Known worldwide for its colorful murals, the vibrant Wynwood neighborhood is home to four graffiti portraits of baseball players who contributed to the culture and diversity of American sports: Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Mickey Mantle and José Fernández.
Next to La Casa de los Trucos on Calle Ocho is a mural of Gloria and Emilio Estefan, with the same colors and lively style.
These portraits, and others scattered throughout Miami, look like oil paintings on brick and concrete walls in neighborhoods where their depictions are significant. Behind each is a Hispanic artist whose love of traditional art is reflected in Miami’s urban street art. His stage name is Disem.
A graffiti artist from a Panamanian, Colombian, and Italian family who grew up in Kendall, Disem leaves a slice of Miami wherever he goes. He grew up in a family of artists and art played a big part in his education and style. His parents met at an art school, so it could be said that his love of art existed before he was born.
As for the name he worked under, he was inspired by his childhood nickname, which he received while playing basketball.
“When I was younger, I was a bit afro and used to play basketball. So the kids at the park started calling me ‘Disco,'” he said, refusing to reveal his real name and age.
However, he soon learned that there was another graffiti artist in the Washington, DC area who also called himself “Disco” or “Cool Disco Dan”.
Disem admired his style when studying his work, but didn’t want to use the same name out of respect.
Portraits of famous baseball players
Former shortstop for the Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Rays and others, Yunel Escobar commissioned Disem to take some portraits of baseball players in Wynwood. For his project, he wanted to show the diversity of baseball while also honoring the Wynwood neighborhood and community.
“We wanted to do something for society. I’ve interviewed a lot of artists, but because he’s local, speaks Spanish and is recognized worldwide, we hired him,” Escobar said.
Together they made the decision on the four players they would add; Jackie Robinson, for paving the way for black players during segregation in the 1940s; Roberto Clemente, the first Latino baseball player to rack up 3,000 hits and honored Wynwood’s historic Puerto Rican community; Mickey Mantle, a legendary Yankee; and José Fernández, a Cuban-American and beloved marlin pitcher who tragically passed away in 2016.
On Calle Ocho, Disem collaborated with Kcull, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving Latin American heritage through art.
Walter Santiago, the founder of Kcull, wanted a portrait of Gloria Estefan, an emblematic Cuban-American artist who was a symbol of self-improvement and success in Miami. After contacting Disem, they decided to also involve her husband, the famous musician and producer Emilio Estefan.
“For me, this article was about someone who grew up in Miami, who had the same opportunities as everyone else and was just being pushed by blood, sweat and tears,” Disem said, “that’s why there’s blood on this portrait. There are tears on this portrait. There is sweat on this portrait to represent the struggle and what could be accomplished by overcoming and committing.”
Gloria Estefan took to Instagram after seeing it for herself and called it an “honor”.
Santiago said he will be working with Disem again for another project in Little Havana, which will hopefully be unveiled by the end of the year. The mural will be created in collaboration with Disem and Puerto Rican graffiti artist Don Rimx.
As much as he appreciates and enjoys portraits, his favorite piece is a mural he painted on the outside of Survival, a clothing boutique in downtown Miami.
“I think it’s a beautiful piece aesthetically, but at the same time there’s a lot of messages there, where the bullets raining down from the sky represent the violence that comes from people pursuing materialistic things,” he said.
“There are many contrasts and simple devices that could be caused by the pursuit of materialism, and all of these things coexist in one beautiful place,” he mused.
In the future, as more people recognize his work, Disem hopes that those who enjoy it will find meaning in his graffiti.
“Most of my work contains much more symbolism,” he concluded. “I want them to see that.”
This story was originally published July 27, 2022 4:55 p.m.