This December, during Art Basel Miami Beach, Jayaram + The Knight Foundation will present, “Making Miami,” an art exhibition + permanent digital archive documenting the Miami artists who shaped the city a couple of decades ago. Exile books has published a book in connection with the digital archive.
The introduction has been reprinted below.
Outsiders have long underestimated Miami. Like many great beauties, these tropical shores have attracted countless suitors attempting to tame its mystery, only to find Miami continues to resist definition and logic. This isn’t a city for conformists. This is a city for visionaries and dreamers. And dreams, as we all know, defy logic; only revealing their meaning in circuitous and transcendental ways, and often much, much later.
So, what does it mean to love Miami and what does the story of Miami mean to us?
Throughout history, the myths of all great cities have been woven by their creatives. To try and understand what happened in Mesopotamia, ancient Rome or Machu Picchu, we look to what the artists left behind. Carved etchings on a cliffside, beaded costumes, oil lamp painted canvases hung down long dark corridors, oratories in the town square or songs and stories, pressed and printed then shared and stored away. Creative expression has illuminated life in any time and place, shedding light on what it felt like to be alive. It’s never the complete story but it is a powerful lens that future generations can look back through to connect to and deepen their humanity.
Artists are the centripetal force that center, catalyze, organize and enliven a city. They are the observers; interpreting how our time here will be remembered. And so, it isn’t at all surprising that the cities which remain rooted in our modern imaginations, that evolve to mythic stature and pulse in ways other cities do not, were teeming with artists who lived, loved, lost and worked to leave behind their unique imprints. But inexplicably, in their time, most artists have been undervalued. In fact, most will likely wield greater influence long after they are gone, when we want to make sense of a new dawn and better comprehend how we got here.
Modern Miami owes a great debt to the multi-disciplinary artists who have long come here – from those fleeing oppressive regimes to those seeking a tropical escape to those running from or to something new and different. This beach encircled thumb tip of humid extravagance has long attracted creative souls and the devoted groupies like us who wanted to be in their orbits.
One of us came to study law at the University of Miami, fleeing a post 9/11 New York City, and co-founding LegalArt with her classmate, Lara O’Neil in 2002. The other came to clerk for a federal judge, and within hours of arriving, found his way to Sweat Records, which ignited a longtime friendship and record label with Lauren Reskin. Together, we found ourselves in an arts community that was just officially taking shape and looked a lot like us: immigrants, misfits, dreamers. In fact, our own story began when we first met at the Miami Art Museum, now known as PAMM! At the time, cultural shapers were gaining ground, discovering and developing long neglected neighborhoods, philanthropy was formalizing and world class collectors were helping woo one little known art fair from the other side of the Atlantic that would soon take root and wend its way into nearly every crevice of Miami.
But the early aughts still belonged to the local artists and the community that nurtured and championed them. Funnily, we both came for legal gigs and over the years have each been lucky to work alongside many visionary artists, founders, entrepreneurs – what’s the difference anymore? It’s been miraculous and great fun to see how artists shaped Miami. We know this book and the many, many stories captured here, offers but one uniquely colorful kaleidoscope lens of a moment in time and in a place where it was all possible.
At a 2022 gathering at our home on Miami Beach, we heard a newly transplanted New Yorker remark, “was there anything here before we all got here?” Startled, but inspired, the two of us looked at each other, undoubtedly recalled the early days of our relationship, and shared an identical thought: “histories need to be told, or else they disappear forever.”
Here’s this one, we hope you enjoy it.
We love you, Miami.
Vivek + Carolina