For many Cubans, making a boat trip across the Florida Straits to the United States is a voyage of bravery, preparation and survival.
Last October, about 15 Cubans made the journey and landed in Key West. Their boat is now part of Miami artist Alexander Mijares’ latest installation, “Freedom.”
A friend of Mijares’ cousin asked if he would like to use the immigrants’ 22-foot-long vessel as one of his art pieces. The artist agreed, and arrangements were made to bring it from Key West to Miami.
Mijares, 31, painted a canvas in the same shape as the sail and on it recreated the scene of that fateful night. He also incorporated the Lady of Caridad De Cobre, said to be the patron saint of those embarking on the voyage. The original sail made of trash bags remains in place right behind the recreation.
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“Freedom” was displayed during last December’s Art Basel and for Mijares, it signifies tracing back to his Cuban roots and paying homage to the Cuban community.
“It’s had an insane response and now that it’s over in Milander in Hialeah, tons of people have been over there taking pictures and they’re just falling in love with it,” Mijares said. “Anybody that’s read the story and saw it was basically in tears.”
“Freedom” is being displayed at the Milander Center for Arts and Entertainment as an open-ended exhibit.
Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernández thought it would be a good idea to keep the symbolic piece in his city after Art Basel in Miami Beach.
“It is an honor for us to have Alexander Mijares’ ‘Freedom’ installation in the city of Hialeah, as it is a symbol of Cuban and South Florida history,” Hernandez said. “It is an important piece for our city, since we have a high Cuban immigrant population and our residents will be able to relate because of what it represents. We have been working hard to increase arts and culture in the city of Hialeah and we hope all residents and visitors will be able to enjoy this art piece.”
Soon, Mijares will make his first trip to Cuba to work with kids from an orphanage and speak at a school. He says his inspiration to work comes from serving the people who need it most. He’s also traveled to Haiti, Dominican Republic, and even some of the slums in Brazil to pursue further his philanthropic work with underserved children in those countries.
“It doesn’t cut it for me just to donate a painting,” Mijares said. “ I always tell people, ‘If you want anything from me, I want to be more involved.’ That’s why a lot of times I’ll go on these mission trips. It’s an easier way to reach out.”
Mijares picked up his first paintbrush about five years ago and says his style is stained-glass-meets-street-art.
Lourdes Leon-Vega, a fan and buyer of his art, said she saw the freedom piece and that it is breathtaking and emotional.
“I love Mijares’ art mostly because of the passion he puts into every one of his pieces,” Leon-Vega said. “We currently own seven [pieces] and a surfboard. We custom painted an elephant for our master bedroom as well as an amazing angel and [customized] a surfboard for our teenager. The color and art is truly spectacular. I feel his art makes our home a happier place.”
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If you go
Alexander Mijares “Freedom” is now on display at the Milander Center for Arts and Entertainment, 4800 Palm Ave., Hialeah.