Miami Beach

‘Mr. Trump’ comes to South Beach — as a muse and a clown

mocner@miamiherald.com

Just because you’re petrified about the future of the republic doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun.

On Friday night, that fun for Miami Beach artist Huong included harassing tourists with her sidekick for the evening: a Donald Trump clown.

“Mr. Trump” comically badgered those who walked past Huong’s gallery in the 1600 block of Washington Avenue without saying a word. He left the talking to Huong, who peppered each with the same question: “Why are you voting for Trump?”

It was entertaining, of course. But it wasn’t Huong’s real goal. She hoped to lure people inside her shop, where Huong’s new, massive Trump-centric exhibit is on display.

On Saturday, Huong will officially introduce the Trump portion of “She Said, He Said — What do you say?” a collection of Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders portraits with some of the candidates’ most famous (and infamous quotes).

And here’s the twist: Unlike paintings that hang in a museum, Huong’s artwork is meant to be touched.

She is encouraging the public to add their own take on the reality TV star-turned-politician. The mural doubles as an open message board, where people are urged to jot down their thoughts on Clinton, Trump and Sanders.

The ambitious project is the latest addition to Huong’s Peace Mural initiative, a Miami-based nonprofit made up of artists, scholars and peace activists that she created at the turn of the century.

It goes without saying that Huong, Miami Beach’s 65-year-old protest artist, isn’t the biggest Trump fan. She’s not particularly keen on Clinton either. Rather, she’s urging voters to write-in “No!” instead of casting a vote for either in November.

“It’s so disappointing that these are the two choices for 300 million people,” Huong said. “It’s a tragedy.”

Barely 5 feet tall, Huong is a proud lightning rod. She received hate mail and death threats for her 2013 piece, “We Are All Trayvon Martin,” which depicted George Zimmerman opening fire on the 17-year-old with a bleeding Martin Luther King Jr. in the background. In place of Martin’s face was a mirror.

A Vietnam War refugee, Huong has also used a paintbrush to tackle the United States’ military involvement in Iraq, the environment and Guantánamo Bay prison.

“Ten years ago, the voice of America stopped the Iraq War,” Huong said. “Where is the voice of America now?”

Huong acknowledges she isn’t offering solutions to what she sees as a broken system. She’s an artist, capturing a surreal moment in American politics. Her latest project began nearly four years ago.

Her art suggests a fondness for Sanders, skepticism for Clinton, and bewilderment over Trump. The mural’s centerpiece, Trump “taming the beast,” is of the Republican wrestling a bull to the ground. It’s unclear who exactly the bull represents — the Republican Party or America itself.

Her muse was supposed to be in Miami on Friday for two campaign events — a luncheon at Versailles Cuban restaurant and a speech at the DoubleTree hotel near Miami International Airport — but Trump canceled both after the ambush that killed five Dallas police officers late Thursday.

Trump probably wouldn’t have cared for the man-on-the-street responses to Huong’s provocations. South Beach isn’t exactly his base, as evidenced by one young man who, pointing to one of Huong’s Trump portraits, asked, “Can I burn that?”

But Huong is planning to get perspectives beyond her neighborhood. Her motto might as well be, “Have art, will travel.”

The mural is a collection of smaller pieces, and between now and the election, Huong is willing to take them most anywhere in South Florida — including the “toilet dump.”

“This is a public service,” Huong added.

Adam H. Beasley: 305-376-3565, @AdamHBeasley

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