South Florida Red-Baiting Leads to Cancellation of Public Art Show

Artists Sandra Ramos and Cai Guo-Qiang were dropped from Illuminate Coral Gables after Mayor Vince Lago accuses them of being communists.

Cai Guo-Qiang’s Fireflies was commissioned by the Association for Public Art with Fung Collaboratives. It was first presented in Philadelphia in 2017. Photo courtesy of Jeff Fusco Photography/Cai Guo-Qiang/Fung Collaboratives/Illuminate Coral Gables

Illuminate Coral Gables, a public art show which was meant to go up for a second year in a row in the winter of 2022, has now been cancelled following fierce political conflict with local governing officials. Coral Gables Mayor Vince Lago has claimed that two of the show’s artists, Sandra Ramos, originally from Cuba, and Cai Guo-Qiang, originally from China, made comments which were overly sympathetic to the communist regimes of their home countries. The Coral Gables City Commission voted to fund the show only if Ramos and Guo-Qiang were dropped.  In a statement quoted in the Miami Herald, curator Lance Fung says that the show was canceled because of “recent comments by some of the City Commissioners that do not align with our values.” He told Artnet Newswe needed to support all 20-plus artists we were working with by not validating false claims and speaking up for their first-amendment rights.” 

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Illuminate Coral Gables was to have been a month-long experiential, three-dimensional art exhibition across the historic Miami neighborhood. New works, all of which were to have been installations with high tech components, had been commissioned from twenty renowned local and international artists. Ramos and Guo-Qiang, so strongly objected to this year, had both contributed installations to last year’s show. Guo-Qiang decorated nine pedicabs with handmade Chinese silk lanterns as part of his Fireflies series. His 2022 commission was to have been larger, with 27 pedicabs and 1000 lanterns, and more visitors would have been able to take rides around the city. For the 2021 festival, Sandra Ramos showed her work, 90 Miles: de-construction 2011-2021, a work in the shape of a bridge made out of light boxes. The boxes contain aerial photos that the artist took while flying over the Florida Straits between Miami and Havana. Ramos’s work is meant to symbolize a bridge between these two cities. 

With its sizable population of Cuban emigres who came to the United States after ending up on the losing side of the Cuban Revolution, Miami’s elected officials have a long history of anti-communism. In 1990, for instance, the city of Miami was meant to have given the key to the city to Nelson Mandela, however, the offer was withdrawn because of Mandela’s relationship with Fidel Castro and the positive statements he had made about the Cuban government. 

Mayor Vince Lago, who is the child of Cuban emigres, said in a statement quoted in Artnet, “The art world brings an opportunity to this community for dialogue. Where my dialogue ends is people who sympathize with oppression, tyranny.” He further states that the city of Coral Gables should not be giving American taxpayer money to communist sympathizers. Illuminate Coral Gables 2022, however, had many sources of funding, and the artists themselves were being paid by nongovernmental sources.  

President Biden has recently doubled down on the already crippling sanctions against Cuba which have prevented Cubans from accessing lifesaving medical supplies during the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, in Miami, the mayor of Coral Gables weeps crocodile tears over communist tyranny while simultaneously silencing two internationally renowned artists for what he seems to believe is their politics. 

Sandra Ramos told the Miami Herald, “The most hallucinatory part is that this is the same thing the Communist Party secretariat in Cuba does. It’s heartbreaking, if this is like this in Miami, what does the future hold?” 

South Florida Red-Baiting Leads to Cancellation of Public Art Show