Monarch Butterflies Seen As a Symbol of Migration and Freedom

1 year ago Nicholas Rodriguez 0

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in North Miami is hosting a collaborative group exhibition “Monarchs: Brown and Native Contemporary Artists in the Path of the Butterfly” from May 24 – Aug. 5.

The exhibit features 37 artists who derive or live in the migration path of the monarch butterfly, which travels from southern Canada through the Midwest on their way to Michoacán, Mexico and back, over four generations.

By: Nicholas Rodriguez and Kathleen Stebbins
South Florida Uncovered
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The artist’s work incorporates different processes such as basket weaving, beadwork, copper hammering and quilting. They use materials such as stucco, plaster, ceramics and feathers that hold a high degree of significance within their culture.

Three contemporary art pieces on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in North Miami, FL. (Photo by: Kathleen Stebbins)

While a collection of distinctive art forms, unique to each artists experiences, the intention is to bring a piece of themselves and their community stemming from their ancestry into view. The process each took to find themselves and express it artistically shows in the materials they’ve chosen. The butterfly connects each artists and their journey, like the butterfly makes its migratory journey.

Rick Ulysse, a local artist born in Haiti, was one of the Miami artists invited to showcase his collection of work at MOCA.

“My work focuses on migration, movement, family history, heritage and inheritance,” Ulysse said.

He said the nine watercolors on graph paper, two polaroid’s and marker on graph paper that are displayed in the museum all came from a trip he took to Haiti in 2016.

Rick Ulysse with some his artwork at MOCA. (Photo by: Nicholas Rodriguez)

“I went back to visit my grandmother,” he said. “I was there for quite a while and had a lot of free time, so I started describing the atmosphere I was in and its history in my work.”

Ulysse said each of his drawings free floats from the other. They are all interconnected; however, each drawing does have its own narrative. He said he likes for his readers to view his work in a chronological order, that way they are able to read the story.

“Thinking about this expedition, migration and immigration stories, being born in Haiti and coming to the U.S. I could really feel and sense some of the pressure that’s going on with the migrants in Mexico now,” he said. “I know the mind of a child in the environment when you’re transitioning and moving, you’re trying to make a sense of a place and location. So the sense of travel, location and caring on of histories is what you’ll also see in my work.”

Franky Cruz is another Miami artist invited to showcase his work at the exhibition. His work differs from the other artists in that he uses the meconium of each butterfly, expelled after its metamorphic change from its time in the cocoon.

“This art form happened after research,” he said. “I realized upon emergence when butterflies come out of their chrysalis after metamorphoses they release this Meconium and each butterfly has a different pigment in color.”

Franky Cruz’s artwork at MOCA. (Photo by: Kathleen Stebbins)

Cruz also has a polycarbonate greenhouse set up in the museum. He uses the greenhouse to raise caterpillars into butterflies and collects the meconium. Secretions are collected onto watercolor paper laid beneath a grid of chrysalises. The umber, ochre and iridescent tones of these secretions splatter onto the paper and create a series of painting studies.

Cruz said 420 butterflies were used on the two pieces he has on display.

“The more red and ceramic color are painted lady butterflies and the softer, yellow are monarchs,” he said.

Monarchs: Brown and Native Contemporary Artists in the Path of the Butterfly was first debuted in December 2017 for the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, by independent curator Risa Puleo, who was unreachable for comment. The exhibit will continue traveling throughout the United States through the summer of 2019.

Inspired by political events such as the Dakota Access Pipeline with Standing Rock, to the controversial threat of building a wall along the Mexico border, art curator Puleo took these dividing moments to create the Monarchs exhibit. That while subjects like climate change, political parties and presidents that come and go connect the past to the future, reflecting in these examples as art, connecting people through geographic location.

These events and moments affect all people, not just native to the Americas but to the world as a whole. People labeled as indigenous or immigrants, or those who have assimilated, all find a way to navigate as the monarch butterfly does, and it can’t just be done in one generation but in multiple and effects everyone.

The Monarch butterfly migration is reflective of indigenous peoples, immigrant migrations as well as the process of assimilation that is explored by the exhibits artists. Many of these artists work along the butterfly’s migratory path, who like the butterfly overlook distinctive territories or imposed boundaries.

For more information on MOCA, the exhibit and artists, visit