Miami-Dade students’ murals mark history of last millennium

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The Miami Herald

June 18, 2000

`It’s the biggest thing that’s ever come out in my life.’

Paul Bell Middle School seventh-grader

By Ajowa Nzinga Ifateyo

To commemorate the new millennium, 500 Miami-Dade County students worked with a professional artist to interpret the significant events and people of the last 1,000 years — and provide some lessons for humanity.

Their murals are now an exhibit called Master-Peace 2000, which opened Saturday at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida. The murals use thought-provoking images to tackle such issues as the Crusades, slavery, science, transportation, Shakespeare and the environment.

The exhibit, 10 murals representing each of the last 10 centuries, will be on display for a month. Then they will go on permanent display at the 10 public schools where 50 students each participated in the project.

“It’s the biggest thing that’s ever come out in my life,” said Javier Alfonso, a seventh-grader at Paul Bell Middle School.

The project was guided by artist Xavier Cortada, who has a passion for trying to create social peace through bringing students together in schools — which he calls “the most integrated of institutions.”

Students at each school chose a century, researched significant events of the period, wrote essays and drew images. They used the Internet to direct Cortada in the placement of images.

“It’s about distilling the historic and applying it to us,” said Cortada.

Among the images: Three ships with books as masts raising the question of whether books or the discovery of America in the 15th Century was more significant; a rat, symbolizing the plague, sitting on top of a cigarette; a map of Marco Polo’s expeditions connected by computers.

The idea took root in 1994 when Cortada was in Soweto, South Africa, trying to talk through a translator to homeless children who used drugs. He expanded the idea and used it in Naranja in 1997 and in Cyprus just last week, he said.

The experience was educational and “fun” for Jean Sebastien Thevenin, a sixth-grade student at George Washington Carver Middle, who was at the opening with his parents, Joelle and Joseph, and his 6-year-old sister, Anouk.

“He loves art,” Joelle Thevenin of Kendall said. “Working with art motivated him to study about the time, and he went on the Internet.”

The message the students had for the 21st Century?

“The lesson is to take care of the environment,” said Cortada.

© The Miami Herald