Standing on the sun: Artist profiles homeless women of Miami's Lotus House

Standing on the sun: Artist profiles homeless women of Miami's Lotus House

With every wiggle, red flares shot out from the edges of Lenora Felder’s feet. Bursts of bright light fired left and right at her command.

The sky was dark. All that was visible through the camera lens was the sun with Felder’s feet on top of it. As her feet moved, the sun was reshaped — whole, barely there, disappearing and reappearing.

The sky was at her command. Until she hit the button to stop recording.

Felder, resident manager at Miami’s Lotus House shelter, pulled her feet down, lifted herself from the patch of dry grass and handed the iPhone that had recorded her brief adventure to artist Antonia Wright.

It was the 16th piece for Women Who Stand on the Sun, a large-scale video project Wright began during a month-long stay at the Overtown shelter and resource center for women and their children.

“When I got there, I realized the women walk with the weight of the world on their shoulders,” she says. “I like the idea that in the video, they look floating and free.”

In a statement on her website, the artist, 32, calls the videos “a tribute to their inner strength and magic. I like the idea that wherever they go, they are always special and walking on the sun.”

Wright, who earned a master of fine arts degree in poetry at New York’s New School and studied at the International Center of Photography, is curator of the Art Live Fair. Her artworks, which incorporate photography, performance, poetry, video, installation and sculpture, have been shown at galleries and museums in New York, Los Angeles, Brussels and South Florida.

She was the Lotus House’s first artist in residence, but it was far from the first time she had immersed herself in her work. The daughter of Miami crime novelist Carolina Garcia-Aguilera, the slender brunette is her own main character.

In 2009, she created Are You OK?, a series of videos and photos that show her standing on busy street corners in Midtown Manhattan and downtown Miami, clad in a black dress and heels, sobbing uncontrollably as people stream by, indifferent.

In 2011’s Where All Your Dreams Come True, she put herself through a quinceañera photo shoot, donning puffy, princess-style gowns, sparkling tiaras and a plastic smile.

The same year, in Deepwater Horizon, her response to the BP oil spill, she videotaped herself rolling down a dark, grim, Miami Beach alley again and again, naked.

“She definitely is about inserting herself into the context that she’s going to video,” says Elisa Turner, Miami correspondent for ARTnews magazine and a columnist for Art Circuits. “I think she’s a very gutsy artist.”

Wright’s Lotus House residency grew out of her work with the Live Art Fair, formerly the Wynwood Art Fair, which raises money for the shelter.

“Antonia as a person has very humble, authentic, lighthearted, creative spirit,” says Constance Collins, director of Lotus House. “She folded into the community seamlessly.”

The artist’s residency, Collins added, was “a shared adventure.”

The format for the project came to Wright during yoga. Lying on her back, she says, she hoisted her feet in the air and noticed the light between them, the way she seemed to stand on the sun. She imagined the women at the shelter doing the same.

“I liked the idea that it was like they had this super power,” she says.

Protected by tall gates and shrouded in trees, the Lotus House looks like just another apartment complex on Northwest 15th Street.

Inside is a sanctuary. The buildings wrap around a courtyard dotted with tables and chairs. The play area sits silent until school lets out, when it fills with the giggling voices of children who stay at the shelter with their mothers.

There are pastel colors and messages of positivity. A wall calendar says “Every day is a new beginning,” and an activity board decorated with hearts, leaves and peace signs reminds residents to “Love, laugh and live life to the healthiest.”

When Wright moved in at the beginning of April, she was assigned roommates, a counselor and chores like any other resident. She followed the same rules — curfew at 6 p.m., lights out at 10 p.m., no drugs or alcohol — and went to work each day like other woman at the shelter who have jobs.

At first, some residents wondered why she was there, asking, “You’re not homeless?” A few more were more direct: “Honey, that’s weird.”

As Wright integrated herself into the life of the shelter, she says, her focus changed: “It was more about me giving back to them.”

She taught a weekly photography class using disposable cameras. She decorated T-shirts for residents, using spray paint and stencils, with messages like “I am power.” She helped the children color Easter eggs.

And through it all, she collected videos.

Wright envisions the finished project as “a wall of glowing sunshine with feet floating freely throughout.” She plans to show it for the first time in October at Art Live, a Lotus House fundraiser.

“The women have these innately special powers within them,” she says. “They have the ability to stand on the sun, no matter where they go.”

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