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.
MasterMind Awards 2013
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.
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."
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.
Or Chris Bosh might wield a magic sword to slay an evil Internet temptress. That's exactly what happens in the group's short animated film for the Borscht Film Festival, Adventures of Christopher Bosh in the Multiverse, a romp through space and time starring the Miami Heat forward. Bosh and the NBA both threatened legal action for unauthorized use of his likeness. But Bleeding Palm isn't backing down. They're waiting for an appropriate time to release the short, regardless of legal threats.
Bleeding Palm often collaborates with other artists. In addition to its work with Borscht, the collective has also collaborated with Coral Morphologic, and Rivera is currently busy with creative projects for Gloria and Emilio Estefan.
"It's a very supportive community," Rivera says. "I've always heard that art communities are very closed off and walled off, and I don't ever get that feeling when I'm hanging out with other artists in Miami. I feel like everyone is trying to invite everyone into things."
With Bleeding Palm working on various music and animation projects, what are the chances of a Bosh sequel? "It's only gonna happen if he's gonna be in it," Rivera laughs.
Hey, in the multiverse, anything is possible.
By the time he was 15, Michael Gran was surrounded by death and destruction, running with gangs and committing robberies to feed a growing crack habit. Finally, his parents took drastic action and sent him up North to boarding school.
"I probably would have ended up dead or in prison like a lot of my friends [otherwise]," says Gran, better known as Typoe, the graffiti handle he adopted before branching out to become one of Miami-Dade's most talented multidisciplinary artists.
Typoe's work is never far from the chaos of his youth. Though he was raised in a stable family — his father, Bernard, is a doctor, and his mom, Jacki, an artist — he was always rebellious. By the time he finished middle school, he was already tagging his moniker around Coral Gables and Kendall.
"I became that kid, the one other parents didn't want their children hanging around," says Typoe, who is now 29.
After one too many brushes with the law, his parents shipped him to the Hyde School in Bath, Maine. The school helped, he says, but when he returned to Miami in 2003, he quickly relapsed into a crack-and-heroin binge.
"After four days of nonstop abuse, I was coughing up blood and felt like I was dying. That's when I decided to check myself into detox," he says.
That decision was a turning point. Typoe has been sober ever since, and his career has exploded from Wynwood walls to fine-art galleries.
He first made a name as a member of international graffiti crew TCP, but he always had an eye on pushing boundaries. So he worked his way into Anthony Spinello's gallery by doing odd jobs: painting walls, sweeping floors, hanging art.
Spinello quickly saw Typoe had more to offer than grunt labor. His sculptures featuring human skeletons and mutlicolored explosions earned him a spot in the gallery. In 2010, one of those pieces, Confetti Death, depicting a skull vomiting rainbow bits of shattered spray-paint caps, went viral online after starring at Scope Art Fair.
He hasn't looked back. Primary Projects, which he cofounded, remains one of the Design District's edgiest spaces. Typoe was recently featured in Skull Style: Skulls in Contemporary Art and Design, a book that places his pieces alongside those by Damien Hirst and Alexander McQueen.
Now he has come full circle with his latest project: a series of white drawings about Miami's hedonistic side. "I'm using cocaine to make the drawings," Typoe says. "You can say I've switched my addictions from drugs and chaos to making art."
Miami is all about the boobs, the booty, and the bass, and Jesse Perez is repping that trio. The DJ, producer, and founder of the label Mr. Nice Guy Records has a distinctive, sexually charged '90s-style-bass sound that's cut right out of the fabric of the MIA with booty-shaking, urban tracks such as "Hialeah House Party" and "Miami's My Town."
Make no mistake: The Cutler Bay resident is all about the grinding, dry-humping hotness of a Miami dance floor. But his music education began the old-fashioned way. Perez's piano-teacher mom raised him amid music, giving him Casio keyboards for Christmas.
Still, Perez jokes she was a dancer for 2 Live Crew, so he was around ass clappin' from the get-go. "I like the whole party thing. I'm from a hip-hop background, like walking into a club early on, hearing R&B, grinding up on a chick," the 29-year-old says. "I don't try to impress the old-school techno bloggers that are nitpicking everything. I wanted to create a label that focuses on the actual party, not the glamor."
Perez befriended local DJs in high school and then took to mixing cassettes, which garnered him some attention on the Miami music scene. He worked the DJ circuit before starting Mr. Nice Guy Records in 2010.
"Like most DJs, I was just frustrated no one was signing my records," Perez says. "That's when I decided to go my own route."
These days, Mr. Nice Guy releases tracks from Miami musicians Hectik Rivero, Sex Sells, and Mika Materazzi. The label has also repped Sishi Rosch, Den Ishu, and H2 and will soon issue a release from Amine Edge & Dance.
And of course there's Perez's own work, which has a bass-heavy, bump-and-grind South Florida sound that's nothing but unique — even if he has inspired imitators, which he says is a compliment.
"Guys have made tracks that sound just like mine and they've gotten awards," he says. "In a way it kind of sucks, but it's what I have to do to make it." And performing helps; the funds from his current UK tour drive the efforts of Mr. Nice Guy.
"I'm just carrying the torch, and I'm just trying to push it forward," Perez says. "As hard as it is to be original, you have to try to find a way to be original; otherwise you're just another guy in the pack."
It took a visit to wintry Sweden for the TM Sisters to realize the extent to which the Magic City's neon aesthetic animates their work. In fact, insatiably inventive siblings Monica and Tasha Lopez De Victoria consider the 305's relentless energy their medium.
"We didn't realize how influenced by Miami we were until we started traveling," the 32-year-old Monica says.
Tasha, who is three years younger, adds, "In Stockholm, where we went to deliver a lecture, we were shocked at how homogeneous and muted everything is. Everywhere you turned, the colors were like these different, monochromatic shades of gray."
Born in Miami and raised in West Kendall, both sisters were home-schooled before selecting high schools for the arts curriculum: Tasha chose South Miami Senior High, and Monica attended Miami Sunset Senior High for a photography class. Tasha's studies continued at New World School of the Arts, while Monica studied photography at Florida International University. Both say their parents instilled creativity in them early.
"Our mom's passion is helping other artists unblock their creativity," Tasha says.
After finishing school, the sisters began staging epic performance pieces and video projections that combined everything from synchronized swimming to spandex-clad roller skaters.
In 2005, their video Superpowers — which featured dozens of Miami artists dancing in front of a geometric blue and pink background — went viral and later earned a slot in a European exhibit. In 2007, they made the cover of ARTnews' September issue. And last year, New Times named the sisters Best Local Artists in the "Best of Miami" issue and finalists in last year's MasterMind Awards contest.
Today, the sisters work in the DWNTWN ArtHouse, a space that also houses Turn-Based Press, Bas Fisher Invitational, and several local artists' studios.
Fresh from Shimmer, a techno-tropical extravaganza at the Adrienne Arsht Center's Miami Made Festival, the TM Sisters are preparing for their first solo show at Wynwood's David Castillo Gallery in September.
Standing in front of a massive green cyclotron wall while an '80s mixtape booms through the studio, Tasha works on a fractal grouping of mirrored glass shards. Dozens of brightly sequined costumes hang on opposing walls. Their newest project is still incubating , but it promises to be anything but Stockholm-gray.
"Whether it's employing those large mirrors, the green screen, or a body covered with lots of hair, it usually ends up depending on whatever best conveys our message most clearly," Tasha says.
Indie powerhouse Sweat Records is ground zero for Miami's music scene. That's advantageous for general manager and music buyer Emile Milgrim, who moonlights as owner of the eclectic, multigenre record label Other Electricities (OE).
Born and raised in Miami, Milgrim relocated to Portland, Oregon, in her 20s. There, she played drums in basements and chased post-rock glory. But after a failed attempt at a band, she redirected her creative energy into OE, repping everything from dark folk to abstract electronica, ambient pop, and heavy metal.
"It was very slow going at first. We started working in music promotion to get our bearings and learn how to market a record," she remembers.
In 2011, Milgrim returned to Miami, and OE launched its East Coast incarnation, picking up artists with sounds ranging from ethereal techno to neoclassical electro-acoustic.
Milgrim says Miami has been more receptive to OE than Portland was. "I came here and got a job at Sweat Records, which was very helpful. I can talk to people about music all day long and feel out the music community in a different way."
In recent months, OE has released a debut double-LP by buzzworthy local metal act Holly Hunt and signed local act Dim Past, both in conjunction with Roofless Records. Coming soon on the label: a cassette from Italian composer Giulio Aldinucci in the spring and the final issue from Low Low Low La La La Love Love Love — a band OE has repped from start to finish.
OE has released more than 30 albums, by U.S. artists from Miami to Seattle and international acts including Bacanal Intruder, Fessenden, Dot Tape Dot, and João Orecchia. But lately, the 30-year-old label head has been leaning toward acts in her own backyard.
"I've really fallen in love with the local music community. Here, it's just so great to be able to be an active part of a release, to go out and hear a band and talk to them and conceptualize doing something with them," she says. "I see myself working more locally, having a greater percentage of what I release being local because the experience has been really fulfilling."
Savoring a dish of steamed snapper, rice, and beans, Charo Oquet sits at the Little Haiti restaurant Chez le Bebe. As usual, it's a working lunch. The meal is peppered with calls from artists coming to town for the second edition of the Miami Performance International Festival this summer.
"We will be presenting artists from 16 countries, including several from Cuba," says Oquet, her eyes crinkling behind her trademark cat's-eye glasses.
In her own work, the 59-year-old Dominican-born talent often references Elegguá, the Afro-Cuban orisha who guards the crossroads. And like that deity, Oquet has spent her life helping others erase boundaries.
She spent her 20s traveling the globe, from Santo Domingo to New York to London, where she met her husband, William Keddell, a New Zealand artist and filmmaker. She spent five years in Auckland and then settled in Miami in 1988. All of that wandering became both a prism for her art and a motivator to bring global arts to town.
With that in mind, in 2003 she opened Edge Zones, a Wynwood nonprofit space that featured local and international talents. After sponsoring an exchange with Dominican performance artists, Oquet began thinking about two gaps in Miami's scene: a lack of programming during the dog days of summer, and a shortage of opportunities for performance artists.
"I felt that Miami was lacking an event that exclusively focused on the genre," she says.
So Oquet created the performance festival and debuted it in August. More than a thousand visitors last year ended up viewing video installations, music, poetry, and other nontraditional art.
"It was a really excellent festival," says Irene Loughlin, a Canadian artist who performed. "It also helped create a dialogue among the artists, many of whom are collaborating together on new projects."
This year, Oquet has expanded to a free, monthlong offering beginning June 3 and culminating with a four-day event June 27 to 30. Ever the globe-trekker, Oquet smiles wide while counting off the international delegation converging on the Magic City this June.
"We have artists who are coming from all over Latin America, the U.S., Canada, the UK, France, and the Czech Republic," she says. "These artists will present challenging politically and socially provocative works you won't experience elsewhere in Miami."
Many artists toil away in the dark shadows of obscurity for decades. Not Rosie Herrera. The dancer, choreographer, singer, and renaissance woman gets what she wants. Proof: She debuted on the New York City stage only three years after launching her namesake dance company.
"The most I can hope for is that people connect with it, that people laugh and people cry," the 29-year-old says of her NYC experience. "People were happy to see some color onstage, some warmth. We brought the Miami heat in a big way."
Herrera has been staging shows since she was a kid and nabbed her first professional role at 15, when she was cast as World's Shortest Showgirl in Néstor Cabell's production of El Solar del Paladar y la Chiva de Escobar. After graduating from Miami Springs Senior High, she went on to New World School of the Arts, where she earned a BFA in dance performance in 2006.
Since graduating, she's been producing a unique style of gender-bending, emotionally raw choreography. Herrera's work inspires disparate feelings in her audience — joy and despair, violence and tenderness, confusion and clarity. Pieces such as Pity Party and Dining Alone explore the emotional intricacies in seemingly rote aspects of life: aging and eating.
"My process is still evolving," she says. "I think with every piece I create, I learn a little bit more about what my process is really like."
If her schedule is any indication, the evolution never ends. Herrera recently completed a teaching session at Tampa's University of South Florida. Her company is preparing a mini-tour of Dining Alone and will visit the American College Dance Festival in Tampa in March and New York City's prestigious Baryshnikov Arts Center in mid-April. Afterward, she will be in residence at the American Dance Festival for six weeks.
Still, Herrera remains modest about her role in Miami's dance evolution.
"I'm really just a part of it," she says. "I'm not the leader, not the main thing, just a part of a really big change in our community."
No matter where her talent takes her, Herrera is all about her hometown.
"The way that the light comes through in Miami, there's an energy here, a vibrancy here," she says. "There's a hum — no, not even. It's like a yell that is constant in Miami that is so bountiful and so full of information. It really connects me with this deep, honest place within myself. Then I can really create movement from this authentic space."
Andrew Hevia has made his mark by filming some of the city's most misunderstood or under-recognized assets, from the ins and outs of Art Basel to the explosive escapades of Meatball (AKA Robert Lorie) and Justin Long of the art collective Funner Projects.
Sitting outside Panther Coffee in pressed slacks and a button-up shirt, Hevia's look doesn't scream "Miami artist." But then again, what qualities characterize local creatives?
"The best way I can describe the Miami experience is, whenever I'm here, I'm not convinced I fit in here, despite the fact that I'm born and raised here. And when I leave, I realize I don't fit anywhere," the 28-year-old filmmaker says. "We all feel this way. The thing we share in common is that nobody has anything in common. It's an odd shared trait."
Clean-cut and poised, Hevia looks more Cape Cod than Wynwood. But deeper digging reveals he's as Miami as cafecitos. He attended New World School of the Arts and then FIU, forging relationships with cultural influencers along the way. "I decided before I went to high school that I would be a filmmaker, which is actually why I went to the high school I went to, which is why I met the people I met," he says.
A cofounder of the blossoming Borscht Film Festival, Hevia directed WLRN's recently aired Rising Tide: A Story of Miami Artists, a chronicle of Art Basel. He has also produced a number of short films, including Velvet, Otto and the Electric Eel, Chlorophyll, and the 2012 Borscht selection When We Lived in Miami. Last year, a one-minute promo showcasing the work of Funner Projects earned him an Emmy.
"Miami is fertile ground," he says. "If you build it, it will be. You want to be a filmmaker? Make a film. You want to run a film festival? Start one. That's sort of been the history of the city since its inception. All you have to do is push."
And despite the common misconception that Miami culture lags behind that of other cities, Hevia thinks the 305 is ahead of the game. "The problem is when we try to compare ourselves to New York, [which has] had 200 years to establish a city. We think we're behind, but the reality is, they're doing their thing, we're doing ours. We do it differently."
Antonia Wright has bees on the mind. Considering her next project will involve a dangerous rooftop collision between tai chi and 50,000 of the bugs, maybe that's not surprising.
"Einstein once predicted that if bees disappeared from the face of the Earth, we humans would become extinct not long after," she says thoughtfully, sipping a café con leche at the Latin American Café on Biscayne Boulevard.
Her newest project — part of a solo show that will debut in Los Angeles later this year — makes perfect sense for the daring 33-year-old. Wright has shot to the top of Miami's art scene by combining photography, film, and provocative performances that often explore social issues like the hive mind.
Born in Coral Gables and raised in South Miami, Wright came from a household brimming with artistic energy. Her mother, Carolina Garcia-Aguilera, is a novelist and mystery writer, and her father, John Parke Wright, is a businessman and painter.
Antonia's own interests drifted toward poetry at a young age.
"I began writing poetry when I was about 12 and later became fascinated by the performative aspects of the genre," she says.
So after high school, she earned an MFA in poetry from the New School in New York City. After returning to Miami in 2008, she began combining the written and the provocative.
For her 2010 video piece Job Creation in a Bad Economy, she hurtles full speed into towering walls of books. Other pieces are more confrontational. In 2010's Are You OK?, Wright cries hysterically in public around Miami to film the reaction, or lack thereof, from passersby.
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Last April, she spent a month living at the women's shelter Lotus House with homeless and abused residents. The project resulted in ethereal video portraits called Women Who Stand on the Sun, for which Wright filmed the sun floating between the feet of residents. "I wanted their feet to look like they were walking or dancing on the sun," she explains. "I wanted to pay tribute to these women's inner strength and magic."
During this past Art Basel, Wright and longtime collaborator Ruben Millares stripped nude and ran around a small space while hurling balloons filled with red and black ink at each other. The performance underscored the yin and yang in their work and playful and frightening confrontations in all relationships.
Wright, who was a MasterMinds finalist last year and recently joined the Spinello Projects roster, pauses to take another sip of cafecito before mentioning her first-ever solo show, upcoming in Los Angeles.
The new hive-minded project will be called Be, she says, "referencing our natural state of being."