“Freedom” by Raquel C. Batista of FIU at Museum of Art & Design at Miami Dade College
Raquel Carolina Batista is a Sophomore majoring in Communications and earning a certificate in Professional and Technical Writing at Florida International University. She is the former Historian and current Vice President for the HEARTS Art Club, an Honors College Leadership Council (HCLC) member and coordinator for the HCLC’s Social Media Committee, and Social Media Intern at Ujima Men’s Collective. She enjoys painting, drawing, reading, dancing, singing, weight training, practicing yoga, and of course eating food. Recently, she learned what a Renaissance woman is, and proudly calls herself one.
The Museum of Art & Design (MOAD) at Miami Dade College (MDC) is located on Biscayne Boulevard with the American Airlines Arena to its left and Bayside Marketplace to its right. Prior to performance shows or after completing their round through the mall, people can explore Miami further by paying a visit to the museum.
Most notably, MOAD is located within the Freedom Tower at MDC. Considered the “Ellis Island of the South,” the Freedom Tower is within walking distance to the very shore where thousands of Cuban immigrants have landed on their journey to the United States.
With its location alongside such prominent structures and areas, there is little chance for Miami’s community and visitors to lose sight of such a historic building.
The history of MOAD begins with the establishment of the National Historic Landmark Freedom Tower, which was built in 1925 as the home of Miami’s first newspaper company, the Miami Daily News. From 1925 to 1959, the Freedom Tower served as the company’s headquarters. The Great Hurricane of 1926 put the newspaper company’s operation to a halt due to highly needed renovation after the destructive aftermath of the hurricane. The building’s usage took a major political turn in 1960 to 1962, when it served as the bridge for the mass exodus, Peter (Pedro) Pan. Peter Pan, a covert U.S. and Cuban government operation, brought to the U.S. over 14,000 unaccompanied minors. From 1962 to 1974, the Freedom Tower served as an official government reception center for Cuban refugees.
The Freedom Tower was bought and sold for many years, until its purchase by the Cuban American National Foundation’s leader, Jorge Mas Canosa. After Canosa’s passing, the building was sold to the Pedro Martin family in 2004, who in turn donated it to MDC in 2005. The founders, former MDC President Eduardo Padron and MOAD’s current Executive Director and Lead Curator Rina Carvajal, opened MOAD in March 2011. At the end of 2016, the museum closed for renovation until its reopening in May 2018. To this day, the museum remains in full operation.
“The mission of MDC MOAD is to provide open, critical, and collaborative frameworks for artistic experimentation and interdisciplinary risk-taking that explores the intersections of art, design, and other art forms with cultural action. The Museum advances Miami Dade College’s core values, contributing to the intellectual life of the college, engaging students and audiences from the community and the world beyond” (MOAD).
There are museums who hesitate before showcasing provocative artwork that may be considered a form of instigation or protest. Even the lifestyle of artists can impact whether museums will display their work or not. MOAD is not a museum that holds back. To prove this, artists in the Where The Oceans Meet exhibit enjoyed “alternative lifestyles” by not conforming to heteronormative standards. The museum opens its doors to art from diverse perspectives and welcomes those who are normally ostracized by society. By doing so, MOAD gives the students of Miami Dade College and Miami’s community and visitors the opportunity to embrace artwork from various backgrounds.
To make MOAD more accessible for the public, Free Admission and Family Days were established on the last Sunday of each month. This initiative was launched on Sunday, September 30, 2018.
General = $12
Senior and Military = $8
Children 12 and under = free
MDC students/faculty/staff = free
MOAD Members = free
* There are no special discounts for residents.
Membership levels are Individual ($45), Dual/Family ($75), Museum Benefactor ($250), Sustaining Support ($500), and Museum Circle ($1000). While the levels have differing benefits, all membership levels include free admission for two adults, invitations to members-only viewings and events, and priority entrance via the members-only admission queue.
Kislak Center Culture and Change in the Early Americas
The Kislak Center Culture and Change in the Early Americas was donated to MOAD by the Jay I. Kislak Foundation. There is a select number of Kislak Centers throughout the U.S.. They can be found in the UM Richter Library, Library of Congress, University of Pennsylvania, Kislak Headquarters in Miami Lakes, and recently established center in MOAD.
Considered by MOAD employees as a “museum within a museum,” the center is protected by a class encasing with its own entrance. There are glass displays for physical artifacts and electronic platforms that offer museum visitors an interactive cultural experience. The collection includes pre-Columbian, colonial, and African artifacts. It presents the history of America through books, maps, manuscripts, documents, and objects. The Kislak Center holds artifacts ranging from African headdresses and royal crests to sports equipment and adventure novels. A highlight of the collection is the royal seal of Ferdinand and Isabella, the Spanish monarchs who contributed greatly to the great exchange between the Western and Eastern Hemispheres in the 15th century. Notable to the center are the Robinson Crusoe novels. Numerous museum visitors question why they are included in the collection. Kislak’s reasoning to include these novels in the center is supported by the major historical details included in Crusoe’s numerous adventures.
Some claim (and with just reason) that it is unethical for museums to possess the artifacts of oppressed, enslaved, and slaughtered peoples. The possession of such artifacts is accepted throughout the world. The foundation for this acceptance is the reasoning that learning from the atrocities of humankind motivates people to never allow them to happen again. Presenting heinous moments of the past in order to inform the public is a part of this reasoning, but the question remains: is it ethical to hold onto the belongings of other cultures? Although some artifacts are acquired in legal ways, it boils down to the true manner in which most artifacts are taken: theft. As artifact collectors, museum employees and visitors, and the public in general, we must weigh the importance between reflecting on our past and respecting it.
The New World Mural
The New World Mural once hung as a tapestry in the 1920s, but it decayed over the century. As a part of a 1987 restoration of the Freedom Tower, the mural was recreated by the Miami Artisans group. From mermaids and fruit to conquistadors and Tequesta, the Mural showcases great historical and cultural diversity. The mural’s importance to MOAD is highlighted by its $150,000 cost, showcasing the great impact that the mural has on its observers. The New World Mural is held in high esteem by the Miami community as well, even serving as the back drop for the public wake of the famed Cuban singer, Celia Cruz.
Glexis NOVOA: The Cankama Sutta
The Glexis NOVOA: The Cankama Sutta exhibition comprised of small graphite drawings located across the gallery’s walls and several sculptures. The drawings displayed notable aspects of Glexis Novoa’s life, including his homeland, locations that he visited, and areas of his political and social interest. The drawings highlighted well-known buildings and areas such as the Moscow Kremlin and El Cerro de la Silla.
The last day of the exhibition was September 28, 2019. Prior to its closing, museum visitors entered the exhibition and at first had to look twice for the artwork. The extremely detailed graphite drawings were smaller than three inches. The large sculptures at first seemed out of place alongside the miniature images, but upon further inspection, it was apparent that they served as another platform for Novoa’s drawings.
As a Cuban immigrant, Novoa’s artwork is deeply impacted by the Freedom Tower’s refugee center. The tower holds such importance in Novoa’s life that it was included on the gallery’s walls. In his youth, Novoa embraced his mother’s Buddhist teachings and chose to continue this education throughout his life. On one of the gallery walls, a Buddhist rule about walking meditation was presented for museum visitors to analyze. In order to efficiently observe the exhibition, visitors had to walk along the gallery walls. Novoa paved the way for his spectators to participate in a form of mediation on their visit to his gallery. On the surface, the gallery is minimalistic. Upon further observation, it is an interactive exhibit following the life of a well-rounded artist.
Where The Oceans Meet
The entire second floor of the Freedom Tower hosts the Where The Oceans Meet exhibit. MOAD employees recommend starting by examining the exhibit counterclockwise. The exhibit comprises of works by over forty artists, spearheaded by two key figures: Lydia Cabrera and Édouard Glissant. The two Caribbean writers gathered artists to explore how geography, nation, culture, society, race, gender, language, and crossing frontiers has shaped the world. The central idea exhibited in Where The Oceans Meet is characterized by MOAD’s words: “The oceans meet where colonial conquests, displacement of peoples, and extermination of species have taken place over the course of history; they meet where trade is conducted, and where the dreams of immigrants get doused.”
The exhibit contains art of various mediums, ranging from acrylic paint on canvas, twenty-minute-long films, to a rug comprising of mint candies. Where The Oceans Meet showcases repetition of Vodou, Santeria, government oppression, and violence. The exhibition contains artwork from artists who defy the norms. A performance piece by artist Tania Bruguera, titled “Displacement,” showcases a Kongo power figure, Nkisi Nkondi, stirring from stillness and eventually walking through the streets. The nails and blades starkly contrast against the figure’s smooth, dirt-covered body. During the Columbian exchange, countless people were displaced from their homelands. African slaves were transported inhumanely to the Americas, resulting in mass chaos and culture clashes upon arrival. The eerie sight of this walking Nkisi Nkondi reminds spectators of the true nature of this exchange: solitary, intimidating, and unforgiving. With Kader Attia’s “The Repair,” onlookers must challenge themselves to watch the film in its entirety due to the remarkable, but at times, disturbing content. The film contains notable variety showing images of African women in traditional clothing to disfigured men resembling sea shells. “The Repair” brings to light the suffering endured by the victims of harsh and cruel Europeans. There is notable contrast between the images of weakness and power. Attia presents to onlookers both sides of the story: despite the suffering of the Columbian exchange victims, many held strong and fought to maintain their values and customs.
Black Power Naps
The Black Power Naps exhibit is a performance-based, interactive exhibit that will partner with Where The Oceans Meet in October 2019.
MOAD’s Education Lab, located on the third floor, is reserved for special programs designed for children and families. The programs include, but are not limited to, hands-on activities, artist-led workshops, and interactive gallery tours.
First-time MOAD visitor, Karina Y. Aguilar
In-Person Interview Questions and Answers:
1. “What was the reason for your visit on September 28, 2019?”
a. “I’m an architect student at Miami Dade and for one of my projects, I’m taking pictures at Downtown Miami. I wanted to know a little bit about the culture of the building I was taking pictures of, in this case the Freedom Tower.”
2. “Which collections and/or exhibitions did you see on this day?”
a. “I saw the Kislak collection and NOVOA exhibition.”
3. “What did you like most about the Kislak collection?”
a. “That they had a mixture of not only antiques but interactive monitors that were a lot more modern for a museum. The Robinson Crusoe books included in the collection interested me because they looked out of place from how much recent they are compared to the main collection pieces. When I realized how they were connected it was a lot more interesting because of how the stories were related to the history of the collection.”
4. “What did you like most about the NOVOA exhibition?”
a. “From someone that has done art and design for so long, it was just surprising to see so much detail with that type of media. The fact that he was able to do that in such, not only a short time, but with so much precision for such a small piece, was surprising.”
5. “What is the social and emotional responsibility of museums, especially as many public institutions strive to be a vital part of their local communities?”
a. “There is such a large Cuban community in Miami and not only that, many immigrants in general that live in Miami. The museum impacts Americans, immigrants, and tourists that visit. It informs people of our history in Miami and helps them know a little bit of immigration and the issue of it in the US. How it impacts the community itself? It doesn’t. Most people don’t even know it’s a museum and when I stepped in, I didn’t know it was a museum. I’ve lived in Miami for about fifteen years and I have never heard about that museum. I asked my mom and she knew. An older generation knew, while us younger generations have no idea. That’s something that we should know because it’s a part of Miami’s history. It shouldn’t be something we know because we go there, it should be something that we study about in school.”
MOAD Docent, Mary E. Castillo
Email Correspondence Interview Questions and Answers:
1. What inspired you to become a MOAD docent?
a. It was not really an inspiration, but more a coincidence and serendipity that brought me to the museum, plus a lifetime of learning, reading, and absorbing our culture and traveling. Last year I visited the Museum with my Chinese Professor and her husband as she had never been there. She asked if there was a formal tour, and Sierra Manno, who is now the person I direct report to, told her they had a Docent Program, but no one was in it at the moment. I told her I would be interested. She gave the Curator’s card, I interviewed, and came with a shopping bag of my many books. I started on a volunteer basis, and since May of this year I am a contracted employee. And I love every moment I spend here. I can be a nerd all day, meet so many interesting people, and be surrounded by art, beauty, and history.
2. What do you enjoy most about being a MOAD docent? I meet new people and learn new things every day. And least?
a. The more I see and learn, the less I know. A very important lesson and message to never stop learning and improving.
3. What does MOAD mean to you?
a. It means a piece of local and even world history that is preserved and shared with our community and the world. I love our city, and its history, and sharing it with everyone I can.
4. Do you feel that MOAD serves its community well?
a. It makes me so happy every time someone comes into the museum that has never been here before, or a Cuban who was processed here 50 years ago, and it’s the first time they’re returning.
The only offsetting aspect about the museum is the way the floors are organized. The entrance doors do not lead to the first floor, but instead what museum employees call the lobby. By following the two stairs on both sides of the lobby, visitors can reach the first floor. On the first floor, there is no access to the elevators. In order to access the second and third floors, one must board the elevators located in the lobby. After wrapping my mind around this optical puzzle, I was finally able to orient myself by taking a tour of the museum.
On September 28, 2019, as a person who was born and raised in Miami all her life, I learned that the Freedom Tower contains an art museum. My astonishment was apparent to everyone, as the museum employees chuckled at my reaction to this revelation. I have seen the Freedom Tower on my many visits to Miami Beach, knowing only of its importance to the Cuban community. After inquiring information from the student assistants, they directed me to someone who knows MOAD like the back of her hand. I had the honor and pleasure of being toured through the museum by MOAD docent, Mary Castillo. She took her time to calmly show me every exhibition and collection of the museum with both passion and detail. Ms. Castillo enriched my mind with stories of pain, controversy, suffering, perseverance, determination, and love.
Visiting the Museum of Art & Design at Miami Dade College was an awesome experience. I am a great lover of history and art. MOAD overflows with historical information presented through its various collections and exhibitions. It’s safe to conclude that I enjoyed every minute of my visit and will gladly come by again.
*Additional information was acquired from MOAD brochures and signages.