food, and diversity. The perfect representation of this diversity stands right in front of the Government Center, representing to all who pass by the city’s unconfinable multiculturalism. The statue, now a landmark in downtown Miami, is of a dropped bowl of scattered fruit slices and peels. Appropriately, shattered bowl fragments and orange peels are scattered enough for people to weave through the art themselves. The chaos of the scene perfectly symbolizes the booming, urban growth of Miami.

If the spreading of the slices and peels are a symbol for the city’s growth, what exactly is the unshattered “bowl”?

This question is difficult to answer, as there are many aspects which have contributed to the city’s “boom.” However, what we do know is that early Miami was built by black Bahamians. As the only ones who really knew how to use oolite, they constructed an oolitic limestone building in 1844. This building, still standing today and currently known as Fort Dallas, is one of the oldest surviving buildings from Miami’s pioneer era. It’s difficult to lay your hand on the oolite stone wall without feeling the overwhelming and undeniable connection to the slaves who built the very structure.

A particular landmark, which has grown to be one of the most impactful to me throughout my exploration of Downtown Miami, is the Freedom Tower. The tower served as the Cuban Assistance Center from 1962 to 1974. Besides the time I’ve spent in Professor Bailey’s class, the other opportunities I’ve had to visit the Freedom Tower have been when I’ve either attended or witnessed protests and fights for peace. The Freedom Tower, for this very reason, now stands as a symbol of hope and freedom.

South Beach as Text

“Art Deco Beauty”

by Jena Nassar of FIU in South Beach on April 1st, 2022

Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

South Beach, with its seemingly always beaming sun, beautiful coastline and neon lights, is the picture-perfect backdrop that brings tourists from all over the world to Miami. The destination has been the alluring setting of multiple big-name movies and television shows– such as Scarface and Miami Vice. But before it became the star-studded postcard destination we know it as today, South Beach was actually large, unsettled farmland. One hundred and sixty acres of the land were purchased by the Lum Brothers in 1870, for which they used it as a coconut farm. Following the land’s purchase by the Lummus Brothers, and many other collective efforts, the coconut farm blossomed into the city and architectural wonder we see today. 

One of the most distinctive features of South Beach is its unique and striking architecture. All along Ocean Drive, various styles of styles can be seen. The three dominant forms are MiMo (Miami Modern), Mediterranean Revival, and most famously, Art Deco. The Art Deco style is unique in that it attempts to use industrial materials, but manipulates them to look organic and natural. An example of this would be the steel found along the front of buildings, but shaped to look like leaves cascading down.

The residences, restaurants, and hotels along South Beach are marked by nautical-style porthole windows and “eyebrows,” which jutt out from the building and serve to provide some shade. At the time of construction, any building taller than three stories would require an elevator to be installed. To cut down costs, most of the buildings were no more than three stories high. For this reason, the architecture also adopted characteristic vertical lines along the front– to make them appear taller.

Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

My favorite part of this Friday’s excursion was certainly when our class was guided into an alleyway and instructed not to look behind them. All at once, when told to turn around, every student was greeted by the Betsy Orb, an enormous egg-looking structure wedged between two buildings. Compared to the silver, futuristic looking skyscrapers that take over some of Miami, South Beach is a refreshing dose of funky, architectural artistry. Around each corner, there seems to be a quirky little hotel or piece of art I’ve yet to see before. And I mean– literally. The faces speak for themselves.

Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

The journey across the MacArthur Causeway onto Miami Beach feels somewhat like being transported to a Miami Vice paradise, and I will quite honestly never get tired of spending time on South Beach. 

Jena Nassar

Help fund my Spain Study Abroad this summer!


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