I am an artist and I am compost


I am an artist and I am compost …

Sitting on the floor of my art studio, I am packing and wrapping small objects in a newspaper. Placing them in cardboard boxes. Small fragile objects from past installation projects, experimental playful tests, and mementos. In my hands, I hold a frame with the photograph of the Cuban artist Enrique Martinez Celaya painting in his Miami studio. As I wrap it up it makes me think of the last four years I had in my studio here in Wynwood. I remember my first year when I was working during the night. I will take breaks to peek out of the window at the street below to see if I am safe, it was so dark and quiet. Some nights I will spot a cloaked figure, an incognito artist painting on a building wall, nervously glancing over their shoulder. Not because of legalities – the law turned a blind eye to the colors appearing overnight all over the buildings – but because the street was so dark and quiet.

The soil is being aired…

There was Thomas, with his silver dreadlocks bicycling every day from Overtown to come wash cars for $10. He liked to share a story or two about old “Windwood”.  Mr. López from Puerto Rico sat on his stoop like he did the last 20 years watching, in pure amazement, as hipsters scurry past, towards a coffee shop, some actually carried their typewriters around for writing poetry. I could not believe my luck when I discovered that Celaya had his art studio a couple of blocks from me. I had the opportunity to volunteer and see the inner workings of how a complex artist functions. He taught me as artists we need to take faithful actions. That there is an inherent uncertainty in the choices we make and that one should navigate this uncertainty to benefit the artwork.

The mushrooms start to sprout….

Eventually, I stopped peeking out of my studio windows. The streets were getting less dark as more artists and businesses braved this neighborhood. Clubs and bars sprouted and I started pulling the curtains shut in hope to block the beating bass, pulsating from clubs and vibrating against my windows. I once was carrying some of my artwork down my steps when a lady jumped out of her Mercedes. Excited and hyperventilating, her heart was fluttering like pre-burst hemorrhoids in her neck. Pointing and asking me if my building was for sale. She looked delicate and pale amongst abrasive bright walls.

The last days of fertilizing the soil…

And so it goes. Celaya asked me last year for one last project at his studio, to help his team pack ship his studio across the country to Los Angeles. This was an omen for what was to come. Mr. López just got his notice in the mail. The house he lived in will soon be demolished for storage of building materials for a construction site nearby. Thomas just shakes his head and now charges $20 to wash your car. The building my studio was in got sold to a developing company from New York city. Sooner or later they will break ground as well. The bright painted walls are now full of cavities.  They will be filled with large shiny windows for fashion boutiques, more coffee shops, and breweries. The once large concrete canvasses are giving away to a new chapter.

Watching the new vegetation grow…

I am moving into my new studio.  As I carry the boxes into the empty space I can see through the window in the far distance the skyline of Wynwood. From here I cannot see the colors, the bustle, and hustle. It looks just like another metropolitan outline. One can feel negative about gentrification when caught in the middle of it, but there is one more way to look at it. I try to see it as another service artists give to the community. Art can uplift not only the heart but also that of decayed neighborhoods. Artists are compost that can soften and fertilize the hardest of soil. Artists can take uncertainty and turn it into something concrete. Hopefully, artists will grow to become the leaders that spearhead the process of uplifting neighborhoods instead of just being a tool towards it. Tonight will be my first night working in my new space. I know that I will take a break now and then to peek through the windows to see if the dark and quiet street below is safe.

By |2017-07-12T13:01:37+00:00August 12th, 2015|


  1. isabel August 19, 2015 at 9:21 pm - Reply

    Anja, I wish you the best of luck in your new studio. You are also a great writer, very poetic and true; artist can be a compost of a place, making a fertile revitalization. I failed to pay a visit to your studio in Wynwood, maybe it will happen in a new one. Thanks for trying many times.
    Best, Isabel

    • anja marais August 19, 2015 at 10:20 pm - Reply

      Thanks Isabel. When you are in Miami please let me know, would love to have you over for a cup of tea in my new studio!

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