“Thunder and Enlightening,” a mural by Miami artist Addonis Parker is unveiled
The Andrew Gillum mural is not political, Miami artist Disem says.
Disem is standing next to the unfinished mural of the former Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Liberty City. He’s been painting for seven hours on the side of an old bodega.
“He’s someone I can relate to, that anyone can relate to,” he said. “He is from the city, and now look at him.”
For Disem, Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood used to be where a former graffiti artist like himself could attract international attention. But as the neighborhood has become popular with visitors and murals are more about how they play on Instagram, artists like Disem are taking their talents elsewhere.
They’re finding success, and admiration, in neighboring Overtown, Liberty City and Little Havana.
“Wynwood is so oversaturated that you don’t get that genuine happiness from the community as it is in other areas,” he said.
The Gillum mural is at Northwest 18th Avenue and 66th Street in Liberty City. Disem was commissioned by the New Florida Majority, a nonprofit organization that works to increase the minority vote and that funded his first mural in Wynwood.
“Liberty City is a historically black neighborhood in Miami that [had] the first black man running as governor,” Andrea Mercado, the director of the New Florida Majority, said during the election. “This means something for them.”
Disem is also painting a young boy from the neighborhood next to the candidate. It’ll show the young people what they can be, he said.
Most of the local onlookers are amazed by the likeness and details of the Gillum mural, which was created with spray paint. They congratulate Disem, and then take their own photos of the mural.
The artist, who also makes paintings, sculptures and even designs his own sock line, has always been focused on preserving Miami’s culture through art. He’s working on a portrait collection that shows local talent like street artist and muralist Ahol Sniffs Glue, DJ Oscar G and tattoo artist Jose Rosado.
Disem also created a Celia Cruz mural on Southwest 27th Avenue and Northwest 11th Street, on the border of Little River and Allapattah. She did so much for the city, he said.
Muralist Kyle Holbrook moved to Miami from Pittsburgh in 2009. When he lived in Pennsylvania, he and a group of other artists were chosen to do a mural on the Penn-Lincoln Hotel, the now demolished six-story brick building in Pittsburgh.
After he saw the positive reaction from the community, art became his tool to unite people.
“It was this moment where you see the impact in his community and you just want to do more to impact others,” he said.
Shortly after relocating to Florida, Holbrook noticed that he didn’t feel fulfilled with the art in Wynwood.
“Certain people just want to do art in Miami for Instagram notoriety,” he said. “Not to live off of but for fame. In Wynwood, 99 percent of the artists are doing it to promote a show or to get popular.”
He wanted to do purposeful murals that help people, he said.
“My first mural was in 2011 and I got local artists from Little Haiti to help,” he said. He felt a familiarity with Haitians having spent time in the country working on a beautification project in the capital. “It’s their neighborhoods, they should have a say in what happens.”
In September, when he wanted to do a project with young people and police in Liberty City, some thought it was odd considering the tensions over police shootings of black youths in some communities around the U.S.
But Holbrook had a vision. So he contacted a Miami-Dade police commander in charge of the North District Substation.
Holbrook, through his nonprofit Moving the Lives of Kids (MLK) Community Mural Project, hired teenagers from the neighborhood to join him. His goal was to get the locals and police to work together to bridge the gap, he said.
“You can’t shoot a kid in the back if you know them,” he said.
The 300-by-8 foot brick wall that surrounds the North District Police Substation at 1000 NW 62nd St. is covered with a vivid mural depicting children and police in the community, jubilant faces and an “I Love Liberty City” logo.
“The I Love Liberty City Movement is about bringing pride to the city,” said Elaine Black, the president of Liberty City Communication Revitalization Trust. She has worked with Holbrook on several other projects, including the Martin Luther King mural on MLK Boulevard.
“Murals help tell the story of what has gone on in the community,” Black said.
Nestled in the mural is a portrait of Kimson Green and Rickey Dixon, two teenage students at Miami Northwestern Senior High School who were gunned down earlier this year in the Liberty Square area.
“I had the parents of the murdered teens that are depicted on the mural say it was an honor and thank me,” Holbrook said.
Another of Holbrook’s murals is in Overtown.
The mural shows the Negro Baseball League along with other famous black athletes with portraits of players Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente and Satchel Paige.
Darnell Harris, the coach of Overtown’s “Money Team” junior varsity football league, said the pictures show his history and the history of black athletes.
Addonis Parker, a 46-year-old artist, can remember when Wynwood was a part of Overtown.
The 50-block area just north of Overtown used to be known as “Little San Juan” because of the sizable Puerto Rican population in the 1950s. In the 2000s, the late developer and visionary Tony Goldman took an interest to the area, buying buildings and opening up Wynwood Walls, an outdoor art gallery.
Today, Wynwood has become a trendy spot that’s a Realtor’s dream, with a tide of new businesses, offices and apartments., and the signature Wynwood Walls.
Addonis Parker used to have an art gallery in Wynwood back in 2002. He ended up leaving the space to pursue his own career as a muralist before Wynwood turned hot.
The award-winning artist said he prefers to do pieces in Liberty City and Overtown, and on landmarks of important buildings “because that’s where my people are,” Parker said.
His 16-year art career culminated in 2015 with his most-prized work of art: a painting on the outside wall of OneUnited Bank, the first black bank in Miami, in Liberty City. The reveal of the painting at 3275 NW 79th St. drew a crowd of 300 people.
“It’s about freedom, “ Parker said about his mural. “There’s protest, it shows racism, inequality, black liberty, even showing ‘wet foot, dry foot’ before Obama changed it.” The inside of the bank is also covered in original Parker pieces.
“I don’t paint murals just to paint them,” said Parker, who names Haitian muralist Serge Toussaint as one of his biggest inspirations.
“I don’t care about fame or getting likes, I don’t care about being in a gallery or Art Basel because after the show you need to survive. I make art that changes the mood set and your mind.”