About the Author
Born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Bea Sampaio moved at age six to Hollywood, Florida before eventually attending Florida International University. A self-described science enthusiast, she's currently pursuing her Bachelors in Biology before going on to do graduate studies. She can often be found interning in a lab of some sort or (more recently) checking out Miami's local art scene. She likes surrealism and warm hugs.

Miami Graffiti Artists Honor The Victims Of The Orlando Shooting

Less than two weeks after the nation’s largest mass shooting took place at an Orlando gay nightclub, Pedro AMOS was approached by an old friend to commission an art piece for the victims of the attack.

The friend in question was Roxana Rauseo, manager of the Wynwood Yard, and the aim of the project was to memorialize the identities of those lost on June 12th by creating a giant public mural located on the back wall of O Cinema’s building.

AMOS, whose artist owned and operated company had recently been named The Miami’s New Times best graffiti guide, called upon colleagues Luis Valle and Jona Cerwinske to aid in the mural’s initial construction.

All three of them donated their free time in order to finish the painting as soon as possible, a process that meant trading alternating shifts amid the oppressive Florida heat with little supervision and a lot of donated paint.

The mural itself, scenically located across from the The Wynwood Yard’s own urban garden, depicts the full names of every person killed during the night of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting.

Those names, 49 in total, were purposely rendered in the same six colors that typically make up the rainbow LGBT flag.

AMOS describes the experience of receiving the notecards from Rauseo bearing the identities of the dead, later admitting he still cannot bring himself to throw the papers away even after the project had already finished.

“I was all like work, work, work and trying to organize everyone and put everything together but [then] she gave me all these cards and it was really heavy to get all that, it really made it all real. And then you’ll be painting [a name] and this girl would come and say ‘Oh my god, my mother worked with him.”’

Construction of the mural was often marred by inclement weather and a host of technical mishaps, eventually stalling completion of the painting an extra four days over what was initially scheduled.

13522580_883478271760477_286745480_nProblems with a donated forklift meant that Valle had to fill in a majority of a giant, multicolored heart using only a paint roller and a very sore back (his efforts were later compensated with a complementary massage at The Standard).

Regardless of the conditions, many locals still stopped to gather on Thursday night and hold a prayer vigil for those lost in the Pulse shooting, even bringing bouquets of flowers and lighting candles in order to honor the dead.

“I was up on a ladder and I’m painting and everybody came around during the vigil and I had my back turned. I turned around and I realized everybody was there with their cameras and it was a moment that just kind of hit me, you know?” Valle said.

The Nicaraguan-born artist had previously painted a memorial piece in New York as part of a fundraising effort for a deceased person, but had never attempted anything on this particular scale before the events in Orlando occurred.

The commemorative mural comes as a result of the devastating mass shooting that took place in in Central Florida earlier this month, one that resulted in the collective deaths and injuries of 102 individuals when a lone shooter, Omar Mateen, opened fire inside of a popular nightclub.

“I thought it was bigger than an LGBT community problem. I thought it was a world problem. I thought it was a failure on behalf of all humans. It’s disgusting and it rocks everyone, gay straight Latino, black, white, to their core. It’s just a terrible scenario.” AMOS said at one point, alluding to a speech he gave to expectant attendees on the night of the Wynwood vigil.

Maybe so, but both the location of the attack as well as the hateful rhetoric spouted by its perpetrator would suggest otherwise.

LGBT activists and civilians alike have fought for decades to create safe spaces within the queer community.

For better or worse, their struggles have always been the subject of punditry and social scrutiny, a fact further evidenced by the controversy surrounding the recent reactions that conservative Florida legislators maintained in the wake of the Pulse shooting.

It’s not surprising that the deaths of these individuals would be politicized in the wake of this tragedy, not when we know that discriminatory laws already politicized many aspects of their lives to begin with.

Still, if there’s anything to glean from the memorial in question it’s the cathartic role, however modest, that public art can play in the wake of these tragedies.

The swiftness with which the different facets of Wynwood life responded to the events in Orlando reflects the collective empathy expressed by local entrepreneurs, artists, managers, and volunteers for the LGBT community as a whole.

More importantly, these kinds of displays have the potential to galvanize residents against incidents of homophobia, pressuring otherwise reluctant allies to openly express support. It’s also viscerally, laudably beautiful to look at, a kaleidoscope of vibrant images framed by the urban greenery surrounding it.

“As artists, we have the ability to make a difference and [either] do something about this or at least put a voice out there.” Valle said at one point during the interview, “It’s the least we can do for something so horrible.”

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.

Wholesalers In Miami’s Trendy Wynwood District Feel Like They Are Getting Forced Out

One doesn’t have to venture far into Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood to see that it’s currently undergoing a major transition.

Formerly empty warehouses, newly restored, now function as both galleries and canvases for popular street artists. The gentrification of the area, aided in part by Tony Goldman’s development of the Wynwood Walls, has changed the neighborhood over the past decade and turned it into a popular destination for both tourists and locals.

Only a few streets over from the art scene resides the fashion and garment district. A culmination of shops and boutiques specializing in wholesale for over 20 years, people associated with the area have noted the effect that Wynwood’s cultural and economic revival has had on their trade.

“[The area] has changed totally, now it’s just art all over,“ Victor Pinzon, the manager of Marcel’s Fashions said. Marcel’s Fashions is a wholesale business that’s been operating in the Wynwood area since 1985. Over the last ten years Pinzon’s seen the fashion district transform with the growth of the nearby art scene.

“Before, you couldn’t leave the warehouse after 5 PM because it was too dangerous,” Pinzon said in a phone interview. “Ever since the art came in more and more people come into the neighborhood now.”

“I love Wynwood. My mom does too but we do have to move,” Hannah Blinder said.

“It’s changed a lot,“ Hannah Blinder, a fashion connoisseur and entrepreneur said. Blinder’s mother Hye K. Blinder owns Hannah Bella, a trendy wholesale shop located in the heart of the fashion district.

“Now they’re turning everything into really cool restaurants, clubs, lounges,” Blinder said.

Both Blinder and Pinzon agree that Wynwood’s gentrification is good for the city overall, adding to Miami’s reputation and giving it a more cosmopolitan feel.

Photo Credit: Bea Sampaio

Photo Credit: Bea Sampaio

“Nowadays you can say you’re based in Wynwood and have people know you’re in the art district,” Pinzon said, citing one of the perks of the fashion district’s current location.

However, when asked about how the gentrification of the neighborhood was affecting the fashion district overall Blinder said it was a time of transition.

“I love Wynwood. My mom does too but we do have to move,” Blinder said. “All the buildings are not really wanting wholesalers here.”

Blinder explained that many of the warehouses utilized by these wholesale businesses are leased, not owned. The proprietors of these buildings, eager to capitalize on the art scene’s success, are more interested in leasing to potential galleries and restaurants than to wholesale shops.

“ [The owners] want to replace these wholesalers with art galleries and restaurants, stuff like that,” Blinder said. “They want to change the landscape of the whole neighborhood.”

The question now is how long the fashion district’s workers will actually continue to benefit from Wynwood’s gentrification, especially if and when the owners of these warehouses are no longer interested in leasing them space.

Blinder herself believes that the fashion district will relocate in the next few years to Allapattah, a nearby Miami neighborhood with ample warehouse space and an already existing textile industry. She hopes that the arrival of these wholesale businesses into the area will contribute to the community overall.

“We are moving down to that area and we are kind of just hoping for the same trend, like increases in safety, with everyone moving there,” Blinder said.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. Anyone can write for you us as long as you are fiercely interested in making the world a better place. 

Cover Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Bea Sampaio/RISE NEWS

This story was originally published on on June 8, 2015.

How This Photographer Fights For The Environment With His Camera

Ever since he was a child, South Florida-based photographer Ben Hicks has been fascinated with the inner workings of nature. Growing up exploring the woods near his childhood home, the young Hicks learned to love being outside and observing the natural world around him.

Nowadays Hicks’ profession leads him all around the globe, channeling his passion for the environment into a career that’s spanned several continents. He’s well known for his work with waves and wildlife in particular, and readily admits over a phone interview that he has a deep affinity for aquatic landscapes.

“In general I really do enjoy going out in the water with my camera,” Hicks said. “I’ve gotten my start shooting professional surfers. I’ve traveled quite a bit around the world covering professional surfers mainly based in Florida and that’s really where I started to love shooting in the water.”

Hicks’ photography is very popular throughout South Florida, and many of his pictures feature the sunshine state’s signature wildlife as their subjects.

He acts as a brand ambassador for several different companies and his work is so well liked that numerous prints of it are often sold as phone cases and other merchandise online.

More important, however, is how Hicks utilizes his success to advocate and raise awareness for conservation causes that he’s passionate about. Sea turtles in particular are of an interest to him, with Hicks’ work often featuring them. Some of the species that he photographs throughout Florida are known for being especially vulnerable to human activity.


“As far as my conservation work. It was really just natural because I was out there seeing the [trials] that they were having to face as far as environmental efforts being done to try to help sea turtles,” Hicks said. “And there’s just so many things that are really going against sea turtles as far as beach nourishment programs, pollution, and the lighting from condos and houses that trick the orientation of the hatchlings.”

Hicks first became interested in sea turtle conservation back in 2009. He describes accompanying a marine scientist friend on a daytrip to research the reptiles, claiming that this was the catalyst which helped set in motion his advocacy work for their preservation in the first place.

“I was amazed that I could use my photos to educate people and help save sea turtles and [aid] their ability to reproduce in our area. That fascinated me, and I was amazed that people could really listen just by looking at one of my photographs,” Hicks said.

The future of Florida’s sea turtles, much like the future of many of the state’s endangered species, is inherently dependent upon factors like public perception and education.

Hicks’ passion for sea turtle conservation is made evident through his extensive photography work as well as his collaborations with various environmental organizations.

Many of his most popular pictures even feature some of Florida’s more endangered species, most notably loggerheads and leatherbacks. He hopes that documenting the life and habitats of these animals will further raise awareness to the public about their struggle and spur people to aid in their preservation.

Over the last few decades Florida’s sea turtles have faced a myriad of environmental problems. Most of these issues can be attributed to humanity’s growing ecological footprint and the turtles’ ingestion of plastic bags, something Hicks himself is concerned with.


“One of the main things with sea turtles is plastic bags, because plastic bags look like jellyfish. So [the turtles] eat the plastic bags and it goes in their stomach, and pretty much it’s a done deal once they eat one,” Hicks said. “So eliminating plastic bags is something that the U.S. is now really starting to grasp, not just for sea turtles but for many reasons.”

The future of Florida’s sea turtles, much like the future of many of the state’s endangered species, is inherently dependent upon factors like public perception and education.

Teaching people the ecological importance of these creatures and securing legislation to ensure their protection has been a difficult struggle for many activists, and even nowadays incidents still occur of turtles being harassed or threatened by locals.

When asked about any possible future projects, Hicks cited a children’s book he was planning on publishing in the next year or so, one that tells the story of sea turtle hatchlings entirely through photography. He also spoke of two upcoming exhibitions, one of them located in New York City and another in South Florida. Similar to Hicks’ other work, these endeavors will aim to emphasize the importance of wildlife conservation and environmental awareness.

“Nobody’s ever really told the story of hatchling sea turtles and how researchers are really making a strong effort to conserve their populations in the U.S. and the world with real photographs in a children’s book before,” Hicks said.

Photo Credits: Ben Hicks/ Facebook.

In Miami’s Wynwood Art District, A 25 Year Old Artist Is Ready To Take The City By Storm

MIAMI- Nestled along Wynwood’s 5th Avenue there’s a mural of a figure painted entirely in black and white. Pictured on its monochromatic surface is a woman, naked except for the long ringlets of hair wrapped constrictively around her body. She sits contemplatively before the viewer, back bowed while pedestrians pass her by.

Surreal-looking spectacles like these can be found scattered throughout the city, all of them authored by Rolando Adrian Avila. At only 25 years old and with less than six of months of residence in Wynwood he’s poised to become one of the more prolific and better-known painters within Miami’s art district.

The Cuban-born muralist and former Angeleno (native of Los Angeles) has roots to South Florida dating all the way back to his days at New World Schools of Arts, a small and selective magnet school known both locally and nationally for its excellent arts and theatre programs.

“Unfortunately not everybody has a chance to do it. I come from a pretty poor family, and the only way I was able to travel and to go outside the city was because of art,” Avila said during a sit-down interview, “I got money to go to California from school, that was the only way. I feel like that’s important for an artist, to be educated. Education is everything.”


To date Avila has created at least 12 murals in Miami, most of them concentrated within Wynwood and the surrounding art district. As a self-described “wall vampire” he often seeks out unadorned spaces within the area to renovate and embellish with his work, masking concrete in a monotint display of long-limbed bodies and lotus flowers.

Avila first emigrated from Cuba to the U.S. at the age of 13, eventually gaining a scholarship to attend Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. The most notable thing about his work at first glance is just how stripped-down his pieces tend to be, both literally and figuratively.

“Women in general are a lot more powerful than men to me, especially around [Miami].” -Avila said

The subjects he portrays are predominantly female and nude, implied to be the objects of a male gaze. But there’s also simplicity to the color composition of Avila’s work. He often picks a single shade to dominate the canvas, focusing attention and detail on the subjects of his murals by keeping the palette relatively monochromatic.

As for the nakedness, Avila doesn’t believe his primary subjects are likely to scandalize here as easily as they might somewhere else. Miami’s extensive beach culture brings with it an inordinate preoccupation with body image and physical beauty, making the city a quintessential place for nudity in art to be accepted and, in some cases, even lauded.


“I feel like people [here] really respond to figurative work. I do these girls, and in Miami the body is something that is celebrated.” Avila said.

It’s true that there’s a definite sense of eroticism to Avila’s work, but more often than not it’s purposely coupled with mythological imagery and significance. The women depicted in his paintings and murals often show up in triplicate, a reference to the religious archetype of “triple deity” so often seen in classical literature and art.

They’re goddesses the way you imagine goddesses would look like in the 21st century; slender and statuesque, hair coifed and lips pouted perfectly as if posing for an editorial.

“Women in general are a lot more powerful than men to me, especially around [Miami].” Avila said, “It’s kind of like the whole idea of goddesses, this whole idea of the Greeks and the Romans. To them women were everything.”

These women often appear to be reveling too, frozen mid-pose on the canvas while onlookers are free to gawk at the display of their bodies. Avila’s work is, if anything, voyeuristic in nature. He plays with perception as often as some other artists play with the colors on their mixing palettes and it’s never made clear exactly how we should feel looking in on these private scenes.

The women within his murals almost always have their eyes covered or bound by their own hair, blinded to the audience’s gaze and unable to take in their own surroundings. They appear naked and vulnerable before the viewer, and yet the artist himself describes their sightlessness as transcendent, a reference to a harrowing experience his sister once underwent in Guantánamo after one attempt to emigrate to the U.S.

“At the time my sister was trying to get out of Cuba. She tried to get out through the water because her boyfriend was trying to bring her over here and she got sent back to Guantánamo two times,” Avila said. “She almost died, and they cut off her hair just to be assholes with her. I was doing an illustration at the time just about depression and so I did this woman with her hair wrapped around her face.”

Avila explains most of the story from inside of his studio, a modestly sized, brightly painted room located in the heart of Wynwood. Walking in you can see the artist’s half-finished paintings dotting the main wall that runs along the interior. A pile of surreal-looking prints rest in the corner. The apartment building it’s housed in is also home to the studios of his colleagues, many of whom he spoke about as having an influence over his body of work.

“I think [it’s] one of the most important things as an artist. Especially when I was at Art Center what I learned was [being influenced by] other artists.” Avila said.

Like him, some of these individuals feel conflicted over the commodification of Wynwood’s art scene and the ensuing gentrification of the area. The popularity that events like Art Basel bring to the neighborhood creates more substantial opportunities for urban artists to work and promote themselves, especially when corporate sponsorship becomes a viable reality.

But all that promotion comes at a cost, mainly that the rise in property values now mean that a significant portion of Wynwood’s local artists can no longer afford to live in the same neighborhoods that their murals have helped to commercialize in the first place.


“I think artists should be paid a good amount of money to do what they do because it takes time and it’s hard, you know? If people appreciate it then [they] should appreciate it by helping.” Avila said. “That’s why I feel like I have a responsibility to make sure that happens, especially now that I’m getting lucky enough to get some projects and [have] some people like my work.”

A recent exhibition of Avila’s entitled Paradox Lost ran almost a month ago as part of an Art Walk experience originally hosted by Minimax Events. The display was held at the Mana Production Village, a raw space popular in the area for accommodating everything from art openings to film crews.

Aside from the show, one of Avila’s upcoming public projects includes plans to beautify a local apartment complex sometime in October. His intent is to turn the space into a hybridized showcase for both fine art and street art, one style juxtaposing the other in a strange marriage of aesthetic to functionality.

Collaborating with him on the project will be Reinier Gamboa, another Wynwood artist well known for his figurative painting style and use of religious and tropical iconography.

A contemporary of Avila’s, the Cuban-born Gamboa also spent his youth at New World. His body of work has been exhibited everywhere from the non-profit Locusts Project in Miami to the Nucleus Gallery in California.

“I want to be a fine artist that does walls,” Avila said at one point, explaining the changing nature of his field’s accessibility to the general public, “If you think about it that’s what artists do in their careers. They start by canvas and then later on in their life they do a mural somewhere. I want it to be the other way around.”

Photos: Bea Sampaio/ Rise News

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