“I’m not a Miami girl.”
That was the disclaimer Miami-based photographer Ekaterina Juskowski heard often from women who grew up in Miami – women, noted the Russian transplant, that were always up to amazing things. These were women who were creative, intelligent, engaged, making a difference in their fields. These were women who make Miami a better place.
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“Being a ‘Miami girl’ was, to them, something negative,” she explains. The phenomenon was so prevalent that she decided to study it as part of her thesis for her sociology degree at the University of Central Florida. What she discovered was that there was a major disconnect between the glossy, sexy image of Miami that gets packaged to lure tourists and the depth of the people who actually live here.
“The city bought the image that advertisers were selling,” she explains, leaving women as set dressing, adorning a glamorous and vacuous world that exists only on billboards. But the real Miami girls, Juskowski argues, are something completely different.
The photographer decided that Miami girls needed to be profiled in a way that captured their contributions, so out of her thesis a media project called Miami Girls was born. The website (www.miamigirls.org) offers a collection of portraits and essays about the women who are making Miami move right now.
She started with her friends, then last year she created the campaign Miami Girls Inspiring Leadership, offering portraits of Miami women committed to improving life in the city.
Now her project has moved offline to HistoryMiami where she has papered the facade of the downtown institution with her portraits of 30 women in Miami that are leaders in local nonprofit organizations. Each wears a t-shirt for her cause. There’s Sandy Skelaney, who works to end sexual trafficking. Jasmen Rogers is a community organizer who works with the Black Lives Matter movement. Leigh-Ann Buchanan, the founding Executive Director of Venture Café Miami, facilitates growth, diversity, inclusion, and greater connectivity within Miami’s innovation and startup community. There are actors, activists, authors, doctors, entrepreneurs.
Ruth Shack, prominent civic activist and founding member of the Miami Foundation, notes in her Miami girl essay how important women are to the city’s growth.
Years ago when my three splendid daughters, “Miami Girls” each, discovered they had to leave their home base to achieve their career goals it became apparent to me Miami had to mature to keep “Miami Women” in town.
Silvia Planas Prats, who runs Miami is Kind, an organization that provides employment and work skills education to young adults with autism, was excited to be a part of a project that changed the narrative about Miami women. “You say ‘Miami girl’ and you think high heels and a superficial person. But you see all these girls and it’s all the contrary.”
The project, notes Prats, shines a collective spotlight on the achievements of local women: “I think women still today don’t have the position they deserve in history and the recognition they deserve. It makes you feel like you’re not alone, it’s empowering when you see that many women trying to make the city better.”
The portraits will be outside of HistoryMiami through March 31, then the photos, interviews, posters and stories will be placed in the museum’s archives. “We share and collect Miami stories, and each one of these women has a powerful story of dedication to the Miami community,” says HistoryMiami Museum director Jorge Zamanillo.
Some of the posters will have a second life at various locations throughout Miami, in the style of the French artist JR, whose 2006 project Portrait of a Generation, peppered the neighborhoods of Paris, France, with intimate and touching portraits of “thugs” that live in the city’s marginalized suburbs. The artist later launched, INSIDE OUT, a digital campaign to track other groups that took the same action, including the Miami Girls project.
For Juskowski, it is important to document these “Miami girls.”
“The way Miami will be in 10 to 15 years will be a direct result of these women.”
IF YOU GO:
What: Miami Girls Make History
Where: HistoryMiami, 101 W Flagler St, Miami