As the morning sun casts its golden glow, the glistening scales of a mermaid come to life — a mirage on the busy corner of Northeast Second Avenue and 40th Street in Miami’s Design District. The mysterious silhouette remains visible and its shimmering, scaled body tells a quiet story rooted in migration, refuge and identity.
Our early memories of Miami are of a home away from home, a temporary place of refuge, romanticized by the rich smell of Cuban coffee at the local bakery or the echoes of conversations recounting pre-revolutionary Cuban life and longing notions of one day returning. Miami, for many immigrant families, became a place suspended between here and there, a space in between.
As Miami commemorates its 127th anniversary, we reflect on the many migrant stories that have shaped the landscape of the city we call home. As first-generation Cuban Americans and identical twins, we learned to embrace the many dualities of the worlds we exist in and our “Reclining Mermaid” echoes that sentiment. This public work is a site-specific installation 100 feet wide, enveloping the historic Moore building and shimmering with thousands of embellished sequins that replicate the refraction of the ocean surface under the sun.
Like most of the figures seen in our work, our subjects remain anonymous by intentionally obscuring their identities. Photographed in dim lighting with multiple exposures, the figure becomes a silhouette of indistinct features with the exception of her most recognizable attribute — a tail.
Sometimes, hints of who they are may appear, suggesting their gender or even revealing their race. However much you may discern from our work, that veil of mystery remains, inviting the viewer to interpret and dive deeper into our images, sometimes even finding some part of themselves within its many layers.
These figures remain largely hidden to reflect how historically, Lucumí, a syncretic religion born in Cuba existed in the shadows. They exemplify a community, much like ours, raised believing that discussing this in public was taboo. The history of these folkloric stories existed in hiding, because of Spanish colonization and forced religious assimilation of the enslaved Yoruba people. As a way of perseverance, they concealed their stories and deities within the Catholic saints. Centuries later, a new religion emerged, but one rarely discussed in public spaces, particularly because of its proximity to and modification of the Catholic religion.
Lying in a reclined pose, a gesture often referenced in classical Western art, the figure becomes recontextualized as a symbol of cultural hybridity, where the European and African collide — mirroring the dualities of perspectives in which we exist as part of the diaspora: as Cuban Americans, as bilingual speakers and as individuals raised in a biracial Cuban family.
Water holds much symbolism and power, carrying within it many immensities. The city of Havana, by the water, within the municipality known as Regla, is home to the Virgin of Regla. A Black Madonna with deep connections to Yemaya, she is considered the deity of the ocean in the Yoruba tradition. Historically recognized as the authority over the waters, she holds significance for many enslaved West Africans who were forced to migrate to the island and, once again, for the many Cuban refugees who prayed for safe passage over those same waters. Today, our “Reclining Mermaid” overlooks the city of Miami, a poignant reminder of these stories of migration.
The “Reclining Mermaid,” however, is not just a symbol for those with ties to Cuba; she’s an emblem for anyone who has ever felt the push and pull of multiple worlds, the ache of displacement, finding refuge in the in between. Hidden within her anonymity is a universal force we can all relate to, representing the innate human desire to exist, to be acknowledged and to have significance.
Through our shadow figures, the obscured become seen — acknowledging a community that once had no physical representation of itself. She becomes a mirror reflecting the stories of many of us, transcending borders and cultures. The scales that shimmer under the Miami sun are a collective glimmer, a framework of shared humanity.
Facing east, high above our city, “Reclining Mermaid” invites each of us to consider our own narratives and recognize that, in her shadowy anonymity, we find a universal tale — one that binds us all within the human experience. She is more than a symbol of migration. She is a resilient call to unity, reminding us that our collective stories, no matter how different, create the vibrant mosaic that is Miami.
Elliot and Erick Jiménez are artists living between New York and Miami. ‘Reclining Mermaid’ was produced in collaboration with Spinello Projects, where a limited edition archival print will be on view and available, and commissioned by Fringe Projects with support from John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.