Miami Street Artists Deliver Progressive Messages in New Murals

Every year, toward the end of November, the streets of Wynwood start crawling with dudes carrying ladders and ladies driving scissor lifts. The back alleys ring with the rattle of spray paint cans. Paint-splattered figures crouch and assess the walls, eyes squinting above kerchief-masked faces. Miami Art Week ushers in an annual makeover for Dade, as buildings across town get an update from street artists both local and visiting. And this year's crop aims to spread a progressive message.

Wynwood Walls, the open-air curated street-art gallery run by the Goldman family, will feature 12 new pieces this year. Titled "Fear Less," the exhibition is thematically linked by a call to be fearless in a world overcome with fear. Valencian street artist Felipe Pantone's new mural, Optichromie for Miami, is an imposing, abstract construction of black and white cylinders that can be found on the outside of the Wynwood Walls Lab. Though Felipe's unreal shapes might not seem at first to have anything at all to do with the gallery's stated theme, Pantone insists, "People can say whatever they want. My art is abstract, and in that abstraction there is a freedom. It doesn't tell anyone what to do or think."

Miami artist Tatiana Suarez, the only local in the Walls' roster this year, presents a mural with a more literal take on the "Fear Less" theme. Featuring a reclining woman on a bed of sea-grape leaves and other local tropical Miami flora, Suarez's powerful female figures stand out against an age that would elect a groper-in-chief.

Suarez's powerful female figures stand out against an age that would elect a groper-in-chief.

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Nearby, at the Hausammann Gallery, around the corner from Panther Coffee, Los Angeles artist Cale plans a memorial for a local legend on the space's front façade. "I'm a huge baseball fan, so I wanted to do something for Jose Fernandez," Cale says. A descendent of Mexican immigrants, the artist explains why he chose to eulogize the Miami Marlins pitcher in a spray-paint portrait as he perches atop a ten-foot ladder. "I was just so captivated by his story, of what he had to go through in order just to get to the United States. I think [gallerist Federico] Hausammann wanted something more in line with fine art, but after weeks of mulling it over, I just decided I had to give Fernandez a shout-out."

To the north, Will Gates, an artist from London, expresses a sympathetic, European take on current events. In his mural We Are Immigrants, located one block west of Miam Café on a Lerner family property, powerfully colorful abstractions speak to the shared pain of people on both sides of the pond who voted against Trump and the UK's withdrawal from the European Union.

Beyond the mural mecca of Wynwood, the walls of Yo Miami offer a refreshing mix of the zany and the idiosyncratic. Miami artists Surge and Remote are working on a piece provisionally titled The Dope Spot. The concept integrates six local street artists into one giant mural at NW 23rd Street and North Miami Avenue.

"We want everybody to do their thing but still make it look cohesive," says Surge, who was also part of the collective that created the Trump-as-Joker wall in front of Mana Wynwood before the presidential election. "So we're limiting people to a certain color scale."

On the other side of the Yo Miami building is a new mural by Parisian artist Ramzi Adek. Known for his iconic pop-art use of cartoon characters, Adek created a mural, titled Who's Bad to reference the Michael Jackson song, that presents a more obvious metaphor.

"I wanted to have Casper and Richie Rich in there fighting over who could get the most gumdrops," Adek says. "The gumdrops represent money, of course. Casper is a ghost, though, and he's like the poor — all the wealth goes right through him without stopping."

And in Little River, under a bridge that carries North Miami Avenue across the waterway, Tatiana Suarez has teamed up with Hawaiian guru Kamea Hadar to paint a series of water nymphs on the supporting spans of the structure. Blending Floridian flora and Hawaiian iconography, the huge mural promises to be a part of a process of revitalization for the city's dilapidated waterfront — importing the Wynwood model of arts-based development at the same time it thematizes the environmental concerns that led the city to finally clean up the Miami River.

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