While Miami artists are busy and excited preparing to welcome Art Basel, one of the largest art shows in the world, to Miami Beach on Thursday, another thought has made itself prominent in their minds.
"This week during Art Basel, I want to use my talent to make sure that his name and what happened to Israel Hernandez-Llach — Reefa — is not so easily forgotten," said graffiti artist "Nobody."
Nobody says he was in Berlin when he heard the news of Hernandez-Llach’s death.
Hernandez-Llach lost his life in August after an altercation with Miami Beach Police Officer Jorge Mercado in which Mercado surprised Hernandez-Llach painting the wall of an abandoned McDonald’s and stunned the teen with a Taser, which ultimately led to his death. The pain of his loss is still fresh in the minds of local artists.
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“Nobody” has incorporated Reefa’s name into several of his art works and plans to continue to do so throughout different Art Basel events.
"Whenever I have the opportunity, I will write Reefa’s name," artist Nobody said. "He was not a criminal. He was a son, a friend and an artist, and his death must not be in vain."
Natalia Jaramillo, 36, who was born in Colombia, as was Hernandez-Llach and his family, has been at the forefront of events memorializing the teen. She has joined the family in their grief and has been involved in a committee to organize events seeking justice in the case.
"I’m collecting signatures from local and international artists to ask Art Basel decision-makers to dedicate this year’s Art Basel events to the memory of Reefa,"Jaramillo said. "I put together a website where artists can sign this petition.” (Bit.ly/basel4reefa )
In just two days of having set up the page, Jaramillo has already collected 40 artists’ signatures.
Ruben Ubiera is one of the artists who signed the petition. Ubiera, a 38-year-old Dominican artist who was hired to paint a mural on the wall of Wynwood Brewing Co., was ready to paint the wall when he noticed some flowers at the top right corner of the building.
"When I saw the flowers, I had a feeling they were drawn by Reefa,” Ubiera said. “I took a photo and asked around to find out if they were Reefa’s or not, and they told me they were. "
To honor Reefa, Ubiera chose to incorporate his flowers into his drawing without covering them up or altering them.
"I planned my work around them so that I wouldn’t touch them at all — I want to help preserve Reefa’s art, " Ubiera said. "When I heard his story, it touched me because I’m also a skateboarder, I’m an artist and I’m Latino, and I’ve lived in Miami for over fifteen years. I could’ve been Reefa."
Ubiera wants to pay tribute to Reefa by painting a mural in his honor, but as of yet is searching for a business willing to donate a wall.
"It’s sad to see that the authorities have nothing to say about this," he added.
Mixed-media artist Chy Tea, 38, who was born in Connecticut, also added his signature to the petition for the dedication of Art Basel to Israel Hernandez-Llach. But Chy Tea did more than that: On his left arm near his hand, he proudly bears a tattoo of Reefa’s graffiti tag.
"I wasn’t his friend," Chy Tea said. "But I’m a father, and I thought of my son. When I found out what happened with Reefa, I knew I had to do something."
Chy Tea is currently painting a large mural at Northwest 24th Street and Fifth Avenue in a gated parking lot.
"I don’t know exactly what I’m going to paint, but I’ll let my inspiration guide me," he said. "I’m going to dedicate it entirely to Reefa and will incorporate the flowers that he loved to paint."
Thirty-year-old "Registered Artist," born in Nicaragua but raised in Miami, is in charge of an event called "Free Art Fridays" and had decided to dedicate the next event to the memory of Reefa.
"I signed the petition because I think this is a good cause," said Registered Artist, who in the past has collaborated with other artists to paint walls honoring Reefa.
Although Jaramillo is not so sure her efforts will pay off, she will continue collecting signatures from local artists until Tuesday.
"No later than Tuesday, I will hand-deliver the official letter to the people in charge of Art Basel," Jaramillo said. "When I talked to them, they briefly told me they do not think they’ll be able to adopt a political position, but we’ll see what happens."