Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Beatriz Monteavaro: Miami's Wonder Woman

As a girl in Miami, Beatriz Monteavaro liked to make noise and watch women fight. She got her first drum set when she was 12. Countless drum rolls later, she has been keeping the beat with a Miami band called Beings. Around the age of 4--soon after her family settled in Miami after leaving Havana, Cuba, where she was born--Monteavaro became a fan of Wonder Woman TV shows.

During my visit to her studio in Miami's Wynwood Arts District earlier this year, I saw her collection of dozens of action figure toys, including Wonder Woman dolls. Why the early attraction to this woman warrior? "What wasn't there to like?" Monteavari reflected. "There was the cool super hero outfit, which was like the American flag. She would spin around and there would be explosions. She had powers. She was against the Nazis."

A multi-tasking artist known for her drawing, painting, sculpture, and video, as well as for her drumming, Monteavaro seems like a woman warrior herself. You could even call her Miami's Wonder Woman.

A ferocious dinosaur is tattooed on her shoulder blade. To create it, she describes collaborating with Mike Taylor, a tattoo artist in Miami. It covers an old tattoo resembling "The Scream" by Edvard Munch. Why the recent change? "The colors had bled out a little bit. It looked sloppy," Monteavaro explained.

Less interested in video these days, she has been focusing on her early fascination with TV and comic book characters who fight. Another inspiration has been Florida's Disney World. It was a popular vacation spot for Monteavaro's family when she was young. Smiling, she recalled how much she loved to enter fantasy worlds conjured by elaborate rides there. "I remember thinking on Mission to Mars that we were going to Mars. We had left the earth. I remember thinking I had seen ghosts in the Haunted Mansion," she said.

But now Monteavaro, 39, generally avoids the costly allure of theme park special effects. Yes, she retains a child-like fascination with scary stories, comic book warriors, and monsters including dinosaurs and Frankenstein. Lately, her ideas also derive from amateurish, home-made materials that produce chills and thrills. From Internet searches, she has discovered, as she explained to me, "this whole culture of people who make their own Halloween decorations and haunted houses." That's why recent sculpture, painting, and collaged drawings incorporate kitschy materials like latex masks, fake fur, and foam sprayed from a can.

More ideas spring from "The Mad Doctor of Blood Island," the 1969 horror movie classic. As Monteavaro went on to explain, "It's set in a Polynesian island and has this monster with disgusting skin--a really badly put together yet aesthetically pleasing monster." Such an outrageous paradox clearly delights this graduate of Tyler School of Art at Temple University.

She has shown her art in Miami and Paris. In Miami, Monteavaro is represented by Fredric Snitzer Gallery, where her art has usually been selling for between $500 and $10,000. More affordable is a recently published book of drawings from [NAME] Publications, "Quiet Village," at $15. True to its title, this book is indeed quietly charming and provocative.

Intrigued by doomed monsters, she roots for the underdog. "Quiet Village," sold with a CD by the band Beings, retells the story of Frankenstein. "It's kind of a pathetic creature, not a winner," Monteavaro said, a bit ruefully. "It has to find a way to survive, but ultimately doesn't, because it's an outsider."

Monday, June 28, 2010

Immigrants in Miami: Saying Hello to New Home

Perhaps it takes an artist to convey the emotional complexity of immigration. Immigration is a rancorous topic in political debates all across the map, especially given recent legislation in Arizona and ethnic violence in Kyrgystan. Eduardo del Valle and Mirta Gomez, widely-exhibited photographers in Miami who work as a team, are authors of the exquisite book, Witness Number 4 (published by The Joy of Giving Something in 2008, distributed by Nazraeli Press, 96 pages, 77 four-color images)

At once tender and tough, the book is informed by their departure from Cuba as youngsters in the 1960s. The two fled Castro's regime in Cuba to make a new life and career in the United States, as did other Cuban-born photographers of their generation in this book, Tony Mendoza and Abelardo Morell. The book belongs to the innovative "Witness" series of books produced by the Joy of Giving Something, Inc.

Del Valle and Gomez have framed their book with apt quotations from the first and last pages of a classic 1965 book in Cuban literature, View of Dawn in the Tropics by Guillermo Caberera Infante. With poetic prose, Infante recounts the history of Cuba, starting with the Spanish slaughtering of the island's indigenous population and continuing through the rise of Castro's dictatorship. In statements by the artists beginning their respective sections of this book, they write about resisting nostalgia and making creative new lives after leaving their homeland.

The photographs in the book, with each section reflecting a a distinct aesthetic, convey a wealth of imaginative ways one can move forward after the tumultuous experience of immigration. Returning over many years to photograph Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, del Valle and Gomez document how simple huts built by Maya descendants have changed, as urban growth significantly alters the once remote surroundings of these huts. As powerful visual metaphors, the huts suggest ways that immigrants evolve and change. In photographs capturing the point of view of his short-legged pet dog, Mendoza the adult evokes a child's distorted view of the world to parallel his childhood memories of Cuba. Morell's fascinating camera obscura photographs combine upside-down images of cities and countryside with right-side-up images of interior rooms. In the context of this truly exceptional book, all these remarkable photographs show how leaving home is a universally disorienting experience, but that it is possible to come to terms with the troubling past and move into a vibrant present.