On how public sculptures accelerate social justice and inclusivity in Miami
As symbols of unity, justice and advocacy, public artwork can be found all around South Florida. And while areas quickly urbanize, more organizations and ordinances are dedicated to preserving the culture and identity of a location.
Kindred Arts is an organization advocating for social issues through art in public spaces. One of their iconic initiatives in collaboration with Hank Willis Thomas is All Power to All People, which was described as a “comically large Afro pick.” As a traveling sculpture, it was recently placed at the Adrienne Arsht Center and Historic Overtown.
Bringing it back to the Civil Rights Movement, the Afro pick is symbolic in more ways than one. Hank explains that the Afro pick “exists today as many things to different people: it is worn as adornment, a political emblem, and signature of collective identity.”
The statue was installed in February of this year, approximately four months before George Floyd’s murder and the social uproar that brought the Black Lives Matter movement back to national headlines. Protests rose up to demand police reform and abolition and most importantly, equality. Especially during this pandemic, minority communities have been disproportionately affected financially and socially. Monuments such as the Afro Pick serve as a symbol of community strength.
As Marsha Reid, Director of Kindred Arts, says in an interview with Impact.Edition, art is a catalyst for social dialogue. “We have to understand that there is a moment for liberation that is happening right now, and it does not come across often,” Marsha Reid states.
With statues in public spaces, such as All Power to All People, anyone can view it and begin to think of its significance and meaning. That is the power of art and monuments in public spaces.
“When you think about public space and the space that you’re in, you do not consider how many agencies or authorities decided what your experience would be,” Marsha explains, “All of those different uses of space offer different ways to understand people so if you police all of those spaces, what you’ve done is control the narrative.”
A community’s story can be defined by its use of public space. Whether a plaza is used for a monument of a warlord or for a cultural market, it will heavily influence the people’s thoughts as they glance over. “Who gets to decide what we celebrate? We do,” Marsha declares.
By allowing community members to be involved in the use of public spaces, they can control the narrative. “It enrages me that we, the community, do not have more control over what we see and what we celebrate,” Marsha emphasizes. It is not a simple process to install public artwork like this, “local authorities make it hard because they want to control the narrative, someone has to push through and advocate,” and that is exactly what Kindred Arts and many artists are doing.
“That art piece isn't lecturing you, it is just asking you to consider it and form your own opinions about it. You’re forming your own interpretations of what it means and what it stands for; that’s advocacy and that's work you're doing all by yourself just by looking at this piece of art, and all I’ve done is put it in a place where it opens conversation.”
Jaume Plensa, artist behind Looking Into My Dreams, Awilda, says “The public space is where you can share your ideas with a community. You have introduced a kind of beauty into the everyday.”
His public art piece is placed near the Perez Art Museum Miami, where anyone would notice the 39-foot-tall sculpture of a young girl. Looking Into My Dreams, Awilda represents youth and femininity. As Jaume mentions during an Art Talk at the Perez Art Museum, Awilda is a real girl who was born in the Dominican Republic but moved to Barcelona in search of a better life.
“Awilda is part of my work with portraits to try to pay homage to anonymous people that every second are probably moving around the world to find a better place to live.”
The statue has always been near the ocean, being in the water in Rio de Janeiro and facing the port in Miami, because Jaume sees the ocean as the main public space in the world that is always moving. The statue itself is elongated so that it could be closer to the sky, spiritually closer to the deities. Awilda, placed in the Museum Park, immediately draws attention and adds character to the park.
Another art piece that touches the hearts of Miami residents is the Tower of Snow. Installed in 2012, Enrique Martinez Celaya’s sculpture represents “exile, duality and fragility.” The bronze sculpture depicts a boy carrying a house on his back while he is on crutches. It honors the 50th anniversary of Operation Peter Pan, when 14,000 children were brought to the United States without their parents. They were sent to the United States on visa waivers so that they would not be influenced by Communist ideologies and could be protected from Fidel Castro’s regime, although some families were never reunited.
As Enrique’s inscription on the plaque explains “for years, feelings of displacement and foreignness had seemed specific to my experience, then I began to read about the ‘Operación Pedro Pan’ and I found my story in many of their accounts. This recognition brought along a new sense of belonging to a group larger than myself, a group whose longing did not fit in any one heart.”
Although this sculpture represents Cuban-American history, it resonates with most Miami residents, serving as a monument to all immigrants who left their homes in hopes of finding a safer environment to raise a family.
In 2012, the Tower of Snow was presented in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The installation of this project was organized by the Hermitage 20/21 project, an annual program designed to display contemporary sculpture in the Great Courtyard of the Winter Palace.
Enzo Gallo’s Liberty Column also honors Cubans’ struggles to lead better lives. Inaugurated in 1994, it honors Cuban rafters who took on the dangerous journey of leaving their homes. It can be found at Bayfront Park with a plaque that reads,
“Since 1959, thousands of Cubans have perished anonymously while fleeing tyranny in small boats and makeshift rafts although their names, like martyred refugees of other nations, are written solely on the pages of the sea, this column is a permanent testimony of the human need to be free.”
In a highly urbanized city, this sculpture allows for passerbyers to stop and appreciate nature. As new buildings rise in Doral, Michele Oka Doner’s Micco prominently stands in the middle of a park. The Seminole word “micco” means “wise leader” and the statue itself serves as the city’s “heart and soul” as Michele said in an interview with Haute Living.
The sculpture was made from a piece of bark that “was so crunched up, only nature could give this compression from disease,” Michele explained. Even though the tree had died, there was life on it as plants began to grow, attached to the bark.
As a city that is commonly referred to as a melting pot, this piece brought the community together as a symbol of unity. Circle by Connie Lloveras is a piece made of 368 slab-rolled squares, each with an etched ball. Each tile represents the diverse community and individuality as Lloveras held workshops for people to carve outlines into the tiles.
Connie states that her art is sometimes recognizable but still “abstract enough to spark a viewer’s imagination in reference to these elements, evoking thought and reflection, dependent on the viewers own point of view or associations.” This piece is located at the North Shore Youth Center and serves as a constant reminder of how diverse communities come together.