MasterMind Awards 2013: The Ten Finalists for Miami New Times' Arts Contest

They hail from Santo Domingo, South Miami, San Pedro Sula, and everywhere in between. They choreograph gender-bending dances, create technicolor GIFs, stage performance art festivals, and record metal opuses. They're ten visionaries in Miami's sizzling arts scene, and they're being recognized as finalists in the 2013 Miami New Times MasterMind Awards contest.

This is the fourth edition of the MasterMind Awards — three $1,000 grants given to outstanding local artists and musicians. Past winners have used the contest, which this year is being sponsored by the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, as a springboard to national acclaim.

Take for instance Borscht Film Festival cofounder Lucas Leyva (a 2010 winner) and visual artist Jillian Mayer (a 2012 winner), whose work has been featured at the past two Sundance Film Festivals and who will both sit on a panel at South by Southwest this year. Or Jen Stark (a 2010 winner), whose rainbow-hued paper sculptures have brought her bicoastal fame.

This year, nearly 130 creatives sent submissions, and the vast majority were genuinely fantastic. A group of New Times editors and critics winnowed that field down to ten finalists and 20 honorable mentions. (You can read about these picks at cultistmiami.com.)

A panel of past winners and New Times staffers convened to select the three winners. They will be announced onstage at Artopia at 7 p.m. Thursday, February 28, at the Coral Gables Museum at 285 Aragon Ave.

In the meantime, meet the ten finalists.

Alma Leiva

In Alma Leiva's installations, the pungent aroma of coffee is always strong. That's because café is at the heart of life and death in her homeland.

"In Honduras, we drink coffee all night at wakes while mourning the loss of our friends," Leiva says. "When people say they are going to cafetear someone these days, it's likely the person was murdered."

For her Celdas/Cells project, the 38-year-old creates room-size environments that employ sounds, smells, and visuals to explore violence, religion, and culture through interiors that echo Central American homes.

It's a theme she knows firsthand, coming from San Pedro Sula, Honduras's second-largest city — and, according to some statistics, the world's reigning murder capital. In 1989, at the age of 13, Leiva joined her family in the Magic City, where they had moved in 1982 to flee the violence. But even at Miami Jackson Senior High, she couldn't fully escape turmoil.

"A lot of my friends at the time were also immigrants from Central America. Some of them were from Nicaragua, who were bright kids but got mixed up with crime here and got deported," she says.

When Leiva — who had been making art since she was 4 years old — went on to New World School of the Arts, she made Honduran conflict her subject.

Leiva uses video, photography, and electronic media to reference the cycle of violence. Her Cells are testimonials to average Hondurans forced to barricade themselves in their homes to stay safe.

"My cousin Gypsy was robbed outside her home in San Pedro Sula in front of her 7-year-old son, Luisito," Leiva says. "One of the installations, Celda #2, was inspired by the murder of Gypsy's dad, my uncle."

Yet Leiva's work doesn't simplify Honduras's struggles. She often adds kitschy décor alluding to childhood memories and religious symbols.

"I'm fascinated how these people, who are very Catholic, can only turn to God and the saints, which is all they can cling to in a society that has become so unstable," she says.

Leiva is now working on a video series called Through the Looking Glass, which she hopes can address the complex realities of the immigrant experience.

"Whenever I go to Honduras, I feel like an outsider," she says. "Miami, in that respect, conveys the sanctuary of home in a foreign land. That's why I always come back, no matter what."

Bleeding Palm

Warning: Seizure-prone readers should be wary of Bleeding Palm. Their loss. The art collective's psychedelic animated GIFs, websites, and photography mashups are garishly bright, flashy, and utterly unique. Just like Miami.

Bleeding Palm offers a dose of whimsy in an art world that takes itself too seriously. "I think it comes from the question of 'What if?'" explains Ronnie Rivera, a 32-year-old member of the collective. "Like joking around with friends and just joking around in my own head. What if this was like this? Then taking the next step and actually doing that — that kind of drives me."

The quartet, comprising Rivera, Christina Felisgrau, and "two secret members," was formed in 2010 with the goal of creating a photo chronicle of Miami's music and art scene. Over time, their work has evolved into a fun, satirical look at the 305.

But their oeuvre isn't simply a collection of jokes. Bleeding Palm takes typical Miami experiences — club scenes, late-night escapades, raucous concerts — and reframes them in surreal yet fitting contexts. A mid-set female drummer might grow wings and a She-Ra-style headband. Blood rain might be on the forecast in the Everglades.

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