MasterMind 2013 Finalist: Alma Leiva

Miami New Times' MasterMind Awards honor the city's most inspiring creatives. This week, we're profiling the 10 finalists, selected by our staff from over 100 submissions, who are in the running to receive one of three 2013 MasterMind Awards, each of which comes with a fat $1,000 check. This year's MasterMind Award winners will be announced Thursday, February 28, at Artopia, our annual soiree celebrating Miami culture. For tickets and more information, visit the website.

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."

2013 Mastermind Award Finalists:
Alma Leiva

2013 Mastermind Award Honorable Mentions:
Kevin Arrow
Pioneer Winter
The Overthrow
The Gutter Film Series
Daniel Reskin
Manny Prieres
Nate Delinois
Reed van Brunschot
Bookleggers Public Library
Ruben Ubiera
I'm Not Gonna Move To LA
Magnus Sigurdarson
Autumn Casey
Andrew "Zig" Leipzig
Brookhart Jonquil
JeanPaul Mallozzi
Kyle Trowbridge
Farley Aguilar
Agustina Woodgate

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