A group seeking justice for the teenage Colombian artist, who died after being Tasered by a Miami Beach police officer four months ago took their message before thousands in town for Art Basel Friday night.
Israel Hernandez-Llach died this past August after police caught him spray painting an abandoned McDonald’s building and shocked him with a Taser.
To honor their fellow artist, Hernandez-Llach, known in the art community as “Reefa,” they carried out a flash mob at the Miami Beach Convention Center.
They entered the convention center’s lobby one by one and dressed in casual attire, jeans and jackets. Later, they gathered and removed their jackets revealing uniformed shirts with the words “Justice for Israel” printed on them and broke into song.
"We wanted to come together at an artistic event to honor Reefa through a medium with which he was so familiar and was so involved with in his life: art," said 37-year-old Subhash Kateel, who is part of a group called “Justice for Israel”
Some members of the "Justice for Israel" committee are young artists who identify with Hernandez- Llach.
Many did not have the chance to meet him yet have spent much of their time and effort trying to garner attention to the circumstances of his death and gain popular interest in the case.
“We chose to perform the flash mob at Art Basel because it’s one of the largest and most lucrative art events in South Florida,” said 20 year-old Vivian Azalia, who did know Hernandez-Llach and has been responsible for helping organize not only the flash mob but a series of events in commemoration of “Reefa”.
“I was friends with Reefa and in fact we got really close at last year’s Art Basel,” she said. “If he weren’t dead he would be here and his art would be on display somewhere in Wynwood,” added Kateel.
Azalia and Kateel both agree that the flash mob, a group which gathered near the entrance of Art Basel, in front of the Miami Beach Convention Center to sing a gospel- style song, was one of the most impactful carried out by the “Justice for Israel” committee thus far.
"Sometimes incidents like Reefa’s death happen and people care for a brief moment and then they forget about it and think ‘oh well it’s ok’, " said Azalia . " But we haven’t forgetten and don’t want people to think it’s ok. "
Yesenia Garcia, 24, is Venezuelan but grew up in Kendall and was one of 10 people who took part in singing the hymn “Mama, Mama Can’t You See”.
"There’s a lot of police corruption in Miami," Garcia said. " I think it's a serious problem and although I didn’t meet Israel, his death affects me greatly."
Garcia isn’t a professional singer and although she loves art she considers herself more of a photographer than an artist but she’s been meeting with the rest of the group and practicing the song in order to participate in the flash mob.
“I wanted to participate because I don’t think it’s fair that the city of Miami Beach just shows interest in artists when Art Basel is in town,” she said.
The Miami Beach Police Department was already aware of the peaceful demonstration taking place in front of the convention center but didn’t expect a group of people dressed in casual attire to gather near the entrance of Art Basel and suddenly reveal white and black shirts with the face of Israel Hernandez- Llach emblazoned on them to start singing.
The words to "Mama, Mama can’t you see? " were altered to reference the case of Israel Hernandez- Llach. The new lyrics went like this: momma momma tell me why, why our artists have to die, painting things to make you smile, then they kill us with no trial
“This city is so beautiful and we’re lucky to host Art Basel,” said Azalia. “But there’s also people in this city who are supposed to protect us and instead of doing that they hurt us and the people who are visiting and coming to Art Basel from other cities and countries need to know that too.”