The Tequesta were the people of the land that is now Miami when Ponce de Leon sailed into Biscayne Bay in 1513. As a result of human acts of conquest and the biological consequences of the Grand Exchange, the Tequestas no longer exist. These geographic ancestors of ours do not survive in one image, nor is a word of of their language known. They are largely a forgotten people, yet they lived on the land where we now live.
This painting is a historical fiction that aims to summon the memory of the Tequesta and reestablish their roots over the land and sea of Miami. Making reference to the historic Ghost Dance of the Paiute to assert their cultural identity, this painting imagines a Tequesta Dance. The figures are loosely arranged in a circle based on the manner the Tequesta buried their dead in the Tequesta Burial Mound at the Deering Estate. I have often hiked to this mound. Every time I ponder them, their lives, their humanity, their activities-both sacred and profane-and I try to see them. This is my vision of the ghosts of the Tequesta.
The setting for the painting is an interpretive map of Miami. Beginning with a Google Map image, I removed all contemporary buildings, altered the horizon for compositional purposes, and reintroduced Tequesta settlements at the mouth of the Miami River and at what is now the Deering Estate. In creating a foreground in Birdseye view and a horizon in vanishing perspective, I aimed to give the viewer the sensation of weightlessly moving through the landscape.
The figures were purposely choreographed to keep the viewer’s eye moving throughout the canvas, not beyond its perimeter. The dance is led by America in the center, always a beautifully powerful, confident woman in The Roses of Fibonacci. Two Fibonacci spirals of roses flow from the mouth of America, in a nod to the figure of Chloris in Botticelli’s Primavera. The mangroves are the symbolic roots of the Tequesta, as they remind us that the roots of humanity in Miami are theirs. The figures are monochromatic, as they are more the spirits of people than the actual people. This is also a nod to the figures in Picasso’s Guernica.