STUDENT BIO Andrea Sofia R. Matos is a senior majoring in Art History with a minor in Photography at Florida International University. Passionate for the art and culture of the Caribbean, Latin America, and the African Diaspora, she aspires to be a curator. As part of Art Society Conflict, Andrea desires to expand her knowledge in art and the history of Florida’s most vibrant city.
VIDEO PROJECT I decided to make video chronicles of FIU’s Honors College class ‘Art, Society, Conflict’ with professor and artist John W. Bailly. I thought it would be a fun experiment to document the experience as we navigate this “new normal” in-person university classes during a global pandemic. The health crisis brought many challenges to our class, multiple people at a time was a problem and many of the venues the professor would normally explored could not allow us to visit. The site specific lectures are full of rich explanations of history and culture and in this 18 minute long video I was able to extract sound from some of the lectures to give the viewer a better understanding of our class.
I am no filmmaker but I worked hard to make sure the video was appealing and viewed with ease. Many thanks for letting me experiment with my camera and allowing me to share what my lens captured during this past year. I hope you enjoy the video.
STUDENT BIO Andrea Sofia Rodriguez Matos is a senior majoring in Art History with a minor in Photography at Florida International University. Passionate for the art and culture of the Caribbean, Latin America, and the African Diaspora, she aspires to be a curator. As part of Art Society Conflict, Andrea desires to expand her knowledge in art and the history of Florida’s most vibrant city.
WHO The Women Photographers International Archive (WOPHA) is a Miami based nonprofit organization founded in 2017 to research, promote and support the role of women, and those identified as women, in photography WOPHA intends to be a leader in the rewriting the artistic canon and provoke social change. By highlighting the contributions of women photographer to modern and contemporary art to finally give them a proper place in the history of art. Aiming to create a network of women’s photo organizations to unite voices through impactful social action and debate theoretical, ethical, and practical issues concerning women and photography. WOPHA aims to interrupt the cycle of a male-dominated industry and render visible the contemporary and historical contributions by women photographers through scholarly symposiums, exhibitions, and lectures and organizes professional development opportunities for artists.
WHY? Studying art history has granted me the privilege to work with museums, galleries and cultural institutions all of which have taught me great things about the history of art but specially an appreciation for contemporary art. However, many of the art institutions I have worked with have lacked a strong photographic presence within their collections. Personally, and academically, I have a deep love and passion for photography thus seeing that lack of representation of the medium made me wonder if I could find an internship that expanded my knowledge in it. This internship also goes hand in hand with one of my goals of becoming a curator specialized in the photography of the Caribbean therefore WOPHA’s strong Caribbean and Latinx presence simply made sense for my overall professional development.
HOW In the Spring semester of 2020 I had been doing a research of woman photographers before and after the revolution and found, to my surprise, a contemporary female art historian and researcher by the name of Aldeide Delgado who had created an archive of women photographers from Cuba. Her research was the most important source in mine, and I decided to connect with her via social media. We talked briefly, exchanged information and ideas. To my delight a few months later Ms. Delgado sent me an email inviting me personally to apply for one of the three unpaid internship positions at WOPHA for the 2021 year. I was lucky enough to be selected for the Social Media & Marketing Internship and had my first welcome zoom meeting on Friday, February 5th 2021.
WHERE & WHAT I had already started my research prior to our introductory meeting and had made annotations of various opportunities of growth regarding WOPHA’s social media accounts. This proved to be very helpful on my first one on one zoom meeting with Ms. Delgado, which started full of hellos and introductions and by the time it was over we had talked about my previous experiences, WOPHA’s main mission, social media strategies and what my responsibilities were as one of the new interns. Ms. Delgado let me know that I would be working directly under her and was very welcoming of any and all ideas I had to give her regarding the social media accounts and listened, very carefully, to all my observations.
February 9th – I was sent an email to work on a newsletter that would introduce and welcome WOPHA’s new interns. She also notified me about a Third Edition of a program they call “PhotoWalks” in partnership with Miami Design District. She told me participating of this program would give us a chance to speak in person and give me a better idea of what WOPHA’s main goal and mission is through hands on experience.
February 12 – Sent the final newsletter introducing the new interns.
February 13 – Attended the “PhotoWalks” workshop at Miami Design District from 10 am – 12pm guided by photographer Passion J. Ward. This was a wonderful opportunity to meet Ms. Delgado in person, interact with the photographers and attendees of the event.
February 15 – 25 – I was informed a few days prior that the WOPHA team would have a meeting in which I would meet the Marketing Specialist and the Community Coordinator who would clarify my upcoming assignments and duties for the following weeks. In the 10am meeting we discussed the upcoming project and campaign the organization was working on and their effective dates. They explained the main goal of my internship was to work towards WOPHA’s Inaugural Congress, which is a, first of its kind, international event that will take place at the Perez Art Museum in November 2021. Ms. Delgado asked all who attended the meeting to critique the drafts sent over by the graphic designer in charge of the Inaugural Congress’s visual identity. This was a really interesting opportunity that gave me the chance to witness the process of choosing such things.
Specifically, they took their time to explain my task for the upcoming two weeks which included organizing and updating a disperse variety of contacts lists into one excel spreadsheet. With over 2,000 contacts I had to go through each, divide them into categories such as: Scholars, Press, Museums etc. Since some of the lists were outdated, I went through many hours of research since many of the contacts needed to be updated, emails had changed, and many had moved from jobs.
February 28 – I was sent an email to work on a press release announcing the launch of our Dialogues in Focus campaign in support of WOPHA’s inaugural congress in November. I got a brief outline of what was needed to make a successful press release and was provided with the information I needed to include in it.
March 2nd – After working on it for two days, I sent my final draft of the press release to Ms. Delgado and the Communications Specialist for review.
March 5th – 11 – Was sent an email to join Slack, an application that allows workplace teams to better communicate via private and group messages. I continued updating the contact lists until Ms. Delgado messaged me to join a board meeting (on March 11th), where I could better experience their work and meeting dynamic. In this meeting the board discussed the division of panels and panelist for the WOPHA inaugural congress. There was a very interesting exchange of ideas and it was fascinating to witness and form connections with so many art professionals. That same day Ms. Delgado, Francisco Maso (Co-Founder & Creative Director of WOPHA) and I had a lovely conversation regarding a new direction of my internship. They saw that I was very invested in the work and thought my initial observations towards the social medias were worth exploring. They tasked me with creating a Social Media/Marketing Proposal that could be implemented in the coming month, specifically focused on the Instagram. They let me know that the social media should be viewed as my own project, tasked with its curation and content creation. I was very excited and got to work.
March 24 – They answered my email with a positive response to my proposal, they encouraged me to start implementing some of the ideas suggested in the document. They were considerate in commenting throughout the document and giving me deeper insight towards the best ideas and what I should focus on. They also granted me access to WOPHA’s Instagram.
March 24 – 27 – I have been accessing WOPHA’s Instagram to keep track and observe the movement, likes and overall interaction with its followers. All the information I witnessed I reported in into the proposal document. Slowly I started implementing a few of my marketing tactics and slowly we started to see an increase in engagement, followers and likes.
March 27- April 4th – I originally was going to track the progress monthly, but we saw such great progress in just one week, I decided to document it weekly. A few of the milestones I am particularly proud of was the increase of 100 followers in just one week as well as an increase in overall engagement. Ms. Delgado is extremely diligent with her feedback and comments, which helped me keep myself on task as the weeks progressed.
As the Social Media and Marketing intern at the Women Photographer’s International Archive I had a rich and fresh experience working close to the founder of the organization. I was lucky to have been included in important meetings and trusted with important tasks, all of which have taught me many new things about the art world, how a non-profit organization runs and expanded much of what I know about photography and marketing. I have also met many women photographers, scholars and curator who specialize in photography who have taken my eagerness to learn in consideration and offered me advice. So far, the organizational and administrative direction of the internship has been very challenging but very rewarding. I believe my writing has also been put to the test, and I have been able to expand my vocabulary and explored the difference of writing academically and writing for media outlets. My social media and marketing skills have definitely been put to the test, but I feel much more confident with all the information I had and the one I acquired along the way. This internship doesn’t stop here, I was hired from February till November, and I am very excited to see what more I learn and how the coming months will plan out as we get closer to the WOPHA Inaugural Congress.
STUDENT BIO Andrea Sofia R. Matos is a junior majoring in Art History with a minor in Photography at Florida International University. Passionate for the art and culture of the Caribbean, Latin America, and the African Diaspora, she aspires to be a curator. As part of Art Society Conflict, Andrea desires to expand her knowledge in art and the history of Florida’s most vibrant city.
GEOGRAPHY The Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum is located on Florida International University’s Modesto A. Maidique campus. More than five entrances can lead one to campus and directly to the museum, one of them is the Avenue of the Arts. The museum is located in front of the Blue Garage and directly across from the FIU Wertheim Performing Arts Center. Next to the museum, one can also find the Management and Advanced Research Center (MARC).
HISTORY The Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum were founded in 1977 with humble beginnings in a small space in the Primera Casa building. The museum was housed in the 7,000 square feet space from 1977 to 2008. Since space was an issue during these years, began efforts to collect an outdoor sculpture program that became one the most prestigious in the USA, featuring 57 monumental works by contemporary sculptors. Simultaneously, the museum sought Yann Weymouth, a renowned architect, and designer, to design the new Frost Art Museum building. A new 46,0000 square-foot facility opened its doors in November of 2008. The structure features a three-story glass atrium entrance and a suspended staircase leading to the second and third floors containing over 9,000 sq ft of exhibition space. Nine galleries regularly feature artwork from the museum’s permanent collection and the temporary exhibitions. The first level features the Steven & Dorothea Green Multi-Purpose Auditorium and Lecture Hall, the Dahlia Morgan Members’ Lounge, the café, and the museum shop. The museum itself has grown to achieve international recognition as a major cultural institution of the State of Florida for its great collection of Latin American and 20th-century American art. There acclaim was also achieved because the Frost has always focused its efforts on championing local artists and the art that identifies the nation’s diversity and their audience.
MISSION The Frost Art Museum’s mission is to provide a cathartic experience through the art presented within the museum’s walls and advance FIU’s stature as a top research university. Through their permanent collection and the temporary exhibitions featured, the museums seek to reach and appeal to the FIU and Miami community’s diversity. Through their special programming, the Frost Art Museum also tries to increase the FIU community’s participation and the general public.
Transportation and Parking
Public transportation is scarce in this area of town, but there is still a bus stop inside FIU, which would make the museum available my walking from the bus stop. When using a personal vehicle, guests to the museum must park in the Blue or Gold garages’ metered parking spots or in additional Lots 3-6. Guest can pay for parking with the Pay by Phone app or at the meter located in the Blue Garage. Their website offers the map below and direct instructions to locate the museum and parking garages efficiently.
COVID-19 Museum Guidelines
The museum is taking the necessary precautions to insure its visitors a safe and clean experience by asking them to review the state mandated rules and the following guidelines.
Stay home if you are sick or have a fever.
All visitors to the museum must wear a face mask, no exceptions.
Temperature check will be required. If your temperature is at or above 100.4 you will be asked to come back another time.
All visitors will practice social distancing during their visit with anyone not in their household group. Children must stay with adults at all times.
No large bags or backpacks permitted in the galleries. We recommend leaving them in your car, our coat check is closed. Visitors may put backpacks or bags in unmonitored cubbies at their own risk.
Please follow signs to enter museum.
All visitors, not part of the FIU community, must must make an appointment on their website.
Members of the FIU Community (Faculty, Staff, and Students with One Card) may walk-in and visit the museum if it is not to capacity
Cashless transactions only for items in the kiosk.
Enhanced cleaning measures will be conducted throughout the day for high touch areas.
Hand sanitizer is available throughout the museum.
Water fountains will be shut off. Bottles of water are not permitted in the gallery unless they are in a purse or small bag. No other beverages permitted.
Vicky Café is closed, and outside food and beverage are not permitted.
The Kenan-Flagler Children’s Discovery Gallery is closed.
Groups larger than 6 are not permitted.
Only one person allowed on the elevator at a time. Family/Friend units may ride together, able bodied people encouraged to take the stairs.
Hours Given the COVID-19 pandemic the museum had to rearrange their hours, once we go back to “normal” or the pandemic is under control the hours and dates may change.
Sunday – Tuesday: Closed Wednesday – Thursday: Open to the FIU community only; 10:00 am – 3:00 pm Friday – Saturday: Open to FIU community, members and the general public by appointment only; 10:00 am – 3:00 pm
Admission Admission to the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum is always free however, donations are always welcome.
All of these memberships have access for the Blue Level benefits: Discounted admission to ticketed events and educational programs. Exhibition previews and gallery talks with curators and artists. Quarterly member programming. Complimentary beverages and bites during exhibition receptions. 10% discount on Frost merchandise. 10% discount at Vicky Café. Access to Members’ Lounge. (100% is Tax Deductible).
Friend – $125.00
Includes Blue Level benefits plus: Discounted admission to ticketed events and educational programs, plus one complimentary guest ticket • North American Reciprocal Museum (NARM) membership benefits • 20% discount on Frost merchandise
Supporter – $250.00
Includes Friend level benefits plus: • Priority seating to ticketed events and educational programs.
Contributor – $500.00
Includes Supporter level benefits plus: • Select passes for Miami Art Fair Week partners • Access to private collections and gallery talks • 5% discount on museum facility rentals.
Benefactor – $1000.oo
Includes Contributor level benefits plus: Premier passes for Miami Art Fair Week partners • Invitation to annual Benefactor events. Access to national and international art fairs. Invitation to private receptions. Name recognition in lobby. Guided museum tour for 10 with director • One gift of Individual membership.
Accessibility The museum is ready to accommodate anyone to ensure an enjoyable visit. Special accommodations may be requested in advance by contacting the museum through phone or email. The building is also wheelchair accessible and also offer themselves wheelchairs upon request. Service animals are also welcome inside the museum; however, regular pets and companion animals are not.
COLLECTION The Frost Art Museum’s permanent collection includes over 7,000 objects with a strong representation of American printmaking and photography from the 1960s and 1970s, pre-Columbian objects dating from 200-500 AD, and a growing number of works by contemporary artists, especially from Latin American and Caribbean countries and their diaspora. The collection features areas of concentration of Haitian and Cuban painting. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the galleries with permanent work were not available but “Tesoro” by Pepe Mar utilized works from the permanent collection which I will present below.
EXHIBITIONS Currently there are four ongoing temporary exhibitions.
The Inside World: Contemporary Aboriginal Australian Memorial Poles from the Debra and Dennis Scholl Collection.
On View: Saturday, July 11, 2020 — Sunday, January 10, 2021 Organized By: Nevada Museum of Art
This exhibition presents around 100+ contemporary artworks by Aboriginal artists from different Australia regions, most of which come from Arnhem Land, a historical region in the Northern Territory of Australia. All the works feature wooden poles painted in various patterns that traditionally served as hollow log coffins that marked the final point in Aboriginal mortuary rites. Called by different names in different regions, the poles signified spirituality and the moment when the deceased had finally returned home, meaning they had become one with the world of the ancestors. As a contemporary practice, artists have reclaimed the hollow log and turned them into works of art.
Otros Lados: Itzel Basualdo, Hugo Crosthwaite, and Judithe Hernández
On View: Saturday, August 22, 2020 — Sunday, December 6, 2020 Curated By: Amy Galpin, Ph.D., Chief Curator and Maryanna Ramirez, Manager of Strategic Initiatives.
Otros Lados is an exhibition that brought together three artist generations of Mexican and Mexican American descent to present their experience and express the identity crisis that often happens when one is caught in the middle of two ways of living, traditions and customs. “Al Otro lado” is often used in Mexico to describe areas of the United States populated by Mexican immigrants. The amount of migration, exile, labor, and cultural exchanges between Mexico and the U.S. resonates in people’s daily lives in both countries, and it is why this exhibition chooses to focus on this matter.
House to House: Women, Politics, and Place
On View: Saturday, September 26, 2020 — Sunday, February 7, 2021 Curated By: Amy Galpin, Ph.D., Chief Curator
This exhibition took inspiration from our present political circumstances, the 2020 election, and the centennial anniversary of women gaining the right to vote. The wide range of multimedia works in this exhibition explores women’s changing roles in the domestic space versus the most public of houses, The US House of Representatives. The 20th century was marked by women all over the United States standing up for their rights to work, vote, and be equal to their male counterparts. Through the eyes of female and male artists, this exhibition seeks to assert the women’s incredible role in society, it seeks to empower and include all.
Tesoro: Pepe Mar’s Love Letter to the Frost
On View: Tuesday, December 1, 2020 — Ongoing Curated By: Pepe Mar Organized By: Amy Galpin, Ph.D., Chief Curator.
Pepe Mar, an artist, and curator, wanted to dive deep into the museum’s permanent collection to make connections across cultures. This exhibition features art from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia, and Europe as special gifts to the public. Pepe Mar mentions that “I wanted to make a collage of the collection as an extension of my artistic practice, to create new definitions for the objects on view and encouraging unexpected connections throughout the installation.” The exhibition features four parts, each with its own theme and story to tell. “Theatre of the City”; “Mirror, Mirror”; “Procession”; and “Cabinet of Curiosities”, include masks, ceramics, paintings, sculptures, multimedia works, and drawings that reimagine these objects into a new narrative.
SPECIAL PROGRAMS Currently, there is a wide range of programming and events taking place digitally, given the pandemic. Under the museum’s website’s “Event” tab, visitors can find a calendar that gets updated regularly, showcasing the events, times, dates, and links.
The museum’s newsletter is a great resource to stay updated with all events and exhibitions neatly placed in one’s email. Students have special programs they can join if interested in joining the museum’s family.
Volunteers: Support the educational programs and assist in different events, museum activities, workshops, and special programs. Recruitment for this position happens twice a year (August and January), and High School students are free to join during the summer.
Gallery Guides: Gallery Guides assists in leading the tours to academic and non-academic groups, studying the exhibitions, and taking part in the exhibitions’ programming. Gallery guides are volunteers, but FIU students could use their hours towards an internship for credit under specific requirements and commitments (and of course, with the approval of advisors and departments).
The Museum Insider Program: Provides enrolled students of FIU the opportunity to unlock membership perks, priority treatment, and free access to all public programs. Participation is free and unlocks many benefits; students can find the program form on their website.
VISITOR During my visit to the Frost, I interviewed Yanius Alvarado, a recent MFA graduate from the University of Miami who attended the museum.
Q: What was your favorite exhibition you saw today?
A: I would have to say that my favorite exhibition at the Frost Museum had to be the one curated by Pepe Mars. It’s a fundamental message of humanity thru convergence, and it was a magnificent experience. Located on the third floor, Pepe Mars’ “Tesoro” is a collection unlike any other. Divided into themes such’s as: Theatre of the City; Mirror, Mirror; Procession; and Cabinet of Curiosities, Tesoro’s. My favorite being Cabinet of Curiosities for its juxtaposition of artifacts. It carries energy.
Q: Was there a specific artwork that caught your eye?
A: A visual storytelling piece called “Treading Thoughts” from the exhibition House to House: Women, Politics and Place. I love how it focused on the importance of community for women and men’s necessity to understand and join to become feminists.
Q: Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, did you feel safe coming and walking around the museum?
A: I felt safe, walking around the museum. The steps taken by the museum were excellent.
Q: How does being in a museum make you feel? Do you like visiting artistic institutions regularly?
A: Museum are hard for me to understand due to the complex interpretation and rich history they curate and guard. I love the idea of spending time talking to the artwork on the wall to find everything and anything, so it takes me time to feel comfortable in them; nevertheless, museums are a space where everyone from the artist to the audiences should feel safe and cared for enough to keep returning to them. I didn’t but now that I think about it, I’ve always felt safe in them, so the next time the opportunity arises, I will remember that feeling and be grateful that I’m surrounded by such energy and talent.
Q: How does art (any type) impact your life?
A: Like I expressed previously, museums are filled with inspiration and rich in history, so as a creative head myself, art provides a recharge/ replenish of new ideas and complex thoughts worthy of their time to develop. Life is art, and how rare for humanity to create a building for that same purpose. The grim comparison that museums are like churches for non-religious/faith people who enjoy art is controversial, but as a person who comes from a Catholic background (even though I don’t practice it), it is precisely that. Museums become incubators for humans like us with the necessity to fuel ourselves with art and the impact it has on our life. A day in a museum may be for a few short hours, but it stays with you forever.
PORTRAIT This is an interview with Emily Afre, the Education Specialist at the Frost Art Museum. This interview was done virtually, a few days after my museum visit, given the complexities of the pandemic.
Q:Can you briefly tell me how you got the job at the museum? What was your job when you started and what is your current job?
A: I was enrolled in your same class with John Bailey and participated in Aesthetics & Values 2017. My group worked with local artist, Felicia Chizuko Carlisle, where Carlisle performed an experimental sound piece on a sculpture she created, the night of the opening reception. I am a musician and found great interest in Carlisle’s sound performances. I then gave several tours of the exhibition and found myself interning as a docent/Gallery Guide for the museum. In a way, giving tours was like a performance and I enjoyed connecting with people in a conversation about art. During this time, I held the position as Traffic & Training Manager and on-air DJ at WRGP FIU Student-Radio where my primary responsibility was to ensure all staff followed FCC guidelines. Since graduating in 2017, I have served as the Frost’s Education Specialist.
Q: Can you expand on what your job is and what functions, projects or department(s) you oversee?
A: As Education Specialist I research exhibitions, manage the student Gallery Guide Program, and develop student programming. I also give tours to K-12, University, and community members. I work closely with Director of Education, Miriam Machado. We develop our programs with museum trends and social issues in mind.
Q: As we’re growing up, we always get asked what we want to be when we grow up. Was working in a museum ever in the list of careers you wanted to explore? Did you ever see it as a possibility?
A: I’ve been involved in the arts my entire life. I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember. I do not thrive in stagnant environments and the museum setting allows me to remain creative. I am currently working towards building a career in music as an independent artist.
Q:Have you been able to create any programs or projects within your department? If so, what has been your proudest moment?
A: A main focus of my job as Education Specialist is on student engagement. I am proud of our DEAI initiatives (Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion, from the American Alliance of Museums Plan). It is important to me that the museum is a safe space for all students. This approach to programming has even extended to educating our staff on LGBTQ+, race, gender, and accessibility.
Q: Since you started working at the museum, which exhibition has been your favorite? And why?
A: My favorite exhibition so far would have to be Artist as Mystic: Rafael Soriano. This was a retrospective of a Cuban painter whose early work of geometric abstraction morphed into dark surrealism as a direct response to the Cuban Revolution. He managed to achieve a brilliant luminosity in his paintings while using oil paint, which is typically quite dense. That requires a lot of skill! His work gives form to the subconscious and I found myself really encompassed by this. I like to think Soriano’s later work embodies the music of Cocteau Twins, my favorite band.
Q: Can you mention an artist or artwork within the museum’s permanent collection that has a special connection with you either personally or professionally?
A: I really love Alameda Black (1981) by Richard Serra. It was the first work I would discuss on a tour of the permanent collection and for good reason. At first glance, you’d think you were looking at a black square, but then you start to see texture and its relationship to space. I’d ask people what their impressions were, if it looked like anything familiar to them, how it made them feel – even if “nothing” was an answer. Richard Serra used black oil paint sticks and melted them over a sheet of aluminum; the texture is a consequence of the paint not having been dried completely. This fascinated people – they couldn’t understand how the paint had not dried if the work was created in the early 80s. The aluminum, a non-porous material, does not allow the oil paint to dry as quickly as it would, if it were on a surface like canvas, for example. So in a way, the work is never quite the same at any given moment. To see how this changed the perspective most people had on abstract art was really interesting for me to experience.
Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your job and the museum in general?
A: I have been working remotely since March and it’s only recently that the museum has reopened to the public. Now I come in to the office once a week and continue to work from home. I feel extremely grateful that I have had the opportunity to continue working considering the overwhelming amount of individuals who have been unemployed or furloughed because of the pandemic. I miss engaging with classes in the galleries – the energy is not the same via ZOOM, but we make it work!
Q: Taking reference to the exhibitions that have been up this semester “House to House,” “Otros Lados,” and Pepe Mar’s “Tesoro”, I would argue the museum is actively working on showcasing the diversity of Miami while also connecting to the bigger conversations our nation’s dealing with such as gender inequality, racism and lgbtqia+ representation. Was this a decision the museum took given the country’s political climate? Or has the museum always been battling these topics one way or another. Could you elaborate?
A: As a public institution and university museum, it is our responsibility to educate and inspire the community. In the last few years, the museum has been focusing on efforts to be more diverse and inclusive and this mission is represented in the exhibitions and programming. Art can sometimes serve as a vessel for artists to either respond to these big conversations or encourage dialogue among the viewer, in the hopes of not only bringing awareness to these issues but to motivate others to build a more just world. Exhibitions are usually planned years in advance, House to House was meant to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of women gaining the right to vote. The exhibition is now on view and considering the context of the time, we are not only looking at the centennial of the 19th amendment, but also acknowledging the slow progress our country has made as we elect the first woman of color as Vice President. We would have never known the current state of our country then, but it is necessary to change with the times while remaining open to learn and unlearn. When developing student programming, I feel it is crucial that I think about what conversations we should be having with our students. If we can do this through art, then all the better!
Q: In recent years museum workers, all over the country have been speaking out about unfair wages, inequality and even institutionalized racism. Personally, I have found myself working with cultural organizations and art institutions where I am the minority. Do you think the museum is actively trying to battle these situations, whether it’s through the hiring process, the artists that get chosen or the exhibition selection?
A: FIU has always been an inherently diverse place to work in. As a university-museum, we welcome students and community members from all walks of life. This has always been at the heart of our goals as an institution. Now we are doing what we can to become more educated on current issues related to DEAI like attending trainings, workshops, and amplifying unheard voices through our programming and exhibitions.
Q: Many people often think the museum as a place solely for admiring works of art on a wall. However, many don’t know how much effort the museum goes to create programs and events that interact with the community and the students at the university. Knowing that you worked before at The Roar, the FIU radio station, and have created events that merge both; Would you say collaboration is an important part of the museum experience? Have you been able to see the change in people’s minds about the museum once they have attended one of these events?
A: Collaboration is key!! When it comes to events and programs, you need to understand your target audience. Once you do, the idea is to build your audience and sometimes this is done as a result of collaborating with other groups and organizations. Most organizations on campus are student-run and everyone deserves to be supported. Art is often a reflection of the people who make it and at the end of the day, we all relate to one another in some capacity. We’ve hosted drag performances, film screenings, and even invited local bands to play, in efforts to connect students to the art in unique or unconventional ways.
Q: Finally, what is your advice for students looking to work within a museum? Is there any particular way to begin this journey?
A: My advice is to go for it! Lose the self-doubt and apply for opportunities, even if you feel like you may not have enough experience. If you are motivated and willing to learn it will be evident. Sometimes, networking can feel disingenuous or, for a more introverted person like myself, a little difficult. Just remember you are as much of a person as the one you are talking to, so don’t be afraid to be yourself. Feel free to explore different options and once you land an opportunity, decide what it is you hope to learn and set out to achieve those things. I recommend volunteering and/or interning to get a feel for how a museum operates. Internships are a good way to build professional relationships, they give you the room to grow, and offer the chance to test out the waters. I am currently seeking interns for Spring 2021, so if any students would like to apply to the Gallery Guide Program at the Frost Art Museum, please send them my way!
SUMMARY I think the Frost Art Museum is a solid institution that has been focusing on the important conversations both local and nationally for a long time. They have served the South Florida community as a pioneer and champion of local artists. They serve as a realm of opportunity for FIU students who seek to explore volunteering and internship opportunities. The Frost was one of the first institutions I visited when coming to Miami and it still amazes me, this museum has introduced me to many Latin American and Caribbean artists like Rafael Soriano, Jorge Alberto Hernández Cadi and Laura Aguilar among others. I am grateful for the museum being such an inclusive and equal institution and all they do for the advancement of the artistic community.
STUDENT BIO Andrea Sofia R. Matos is a junior majoring in Art History with a minor in Photography at Florida International University. Passionate for the art and culture of the Caribbean, Latin America, and the African Diaspora, she aspires to be a curator. As part of Art Society Conflict, Andrea desires to expand her knowledge in art and the history of Florida’s most vibrant city.
WHO The Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum is a museum whose focus is to showcase Miami’s diverse population while presenting to the public compelling works of art that break barriers across cultures, disciplines, and genres. Located on Florida International University’s Modesto A. Maidique campus, what began in a small space in the Primera Casa building in 1978 is currently a 46,000 square foot building. The museum houses over 6,000 works of art from pre-columbian objects to contemporary photographs.
WHY As an art history major it is very important for me to have experiences in as much cultural and artistic institutions I am able to explore. A museum is a very specific machine that operates in particular ways, thus the knowledge of how a museum works as an institution must be gained by actively participating within it. One of my very specific goals after completing a higher education is working as a curator in a museum, therefore knowing how exhibitions are made and collections are gained is essential to my professional development.
Another side of why I chose the Frost Art Museum is because it provided the option to do remote volunteering during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the university museum, I was intrigued as to how they worked with the students and how many opportunities they provided.
HOW During the surge of the coronavirus pandemic I became unemployed. The months in isolation and without a job started getting to me so I figured I needed to go back to working creatively as soon as possible. I began searching for jobs and internships within the arts I saw an open call for a Gallery Guide Program. I applied and in less than couple of hours, I had received an email to schedule an interview which I had a few days later. Emily Afre, the Education Specialist, is the supervisor of the program and my closest connection within the museum.
WHERE & WHAT
During the month of October, I was tasked with shadowing the Chief Curator of the museum Amy Galpin as she gave tours to different groups of students and professionals of the two current exhibitions titled “House to House: Women, Politics, and Place” and “Otros Lados.” I did a lot of independent studying of the exhibitions and artists of both exhibitions.
October 12 – I shadowed Amy Galpin as she gave a tour to an FIU class. I provide with supporting links and helped answer questions in the chat from the students regarding museum hours and questions about the artists.
October 14 – I attended a virtual Zine Workshop and helped answer questions to the participants. The workshop was inspired by the exhibition “Otros Lados” the museum staff members engaged with first-gen students in a conversation about identity, immigration, and their personal experiences and college journeys as they made their own zine. I even participated and made my own zine.
October 16 – I shadowed Amy Galpin as she gave a tour to another FIU class of the current exhibitions of “Otros Lados” and “House to House: Women, Politics, and Place”. I provided virtual assistance to Amy and provided resourceful links to the students.
October 20 – Attended a Mock Tour with education specialist Emily Afre about both exhibitions. Took notes and paid close attention of how to give a proper tour.
During the month of November I payed more close attention to actually giving a tour and figuring out the virtual controls and how to navigate properly through it. I studied independently some more and attended various virtual events.
November 5 – The online event of Diversifying the Narrative was held and even though I didn’t provide any assistance I made sure to tune in and support the poets and artists present.
November 6 – Gave a solo mock tour to Emily Afre to make sure I knew the material and had all the right information about the artworks. Worked together alongside Emily to fill in any holes left in my tour giving.
November 10 – Met up with the other guides and Emily Afre to begin our exhibition study guide of the new upcoming exhibition “Tesoro: Pepe Mar’s Love Letter to the Frost”. We discussed the logistics of how the study guide was going to be created and the other pertinent information that needs to be dissected and then presented in tours and walkthroughs.
December 4 – Met up with Emily Afre to discuss the Sculpture Park. When giving a virtual tour things change a bit, so rehearsing tours virtually is very important. We discussed the sculptures around the museum, their meaning and how we would present them to elementary and middle school children.
SUMMARY My experience as a Gallery Guide at the Frost Art Museum during a pandemic was something special, to say the least. I had never been volunteering and have all the work be completely online; it definitely took getting used to the fact that we could only see and work through zoom and phone calls. Having worked in a museum setting before, I did not like working through online platforms; much of the experience is having to be at the museum and regularly see art pieces. However, the online experience did provide me with sets of skills that I know I will need to master if I want to continue in this career pathway, like answering emails promptly and having clear studies of artworks within exhibitions.
Andrea Sofia R. Matos is a senior majoring in Art History with a minor in Photography at Florida International University. Passionate for the art and culture of the Caribbean, Latin America, and the African Diaspora, she aspires to be a curator. She has had the privilege of working with various art institutions in Miami and Puerto Rico, which have challenged her visual literacy and exposed her to the contemporary art scene. As part of Art Society Conflict, Andrea desires to expand her knowledge in art and the history of Florida’s most vibrant city.
I decided to make video chronicles of FIU’s Honors College class ‘Art, Society, Conflict’ with professor and artist John W. Bailly. I thought it would be fun to document this experience as we navigate this “new normal” in-person university classes.
Note: These lectures are full of rich explanations of history and culture of the sites we explore. However, because we are outdoors regularly, hiking and walking for long periods of time, it is hard to record good audio. Hopefully the visuals will do them some type of justice.
In this first video we are met with the vibrant outdoors of the Deering Estate and it’s compelling structures. Here we were very lucky to have met Jennifer Tisthammer, it’s director, who asked us a questions on the topic of cultural preservation. Who chooses what is important to preserve and what is not important enough?
In the second video we are strolling through a very hot and a never before seen, empty Miami Beach. Unique to this location is the beautiful and elegant Art Deco architecture amidst a chaotic city. However, this piece of land was not always the vibrant cultural hotspot, originally Miami Beach was a rich ecosystem of sandbars and mangroves.
Bakehouse Art Complex
For our third class, we assisted Miami-based artist Lauren Shapiro on her current project titled “Future Pacific” at the Bakehouse Art Complex. Shapiro’s practice focuses on viewing the parallels of art and science to create an interactive exhibition that enhances the environmental literacy of the community. Through a collaboration with scientists and researchers, this project aims to preserve and protect the endangered marine ecosystem. We helped make the clay models of coral reefs and applied them to structures in the gallery.
The Rubell Museum
In this fourth episode we visited the Rubell Museum one of the most significant and diverse contemporary private art collections in the world.
Deering Estate Hike
We visited the Deering Estate for our fifth class, but this time, we went back in time when the Tequesta were still here hunting and gathering in the wilderness. Because it was the day after the United States election, this immersion into nature was one of the most therapeutic experiences I’ve had throughout the pandemic.
Everglades National Park
For our first meeting of the new semester our Art, Society and Conflict class met in the Everglades National Park to go sloughing through the cypress trees and to venture through the surrounding trails.
For this week’s Art, Society, Conflict class professor @johnwbailly once again, took us to two incredible institutions where we found ourselves surrounded by art. The Margulies Warehouses’s incredible contemporary art collection (@margulieswarehouse) and Locust Projects (@locustprojects) which featured Mette Tommerup’s (@mettetommerup) exhibition titled “Made by Dusk.”
A new adventure for both the professor and the students to venture through Bill Baggs State Park (@bill_baggs_state_park) in Key Biscayne. We were accompanied by Ranger Shane Zigler who gave us wonderful insights about the history of the park and its most incredible feature the lighthouse.
River of Grass
We went back for a seconds time to the Everglades National Park (@evergladesnps) and explored other areas of this subtropical wonderland. We focused on the impact humans have had in the history of its ecosystem.
Frost Art Museum
On March 10th our class was able to go back to campus for the first time in two semesters to visit the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum (@frostartmuseum). There we met with Dr. Amy Galpin, the chief curator of the museum along with Miriam Machado and Emily Afre from the Education Department to view “Accumulate, Classify, Preserve, Display” from Roberto Obregón’s Archives and Pepe Mars’ Tesoro exhibitions currently on view. We visited Carlos Alfonzo’s mural, which is one of the last works he ever made in his lifetime and our day ended with a really interesting and fun workshop!
We set forth to Coral Gables, a new experience for both the professor (@johnwbailly) and the students, to explore the history and foundation of the city we know today. Founded in 1925, Coral Gables is nearly 100 years old with an interesting past of careful urban planning and a deep infatuation of the Mediterranean. We were lucky to have the guidance of Liliam Dominguez, the director of Education, from the Coral Gables Museum who provided richer insights throughout our day.
Vizcaya Museum & Gardens
This video is of our last @fiuhonors Art, Society & Conflict class with Professor @johnwbailly. I originally made these videos to document the experience of attending an in-person class through the COVID-19 pandemic and an unforgettable year. I am thankful to all the organizations, sites, collections, and museums that welcomed us into their spaces and believed in our ability to maintain social distancing and cooperate with their guidelines. Special thanks have to go out to Bailly, who trusted us to carry out this mission. Which, in turn, made us all closer as classmates and helped us stay a little sane during these difficult times.
Andrea Sofia R. Matos is a junior majoring in Art History with a minor in Photography at Florida International University. Passionate for the art and culture of the Caribbean, Latin America, and the African Diaspora, she aspires to be a curator. She has had the privilege of working with various art institutions in Miami and Puerto Rico, which have challenged her visual literacy and exposed her to the contemporary art scene. As part of Art Society Conflict, Andrea desires to expand her knowledge in art and the history of Florida’s most vibrant city.
Deering as Text
“To Belong,” by Andrea S. Rodriguez Matos of FIU at Deering Estate on September 9, 2020.
Every generation is tackled with the exhausting question of identity, communal belonging to specific coordinates. Most of our life, we are told to affirm with conviction the “inherent” character of the spiritual practice, class, and community we are linked to. As we navigated through the outdoors of the estate, I found myself wondering how one could possibly engage the idea of identity in a land of so many. This terrain saw Paleo-Indian’s hunt. It observed how the Tequesta created tools and pottery and witnessed Seminole blood spilled in a gruesome war. These acres watched as European colonizers settled, as runaway slaves of the Caribbean took shelter, and as it was later purchased by the Richmond and Deering families.
To further layer the identity question to this experience, we made our way into the structures located on-site. We paced towards a Spanish inspired villa through roman archways with decorated capitals of distinctive tropical animals whose exterior holds beautifully sculpted Islamic arches. We find ourselves in a room with a checkered floor and a high ceiling, the very room which once hung paintings by Rembrandt and El Greco in its walls. As we continued the tour of this magical space, we were guided into a dark room with French-inspired catholic mosaics—these lit up the room just enough to see the Chinese artifacts in the adjacent wall.
The director of the Deering Estate, Jennifer Tisthammer, invited us to the rooftop that oversees a fantastic view of the estate and Biscayne Bay. She asks us another question I don’t have the answer to, the problem of preservation. Who decides what’s important enough to conserve and what is not? Who are we to say markings found on red ceramic roof tiles aren’t just as important as paintings only a floor below?
Failing to fathom how such a wide range of cultures, histories, and ideas have met within the 18-inch poured concrete walls, we sneak into the second structure. This wooden cottage breathes every time you take a step within it. One can almost hear the footsteps of the hundreds of travelers looking for comfort some 90 years ago. Science and religion coexist once we walk through a narrow hallway filled with botanical drawings of native plants that leads us to the kitchen. And right in the middle, the kitchen keeps a framed white and blue Spanish tile mosaic.
Eventually, I can process some of the information as we make our way to our destination, a Chinese bridge built by Afro-Bahamian workers. Only to remember that in an explosion gone wrong at the People’s Dock just south of the Estate, six of these very workers died, which nobody chose to recognize or honor. I stood still in the middle of the colorful bridge piecing the experience, the histories, and the cultures together little by little as we stared into the wilderness.
Yet, the question stands, who are we amidst this cultural fusion? Can anybody belong in the very soil who remembers Paleo-Indians hunting and the Tequesta gathering? It’s amidst this identity crisis where the answer lies. It’s the freedom our young bodies feel when we parade through these paths without fully grasping the absurdity of this terrain’s massive historical exchange. In a land so diverse, we all belong.
South Beach as Text
“The Glamour Facade”, by Andrea S. Rodriguez Matos of FIU at South Beach Walking Tour on September 23, 2020.
When they teach us about segregation, they often talk about the subject as if it happened in a time far from our own. Little emphasis is given to the closeness of the “Black Codes” and “Jim Crow” laws —which existed for about 100 years, from the post-Civil War era until 1968, only 52 years ago—that openly discriminated African Americans and other nonwhite groups. It is uncommon to sit through a lecture that explicitly informs us of the policies that ensured black people and their fellow third-class citizens could not achieve the progress they were promised and would not benefit from the “American dream.”
This deliberate ignorance has blinded us from the contemporary violations of civic rights and the microaggressions that continue to haunt the marginalized groups in our society. We often forget that through the exploitation and underpaid labor of black and brown bodies, the very cities and attractions we now enjoy were built.
The City of Miami Beach is home to various cultural and artistic attractions such as museums, artist residencies, Art Basel, and Art Deco architecture’s most extensive collection globally. Its vibrant nightlife, with regularly packed live music venues, restaurants, and bars only steps away from the beach, makes this city one of the most visited destinations. However, concealed behind its flashy neon signs and liberal flags is a long and repulsive history of discrimination.
Destroyed of its original blooming ecosystem of sandbars and mangroves lead by white upper-class businessmen with a god complex, Miami Beach is a perfect example of a city that was never meant to be. Laborers worked under severe conditions to clear the mangroves, deepen the water channels surrounding it and fill the area with sand and soil found elsewhere. This brief recollection helps us understand the lengths the ambitions of men will go to ensure a life of glamor, even at the expense of its community and environment.
Ever since the first constructions begun in Miami Beach, segregation laws permitted African Americans’ expulsion from its borders. African Americans could only enter in two conditions: as a worker or entertainer, and even then, they were not allowed to live in the municipality. Black tourists could not stay at the hotels on the beach and would only be permitted on specific beaches and others only on Mondays. Jews were another marginalized group that suffered maltreatment. Their skin color allowed them access to buy properties and visit beaches, hotels, restaurants, and other venues but restricted them doing so only south of 5th street.
Recent events in our sociopolitical climate have unearthed that racism and xenophobia are issues that haven’t been appropriately solved or given the necessary attention. To this day, north of 5th street continues to be an area privileged by the presence of heavily guarded police and many active maintenance and custodian teams, more so than in the south. So, as we paraded through the empty streets of Ocean Drive, it was evident that even 52 years after the end of Jim Crow, we still have a long way to go and a lot of work to do.
The minute we walked into the gallery, we came across giant wooden structures scattered all around the space. This site-specific installation, titled “Future Pacific,” is a work in-the-making by Miami-based artist Lauren Shapiro housed in the Bakehouse Art Complex. Shapiro’s project develops as a collaboration with the research of marine ecologist Dr. Nyssa Silbiger, whose objective is to create urgency for preserving the coral reef’s essential role for the environment. Academia often makes science and art into diametrical oppositions, but Shapiro and Silbiger are looking to enhance each other’s practice to preserve the most important aquatic species.
Shapiro’s practice focuses on viewing the parallels of art and science to create an interactive exhibition that enhances the environmental literacy of the community. Typically, museums and gallery spaces prohibit physical interaction with any exhibition or artwork, yet here we are encouraged to participate and get our hands dirty. There were no restrictions; we were free to explore the different possibilities the materials allow us. Our job was to press the clay into the silicone molds of coral skeletons and reef animal bones to adhere to the big wooden structures that, when finished, will transform into an artistic representation of a fossilized coral reef.
Shapiro invited us to view her studio where buckets of new and old clay filled the entirety of the space. It was interesting to see her whole process, from making the clay to the final product of 100% recycled material. Moreover, it allowed us to immerse ourselves personally, not just in the artmaking, but also in the artist’s daily routine.
We conversed about the oceans’ importance and the harmful impact our everyday activities cause during our time there. I distinctively remember Professor Bailly tells us: “If trees are the lungs of the earth, coral reefs are the lungs of the ocean,” this statement got me thinking about the issue of deforestation and how we are doing the same to our oceans. We live in a connected world, yet we have chosen to disassociate and ignore the damage we have caused. I am proud to have been part of a project that asked of its participants to be more conscious of the environment and demanded us to do introspection in how we contribute to the destruction of our marine ecosystems.
Rubell as Text
“Museum Magic,” by Andrea S. Rodriguez Matos of FIU at Rubell Museum on October 21, 2020.
The art world is like the human body, where different parts with different functions ultimately come together to experience life. Similarly, the art world is an industry that divides itself into three major components: the art market, art institutions (both private and public), and academia. People often like to keep these three sections separate, unable to coexist, yet most don’t understand that, like the body, they collaborate to perform as efficiently as possible.
The formerly called Rubell Family Collection is a private art collection located in Miami, Florida, that began with the joined efforts of Don and Mera Rubell 54 years ago. The Rubell Museum is one of the world’s most significant contemporary art collections and a first-rate example of synthesizing the three major components within the art world. The Rubell’s acquire the artworks through the private art market, which gives them the freedom to display and champion artists they believe in and are seminal to the city’s cultural development and the world. To emphasize their public mission, the museum has implemented programs that invite local students to engage with the art and artists. It welcomes art historians, curators, and artists to participate in their internships and artists’ residencies. I believe it is through this fusion that the Rubell Museum succeeds.
The museum’s diverse and generous selection of artists from different countries and ethnic backgrounds was one of the most impressive things to behold. Given the grandeur of the 36 galleries within the museum, it’s not a surprise that the collection houses grand installations and hundred-foot paintings. Never shying from a controversial topic, the museum holds many shocking pieces that would not be viewed elsewhere if it were not for the private acquisition.
Since our lives became consumed by the pandemic, I had not visited a museum, and, as a regular museum-goer, this was an emotional trip. As cliché, as it sounds art, has always been an encouraging force throughout my life, and in these months of isolation, I had forgotten just how much life art grants me. Walking through the carefully curated walls is magical to me; it transports me to another universe. At that moment, the museum becomes the gatekeeper to different worlds, where numerous stories are allowed space for others to see, and that, to me, is the power of art.
Deering Hike as Text
“A Breath of the Wild,” by Andrea S. Rodríguez Matos of FIU at Deering Estate on November 3, 2020.
On Wednesday morning, I woke up with many worries on my mind and found it hard to breathe. Crumbling anxiety from the United States Presidential Election and the coronavirus pandemic’s months-long concerns invaded my mind restlessly. Once I was able to catch my breath I realized it was finally the day I would venture through the Deering Estate’s magical ecosystems.
We often forget that the ground we walk on has been touched by thousands, if not millions of people, from the Paleo-Indians to the Afro-Bahamians to the tourist escaping the north’s cold weather. It is rare that within a metropolis as young as Miami, we find spaces that can transport us to a time 10,000 years back. We traveled through mangroves, pine rocklands, meadows, and hardwood hammocks as our geographical ancestors once did to find various ecosystems working together to survive.
As we trekked on through the wilderness, the fact that we were still in Miami and that we hadn’t crossed an invisible portal to another world was unfathomable. It was hard not to be consumed by the beauty of nature in its most natural state. I was mesmerized by the beautiful patterns created by the light escaping through the interconnected web of tree branches and firmly rooted mangroves.
As we continued to explore, I forced myself to imagine what life was like for the people before me thousands of years ago. I could imagine them walking side by side, finding the tools they would need to hunt, drill, and dig. I could visualize them gathering plants and the food necessary for their survival. And I could envision them bathing and drinking from the pools of freshwater and using the variety of trees to build their homes, canoes, and tools. I couldn’t help but ask myself what would’ve become such a complex society had it not been from their annihilation.
Once we reached the Tequesta Burial Mound, the energy shifted. Combatant feelings of joy and sadness made their way into my mind. This place was only a reminder of the massacre our most ancient ancestors suffered upon the arrival of greedy men looking to colonize and exterminate anyone who stood in their way. As I reached the closest I could be to the burial site, I realized that sitting on top of this mound, of 18 Tequesta burials, is an enormous oak tree that I choose to believe carries, in its roots and branches, the very souls of the Tequesta live on. And I could breathe with ease again.
After a tumultuous year riddled with a global pandemic, political dilemmas, ecological disasters, and social upheaval, a trip to the Everglades seemed like a wonderful opportunity to start a new year right. Away from the Miamian metropolis’ bustling streets lies thousands of acres of land dedicated to preserving the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States.
As we immersed ourselves into the wilderness, becoming one with nature, slogging through the towering cypress trees made everyday worries seem ridiculous and foolish. So much time of our lives is wasted in reminiscing the past and anxiously planning our future that we forget there’s nothing like living in the present. There’s nothing that makes one more present than smelling the fresh air, feeling the wind on your face, and hearing the birds sing. It serves almost as a reminder to take a breath, to look up at the sky, and rejoice in the fact that there’s life at its purest when you’re surrounded by water and earth. The crystal water was a testament that even the muddiest of environments hold balance and beauty.
Perhaps my favorite part of this unforgettable day was when our guide and park ranger Dylann Turffs, made us quietly stand still where no cars could be heard to fully appreciate the space we were exploring. She then read us a poem by Anne McCrary Sullivan that validated the feelings I had when standing still in the middle of the cypress.
“[…] I am inconsequential here
I am inconsequential everywhere
but here I have no illusions
whatever dies dies
whatever gets devoured gets devoured
waters rise and fall clouds move,
the buzzing profusion continues […]”
In a land so close to our homes is an oasis of raw nature. A dynamic variety of ecosystems makes the Everglades one of nature’s most impressive mosaics. There is something otherworldly about the artworks one finds in nature. No man, despite ability and drive, can replicate the complexity of patterns, colors, lines, and forms magically given to us through the environment’s imagination. There’s no limit to what this complex ecological system can provide us, and it is why it’s so important we make an effort to care for this world’s life source.
Our first stop of the day was the Margulies Collection in Wynwood, and I was excited as ever to finally visit one of the most talked-about private collections in Miami. This excellent warehouse houses an exciting range of contemporary art worldwide, but perhaps their most impressive feature is the massive photographic collection at their disposal. The photographs take a unique space within the warehouse and are displayed salon-style along a long hallway, and it was this impressive display of the photographs that consumed me, I was in awe.
During our time in the Locust Projects to view their newest exhibition/installation titled “Made by Dusk”, we met Mette Tommerup, the artist. This exhibition is the third installment of an exhibition trilogy where she transforms the space and calls for a state of ethereal stillness and reflection. The spiritual informs the installation as Tommerup draws inspiration from Freya, the Nordic Goddess of love, war, and transformation.
As a person who has been acquainted with art and its history since high school, every time I venture into a new museum, exhibition, or collection, I find myself looking for technical and artistic clues that indicate the piece’s intention. I pay attention to the artwork’s context regarding the time it was produced and the visual composition, and the elements and materials that merge into the work before me. I am not an expert at observing art, but I am passionate about what I am looking at. However, when one studies art history, it is easier to be consumed by the technicalities and academic aspects of viewing art rather than entering an exhibition and letting my mind wander. During our time in Margulies Collection and Locust Projects, my classmates reminded me of the importance of the raw and emotional connection with art. Their instinctive reactions, whether it was love, hate, or disregard for the pieces within these collections, made my understanding of them all the better. A few of my classmates showed powerful feelings about the value of an artwork, the artist’s intention and application, and the final product itself that made the conversations more exciting and thought provoking. I appreciated and questioned the works around me from a new perspective through them. More often than not, the reaction of someone not as educated in the arts is more impressive than those who have spent their whole lives immersed in it.
Our experience at Bill Baggs State Park did not disappoint. Ranger Shane Zigler was a great addition to our time there as he provided interesting insights about the history of Key Biscayne and the Lighthouse. Professor Bailly helped us put things in a global perspective and gain context on Key Biscayne’s importance from its first settlers, the Tequesta, to the Spaniards who settled and the modernization efforts that began after Florida became part of the United States of America. As we walked the path that lay in front of us, I always wondered how this piece of land could have looked like when the Tequesta were here. It is their stories I long to hear and record in my mind forever. Yet when many people think of the Tequesta about Key Biscayne, they only focus on the famous incident known as the attack on July 23, 1836, during the Seminole Wars, in which they (Tequesta) took the lighthouse. However, it is essential to remember that this event did not happen without cause. The Tequesta decided to take this course of action because they were being massacred all over the South and kept being pushed down further and further every time. It then became clear they could either fight or be exterminated. To say that the Tequesta were treated poorly is to oversimplify this situation’s gravity. This is the reason I sympathized when they attacked the lighthouse; they were sending a message of resilience and defiance. It’s a victory nobody will ever be able to take away from them.
Since I first moved to South Florida three years ago from Puerto Rico, I have to admit that I underwent tremendous struggle to adapt to life here. I was quick to judge a big city because of the culture shock I experienced and the bubble of my everyday life. The months turned into years of me judging a place I knew absolutely nothing about; then, I took this class that explores the real Miami, and I am left utterly speechless. Through these immersive lectures, I reflect on how wrong I was about South Florida. I let my ignorance and lack of experience taint the beauty of a land so rich in history and culture.
For a second time this semester, we went to explore the Everglades National Park. Having only ventured through a small portion of this ecosystem, we uncovered new spaces of this wonderful wilderness. This time around, we focused on the Everglades’ human history, from the man-made disasters to the preservation efforts that others have started to reverse the damage done. The whole day I was going back and forth in history, trying to wrap my head around the hardships the land I was happily exploring had gone through.
As we have learned throughout the semester, humans have lived in the Florida Everglades as far back as 15,000 years ago. The two major tribes that were living as hunter-gatherers were the Calusa and the Tequesta. The Everglades had remained untouched 300 years after the first Spaniard arrived in Florida until the State decided they could begin selling their “worthless swampland” for profit. Among the industrialist responsible for the quick deterioration of the Everglades was Hamilton Disston, Henry Flagler, and Richard J. Bolles. All of which have been praised in one way or another for Florida’s development, yet little is said about the natural and human impact of their so-called “vision”. The same vision that led them to declare a war against nature and Florida’s native inhabitants, all to begin converting the northern Everglades into suburbs, and sugar plantations. Through it all it has been mostly women, like Marjory Stoneman Douglas and others who led the most radical groups of preservation and restoration of the land in South Florida. These women were the ones who knew the true ecological value of the Everglades and decided to make awareness of the damage done.
It is overwhelming to learn how ambitious man’s greed is to get to the point of such an ecological disaster. And to make matters worse on the very land that had been cared for hundreds of years before by the Native Americans. These tribes whose members were brutally murdered by the first Spanish and English conquistadors and by the Americans years later were the ones who held the true vision and the answers to natural harmony. By eradicating them and erasing any contribution, or role played in Florida’s history was how these developers could implement their business models and how they got awarded with the titles of “pioneers.” This disconnection from nature, separating humans from the natural world, has lasted to this very day and comes from the obliteration of the Native Americans that have survived from the political and socioeconomic institutions.
When researching erasure and ownership, I came across several accounts of different Native American tribes that understood and continue to affirm that nature provides all that we need to survive. Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper of the Wolf Clan of the Seneca Nation of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy explains that the earth is our mother, and the plants and animals are our relatives. When asked about ownership he recalls when the first colonizers arrived, how the chiefs of the time laughed when asked about the ownership of the land saying, “How can you buy land?” For its their belief that land cannot be owned, dominated or possessed, simply put the earth was only under their care and protection. I long to see what Florida would have looked like had we treated the inhabitants of this land with humanity. What would our mindset and our life be like had we just sat down and listened to their divine instructions to respect life, above everything else.
Our society is filled with racist and misogynistic institutions that have never felt the pressure to change because white supremacy has made consistent efforts to keep minority groups from climbing up the ranks to the change-making positions that could begin to change this narrative. Museums as cultural institutions have always been seen as holy temples and societal change leaders where artists could present their controversial and modern ideas. However, throughout history, the artists allowed in those rooms and allowed to voice those opinions were white men and never women, people of colors, or any who didn’t fit in the Anglo-Saxon and heteronormative norm. The administration of these institutions isn’t the only thing that is being done wrong in museums; there is still a huge representation problem. The modern museum is unquestionably intertwined with the history of colonization, specifically since these collections were started by wealthy collectors who traveled extensively and brought back artifacts from third-world countries and displayed them in their homes.
An interesting conversation that popped up during our visit to the Frost Art Museum was in Pepe Mar’s “Tesoro”, an exhibition that in its core seeks to recontextualize artworks and artifacts from the museum’s permanent collection, was the placement and intention behind a group of artifacts and masks. In one of its sections, an installation features many masks from different cultures, all for them to be dumped in an explosive and colorful wallpaper, which begs the question if these masks are thrown to be just that, decorative wallpaper which perpetuates a larger colonial mindset. In many cases, museums tend to lose the human connection these works may have had at one beginning. On this wall, masks of various indigenous cultures are displayed side by side. Even though Pepe Mar intends to “come together” and surpass our differences, I think his curatorial choice of placing the masks leaves a wide door open to the wrong type of interpretation. Of not giving these artifacts the dignity they deserve. Like how in oceanic cultures, masks are used at different times of the year to honor their spirits and ancestors.
With an increasing consciousness of the oppressive, racist, and misogynistic tendencies being practiced in these institutions, more leadership roles within cultural and artistic organizations have been given to women and people of color. In recent years, museum workers and museum-goers have an abundance of initiatives to “decolonize” the museum. Decolonizing the museum is a new movement that forces these institutions to take drastic measures to change the way they present artwork, curate and diversify their collections and exhibitions. This new movement seeks to ask these museums to listen to the underrepresented communities and move their colonial mindset of privilege and authority to provide a platform for horizontal and equitable conversations.
Overall, the Frost has always been an institution that engages in controversial conversations and champions underrepresented artists and regions such as the Caribbean and Latin American, and the Latinx diasporic community.
Coral Gables as Text
“The Racist Fairyland,” by Andrea S. Rodríguez Matos of FIU at the City Coral Gables on March 24, 2021.
As a person who comes from very humble beginnings, when I walk or drive through Coral Gables, I always feel out of place. The wealthy neighborhoods with big houses, ample roads, and freshly cut grass are just a few of the undeniable opulence indicators compared to its bordering cities. And although the idea of “The Gables” came from a man of modest upbringing, the city itself was always meant to be what it is today, very rich, prosperous, and extremely out of touch with the rest of its southern Floridian reality. As can be expected of a city built entirely on a dream, a utopia of sorts, where he could convert all the fantastical things he read into his reality. When planning what he sought to accomplish, George Merrick once wrote:
“I dream of the home of the Fairies and Fays, on the isles of the calm southern sky, Of the fanciful turrets and towers ablaze In the flood of the rays from on high…”
During the Florida land boom of the 1920s, Merrick began the project that had resided in the depths of his imagination since he was a boy, making one of the first planned communities that we know now as Coral Gables. He sought collaborators to help him develop the city’s signature architecture style called Mediterranean Revival to resemble Southern Spain built by the Moors. Like much of South Florida, pioneers and visionaries are always credited for creating a city, but little is said about the people who literally built it. The development and building of Coral Gables are owed to the labor of Bahamian immigrants to South Florida. These workers were incredibly proficient in making coral rock into a malleable material and converting the rocky country into rich farmland. Merrick was right, but shouldn’t be praised, to credit their expertise. He once explained, “In the Bahamas, there is the same coral rock; and the Bahamians knew how to plant on it, and how to use it, and they knew too that all kinds of tropical trees would grow and thrive on this rock. They, too, had a vital influence upon our civilization in bringing in their own commonly used trees, vegetables, and fruits.”
However lovely the sentiment to credit them as they are not acknowledged further than a few lines on a piece of paper. To this day, Coral Gables has never been a neighborhood that openly welcomes non-whites, with a population of 91.85% White/White Hispanic, as reported on the 2020 US Census. “The Gables” and its founder never meant to welcome a non-white population. Merrick is explicitly known to have made racist segregationist beliefs and advocated for racist policies throughout his career as a developer and his role as head of the Miami-Dade Planning Board. He went as far as saying before a Miami Board of Realtors meeting that the “removal of Black residents [is] fundamental in achieving the goals for the rest of Miami.” What is most shocking about all of this is how it is an issue that persists today, visible for all to see the moment anyone passes the city lines into Coral Gables.
Involving nearly a tenth of Miami’s population in its construction, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is one of the most significant projects and legacies of one James Deering. Known for his role as the treasurer and then vice-president of the Deering Harvester Company was a man whose love for European culture and antiquities characterized his vision for his landmark Vizcaya. In 1912 Deering acquired the land from Mary Brickell as a somewhat retired bachelor and set out to build his dream home in South Florida’s jungle hammock. With the help of Paul Chalfin, Burrall Hoffman, and Diego Suarez and thousands of Bahamian stonemasons and workers, a lavish Italian-Mediterranean revival waterfront villa with spacious Renaissance revival gardens and a detail-oriented architectural interior full of European, Asian, and American furnishing, art, and antiquities that go back thousands of years. He was part of the out-of-touch elite who romanticized the colonization of the Americas and Europeans’ expeditions.
Utilizing his incredible wealth, he had access to travel extensively through Europe. He collected the highest forms of art he desired, and, in a way, it provided him the ability to borrow culture without question. The furnishings and decors themselves are priceless items such as a rug that belonged to King Ferdinand of Spain’s grandfather and the base of a table from Pompeii’s ruins. Besides these wonders from old European culture, he included modern features such as elevators, a modern phone system, fire control, and central heating. With this combination of the old and the new, he added illusion and mystery to his story, creating a façade of sorts, all within the norms of his extravagant and lavish lifestyle present in the statement that was Vizcaya. Just like in his interior, Deering wanted in his garden the presence of both Europe and Miami. This is why even in his garden, he made sure to infuse classical Italian and French design mixed into the subtropical flora. His use of stone and his interest in the light’s modulation also showcase his need to create an environment that welcomed his passion for Europe and his love of Miami.
An interesting quote that I found when researching Vizcaya and Deering further was Kathryn Chapman Harwood, writer of “The Lives of Vizcaya: Annals of a Great House,” who says that “Although Vizcaya speaks of the 16th, the 17th, and the 18th centuries, of the Renaissance, baroque, rococo, neoclassic, there still hangs in the air, in the manner of living the house illustrates so well, the most fascinating memory of all. There is the still intact vision of a whole social class just moments before its familiar world shattered.” Her book focuses on the recently found priceless documents and records that were evidence of the lost stories of the people who worked there and an agonizing tale of its complex conception for the short five years; Deering was able to enjoy it. I will say, I have a love and hate relationship with Mr. James Deering but will always acknowledge him as being one of the people who truly set-in stone (literally) and somehow predicted what Miami would become a hundred years later.