What is art? Is it just a mere exercise of the creative part of our brains? Is it a psychological vehicle in which one can better understand one’s life and the stories lived?
Walking through the University of Miami Gallery at the Wynwood Building, it is impossible to avoid getting gripped by some of the pieces made by our day-to-day professors. These are the same professors that torment us with their energy to find within us a better version of ourselves. We are so preoccupied with our own lives and our futures, that we rarely stop to wonder, what about their lives?
Currently, art created by UM faculty is on display at the 2021 Faculty Exhibition.
Among the pieces, each one more interesting than the last, we can find Billy Lynn’s “Black Mandala,” occupying a significant portion of the gallery’s floor. Lynn is a professor in the department of Art & Art History.
Her piece, she tells me, was intended to understand the gravity and number of the 700,000 deaths produced by COVID-19.
“I decided to use black aquarium rocks for the piece, and thought that three, 20 lbs bags would be enough,” Lynn said.
After counting rock by rock, she figured she would need something closer to 175 Ibs of rock.
“This is just the U.S deaths,” Lynn said, explaining the severity of how much material was needed to represent this many deaths.
On Oct. 6, the night of the gallery’s opening, Lynn performed around the piece, giving the mount of rock the shape of a mandala, her own way of introspectively understanding and mourning the deaths that stood before her. Spontaneously, Lynn wrote on the floor, “May This Be a Blessing,” transforming the somber piece into a beacon of unity and hope. The mandala will continuously grow in size week after week until the end of the exhibition.
In the gallery we can also find Xavier Cortada’s “Fearscape, Articulo XIII and Alumbron,” a tryptic of rusted metal and newspaper cutouts, serving as homage to Cuba’s fight for liberation.
Cortada, who is a professor in multiple departments including the department of Art & Art History, the Miller School of Medicine and the UM School of Law and a renowned artist, first exhibited the piece at a show named “No Tengan Miedo” at the Latin American Art Museum in Miami back in 2001. Originally, it was conceived after the visit of Pope John Paul II to Cuba in 1998. His message to the Cuban people was “no tengan miedo,” translated into English as “don’t be afraid.”
Cortada believes the recent resurgence of liberatory protest brings back the message with full force.
“When I created these works 20 years ago, they heralded the changes in Cuban civil society being ushered in by the 1998 papal visit,” Cortada said. “In the ensuing two decades, my optimism for a free Cuba waned…that is, until the #PatriaYVida protests a short few months ago.”
At the center of the piece, you can find Christ at the cross, a symbol of resistance, of hope. Cortada ended his statement with the chant “Viva Cuba Libre!” or “Long Life a Free Cuba!”
Every piece represents a story. It helps one understand both the artist a little more intimately, and the world they encompass. More often than not, their world is our world and understanding them better helps one understand the collective spirit of all the people who walk in and out of the university every day, to pursue their dreams and aspirations.
The 2021 Faculty Exhibition will run until Nov. 5. Gallery hours are Wednesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., located at the University of Miami Gallery, Wynwood Building at 2750 NW 3rd Avenue, Suite 4.
Don’t miss the chance to rejoice in the art and gain a better understanding of our campus community!