By Amanda Gonzalez Garcia
Art has many mediums, not only that of pencil and canvas. Art can be created in a darkroom, through a digital lens, and through other mediums like ceramics and fabric.
We, as humans, consume large amounts of media from billboards, magazines, and social platforms. Artists from all over are finding ways to bring light to social issues in the best way they know.
Some issues addressed by local Miami artists include environmental degradation, political activism, immigration, and poverty.
The beauty of Miami is you don’t have to search hard to be in the activist art scene— we are surrounded by it. From the Wynwood Walls to the Art Deco buildings, the Rubell Museum, the HistoryMiami Museum, and the Bakehouse Art Complex, artistic activism is everywhere.
Below are some extraordinary artists you should know about and the ways they use their art as a bridge to social problems.
Cuban-American artist Xavier Cortada has dedicated his life work to spark action and awareness on climate change. As a Miami native, he has created art across six continents, even at the North and South Poles to address its environmental concerns.
He has made “more than 150 public artworks, installations, collaborative murals and socially engaged projects,” per the artist’s website. Through his Xavier Cortada Foundation, he mobilizes action on climate change.
“The Underwater” is his latest project from last spring where communities showcase the underrepresented and underserved, all while emphasizing the impact of rising sea levels and how together we can demand government officials to plan equitably.
At the TED Countdown London Session 2022, Cortada gave his own TED Talk titled “A creative approach to community climate action.”
"It is my hope that all of us, across all sectors, use the power of art - that universal language - to engage our communities, so that individuals can tap into their own creativity and work with others in finding innovative approaches to build a more just, loving and beautiful world,” he said during the TED Talk.
Cortada is an art professor at the University of Miami (UM) and was appointed by Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava to serve as artist in residence last August. He will work with the county to “engage, educate, and empower Miami-Dade residents to address important social and environmental concerns,” according to the county's press release.
Another pioneer in climate activism is sculptor Lauren Shapiro. Based in Miami, she received her master’s degree from UM in ceramics and a BFA from Florida Atlantic University. She has served as an artist in residence at the Bakehouse Art Complex in Wynwood running the ceramics facilities since 2017.
She shared with The Buccaneer that within her soul of a teacher lies her purpose as an artist to show there is no place like Earth. For her project “Temporary Terrains,” Shapiro gained access to Coral Gables’ Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and their network of biologists to connect the impacts of sea level rise and share the survival of various plant species. With the help of the community, she casted textures and imprints in preservation for an installation piece in 2019.
From there, her workshops helped design the sculptured entrance of the Garden and serve to educate and beautify landscapes.
Shapiro’s work is geometrical with a close fondness to nature and its beauty.
Reginald O’Neal has been an oil paint based artist in Miami since 2012. His pieces highlight his experiences in Overtown, a historically Black neighborhood. His work, as described in ARTNews, include street scenes capturing O’Neal’s friends and portraits memorializing relatives.
“They have a mostly neutral palette, invoking silhouettes of figures from European Old Master paintings, that are then placed against black and white scenes painted, taken from archival photographs. These dimly lit tableaus have a sense of something familiar but at the same time a bit distant,” wrote the magazine about his art.
In 2021, he held an exhibition titled, “Reginald O’Neal: AS I AM” in collaboration with the Rubell Museum.
“My desire is to embrace the unappreciated, defaced and misrepresented, as well as illustrate the true beauty within my community. It is for people looking from the outside, but mainly a mirror for residents of the community to see ourselves for who we are,” he said per the museum’s website.
Tania Bruguera is a Cuban-American performance artist. As an advocate for free speech, she has revolutionized many spaces that focus on power and control. She highlights historical and current events of to the Cuban government and its people.
Tania joined the faculty of Harvard University last August as a senior lecturer in Media & Performance, Theater, and Dance & Media.
Bruguera is a true advocate for those without a voice. On Nov. 30, she was at El Espacio 23 for the 2022 Miami Art Week. She gave a name reading of 958 Cuban political prisoners titled “Coro,” or “choir” in English.
“I want to remind people what is happening in Cuba right now. There is also a tradition in activism of reading the names of people who have died [or been persecut- ed],” she told The Art Newspaper.
Next time you are in Miami, take a second and look at the art and ask yourself what it means to you.