Activism through murals takes Wynwood

Posted March 25, 2017


Coming to Miami and not going to Wynwood is like traveling to Paris and not visiting the Louvre.

Originally spelled Wyndwood, it was not always a major attraction. Since its inception, the neighborhood was an area for working class families. By the mid 1950s, it began to be filled with Puerto Ricans attracted by the opportunities to improve their lives, however, as the district got more popular, the value of commercial square footage went up and many of the manufacturers there decided to move out. This gave way to wealthy developers who transformed the neighborhood into Miami’s now hippest and hottest place.

With more than 70 art galleries, multiple retail shops, restaurants, murals and one of the largest open-air street installations in the world, Wynwood has definitely become a major center of entertainment and an important art venue.

Regardless of how you visit the area, either by car or by walking, you will be surrounded by amazing and captivating artworks. There is no need to enter a gallery to appreciate art; exhibitions are also placed on the buildings, which are completely painted from the roof to the ground.

Murals are temporary, just like art galleries exhibitions. The average time business owners keep works on their walls is about one year, two if the piece is really good; and when Art Basel, an annual global art fair, comes around Wynwood Walls artists update their work or create new pieces.

In January 2017, the surface of the buildings became the new canvas for PangeaSeed Foundation’s “Sea Walls” initiative. As described on their website “Sea Walls is a groundbreaking public art project that brings the oceans into the streets around the world.”

The foundation collaborate with local artists to create large-scale murals that address pressing environmental issues and therefore engage with the local community to foster a sense of pride, ownership and consciousness for the health of their ecosystems.

Sea-level rise was the topic selected for this year’s exhibition. The world’s oceans are already rising, thanks to global warming and it’s now, not later, for sea level rise in South Florida. A recent Florida Atlantic University study estimated that just six more inches of sea level rise — very possible within two decades — would cripple about half of South Florida’s flood control capacity. This would be catastrophic for low-lying cities like Miami and especially Miami Beach.

Frightened by the consequences that this could bring, local artists Tatiana Suarez, Evoca One, Nicole Salgar, Ernesto Maranje and Jose Mertz joined the initiative and created five large-scale murals in Wynwood to bring awareness to climate change and of course, rising seas.

The project puts-together five paintings with the same purpose: Inspire and encourage the next generation to become stewards for the sea and work hard in the awareness-raising process.

Although they are all part of the same initiative, each painting is unique and has the artist’s personal touch attached to it. During the creation process, they were free to create what they wanted to. There were no content or technique requirements.

Three out of the five murals are located next to each other, Nicole Salgar’s, Jose Mertz’s and Tatiana Suarez’s to be specific; the other two, Evoca One’s and Ernesto Maranje’s, were painted in different locations throughout the neighborhood. The fact that the murals weren’t all painted in the same place ended up being a problem. Even though they all had the same theme, viewers had trouble relating them, so it could be possible that the impact would have been greater if they were side by side.

Ernesto Maranje’s piece titled “With or Without Us” is probably the most colorful, but at the same time, it is the one that expresses less the chosen problem, visually wise. For this work, Maranje decided to use a very common bird species populating South Florida, a peacock, as the main element, and inside of it, he painted different fishes and aquatic ecosystems. The work overall illustrates how evolution would take its course and force this bird to adapt to the rising water in order to survive.

According to his Instagram post about the mural, he believes “these animals have what it takes to keep their species alive in a beautiful and harmonious way. I just hope we as a species become much more aware and do not continue to move forward in ignorance.”

A mural with a more direct and precise message is the one done by Evoca. It is titled “High Tide” and it is a representation of the expected consequences caused by sea level rise that will have Miami underwater.

The illustration is a mix and match of both underwater and city elements, there are three empty cars, one over the other, which are sinking underwater. There is a manatee trying to move through the invasive and unknown objects, the cars, and there is also a dog avoiding the water.

It is difficult to extract a deep meaning by simply looking at the murals. There are some elements with important symbolism, but an author explanation would be helpful. For example, in Evoca’s painting “the dog on the car is a representation of our will to stay afloat and struggle to survive the changing times,” this idea couldn’t be concluded without him saying so.

The simplest mural technique wise would be Jose Mertz’s. It is a monochromatic linear piece with no preconceived thought, it is simply a black and white composition of a furious, powerful and strong ocean. The work is also a commemoration of the late Rob Stewart, the filmmaker and shark conservationist who selflessly dedicated his life to the ocean, its exploration and saving species from extinction.

Right next to Jose Mertz’s mural, stands Tatiana Suarez’s colorful and calm work. This mural is almost twice as high as Jose Mertz’s and it is definitely an attention catcher. “Sink or Swim” is a piece that perfectly resembles Miami as a whole.

Palm trees, a flamingo and a typical Miamian girl. Also the combination of colors, overwhelming tones of orange and purple, provide a greater sense of melancholy and disappointment, which is basically what the artist feels, as she wrote on her Instagram feed:

“Unfortunately, politicians are turning a blind eye to these issues while Miami remains one of the more vulnerable coastal cities to be affected by the rising seas. At this current pace, it’s forecasted that Miami will be submerged by the end of the century!”

The last piece and the public’s favorite is Nicole Salgar’s untitled mural. It portrays a businessman drowning in the ocean that would probably invade Miami Beach if we continue to ignore climate change. However, the most important part of the composition are the bills.

“The bills represent money lost that was invested in the area instead of being used to prevent this catastrophe,” the artist stated in her Instagram post.

People are so concerned about material things that they don’t even think about how useless they could become if a catastrophe like this happens.

Regardless of the personal preference among the five murals, they have each impacted people.  The project has become viral on social media, people have spread the word and with today’s polarizing political issue on how the White House will address climate change, these art pieces are a must-see.

  • Exhibition: PangeaSeed Foundation “Sea Walls” initiative.
  • Artists: Tatiana Suarez, Evoca One, Nicole Salgar, Ernesto Maranje and Jose Mertz.
  • Location: 167 NW 25th St., Miami Fla., 33127.
  • Hours: Open to the public 24/7, but it is recommended to visit the neighborhood during The monthly Art Walk, every second Saturday of the month (Art Walk hours: usually start at 7 p.m through 11 p.m.)
  • For more Wynwood Art District activities visit
  • Price: Free.
  • Parking: Pay by Phone is available on the streets or regular parking lots that charge between $10 – $15.