‘Wynwood’s Finest’ Mural Deconstructed in Miami Dade College Classroom
Photos and Article by Stephanie Turk
MIAMI– A larger than life graffiti mural on W 24th Street in Wynwood is transported to a classroom screen at Miami Dade College. A seemingly battered Mona Lisa, provocatively clad, dons daddy’s dollar bills in between her fishnet tights and Botero-esque thighs. Mona Loca, the character in question, serves as a method of engagement led by MDC professor, Neil de la Flor, encouraging students to compare and contrast the original Da Vinci classic with Abstrk’s “Wynwood’s Finest.” Since 2010, published author and college professor, de la Flor, has been harnessing the street painting as a strategy “to talk about how the world–culture, society, art, gender roles–has or has not changed over the last 500 years,” de la Flor explains.
Recently, Abstrk paid the class a visit to explain the creative process behind the collaborative mural, also featuring the work of Arive and 9teen, though he still left the artwork up for interpretation. The artist elaborates, “these walls are for you to see what you feel…you might see that clock as time is melting away or you might see it as just a guy who’s having a hard time.” The artist’s double entendre comment drew a collective chuckle. “I love to hear how people see my work.”
What didn’t surprise me about Abstrk’s visit to MDC,” de la Flor reflects, “is that he didn’t give my students the answers they were looking for. Instead, he asked them for their opinions and they gave it to him in a presentation that was a mutual exchange of knowledge and ideas.” Abstrk, a member of the legendary Miami graffiti crew, MSG Cartel, echoes the teacher’s sentiment. “Without actually laying a title on the wall people were still able to interpret what we intended to communicate.”
As Graffiti becomes increasingly accepted as modern art, the relatively raw crossroad of where street meets institution signifies the supreme shift of accepting illegal art and its related activities in an academic setting for the sake of contemporary communication. The legalization of graffiti and commissioning of street legal works is no more apparent than in Wynwood. Perhaps it is this internationally renowned arts district in Miami, which boasts the world’s largest outdoor, multi-site, street level mural installation, that is fueling what may soon catch on as a trend in universities. Whereas once masked midnight marauders concealed identities for eternity, they are slowly beginning to lower their shields to speak in the same places that once ousted such outlaws, ultimately now regarding them as they are, artists.
Abstrk, a self taught artist, who completed his art education in high school, is now sitting at the head of a college classroom as a guest lecturer. “When I was in school, I remember being told what I do is not art. Now, there’s a class, a creative writing class, analyzing and writing about my work..it’s surreal.”
It’s not just the deconstruction and comparison of street works with ancient artifacts that’s so provocative, but rather one of the most highly regarded works of the Italian Renaissance juxtaposed with that of a young aerosol aficionado.
“As my students compare & contrast Abstrk’s ‘Wynwood’s Finest’ with da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’, I encourage them to investigate what they see and why they interpret what they see,” continues de la Flor. ‘She’s a whore’, ‘she’s a prostitute’, ‘she’s been beaten down by men’ are the most frequent observations my students make. Then, I ask them to examine the origin of their responses. Why do you think Mona Loca is this or that? What does that say about you, the artist and or our culture?”
As Graffiti, arguably the most illegal element of Hip Hop, is slowly commandeered by academic institutions as a tool for discourse, knowledge, the culture’s fifth element, gains momentum in its most appropriate setting.