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Giving Art a Voice

April 27, 2021

Many of Miami's brightest emerging scholars can be found in FIU Honors College, a hub for the talented and ambitious next generation of thought leaders. Representing the full range of our FIU's rich array of academic disciplines, Honors College students often stand out from the pack—accomplished, open to experimentation, and eager to investigate new areas of interest. When The Wolfsonian invited students to propose creative avenues into the museum's modern-age collection, unsurprisingly it was two art-curious Honors College students who enthusiastically answered the call.

Sharing a passion for poetry, senior Dean Kandi and junior Melanie Giraldo were excited about the same idea: penning ekphrastic poems about Wolfsonian collection works. Ekphrastic poems are meant to bring a picture to life, describing it in vivid detail, evocatively exploring the scene or artist's emotions, or even expressing the artwork's point of view. Other times, ekphrastic poems use the image simply as a jumping-off point, taking the concept in a very different direction. With these approaches in mind, Dean and Melanie each dove into the Wolfsonian holdings to select an object as muse, and—after receiving expert guidance by Caridad Moro, an award-winning poet and seasoned leader of ekphrastic poetry workshops—began writing.

Their poems, as well as the works that sparked inspiration, are presented below in honor of Poetry Month. Plus, stay tuned for more about Dean and Melanie's process in an upcoming episode of the Honors College podcast, More Than a Major. Enjoy!


Painting, Menneske Pyramide [Human Pyramid], 1941. Harald Engman, artist. The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, 87.789.5.1.

Harald Engman illustrates history as a pyramid of characters that terminates with the figure of a cherubic, contemporary David with slingshot in hand standing in defiance of a modern-day Goliath—the German forces occupying Denmark. "Faedrelandet," inscribed on the submarine, refers to the newspaper of the Danish National Socialist Workers' Party, Denmark's version of the Nazi party.

The Circle of Strife

A poem inspired by Harald Engman's painting Menneske Pyramide

As the water rises 
waves bring in 
wars that bear more 
than the blood of man 
and the acquisition of land 
wars that strike 
the depths of who we are 
stripping away at the surface 
like sandpaper to the grain 
again, and again 
we fight 
we hold our swords up 
the west charges towards the east 
the east towards the west 
but a world of black and white only 
exists through the eyes of one 
peeking through the greyscale 
this earth spins 
weaving colors 
that don't exist 
trying so desperately 
to knit the soul of mankind 
still her needles sow faith 
in the soldier on his knees 
he too will dream when he lies his head 
for the days of insatiable hierarchies and 
to bear its end 
as the viking is served his golden plate 
at the table of kings 
they tell the peasant 
to eat from the bottom of the sea 
but the table was crafted by man 
and the ground connects man back to earth 
the crafting of God 
on his knees again 
the soldier dreams 
one day 
he will put the swords down

– Dean Kandi, senior (Political Science major)

Painting detail view

Painting detail view

Painting detail view

Stained-glass window

Stained-glass window, commissioned 1926, completed 1930 (never installed). Harry Clarke, designer. The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, TD1988.34.1.

The Irish Free State, precursor to the modern Republic of Ireland, commissioned Harry Clarke to produce a stained-glass window for a League of Nations building in Geneva. Charged with celebrating Ireland's literary prowess, Clarke chose to illustrate passages from works by George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce, W. B. Yeats, Lady Gregory, and others. Though he avoided some controversial texts—omitting, for example, Joyce's Ulysses as it was either banned or restricted throughout the English-speaking world—the completed panels included scenes of nudity, sex, madness, and other topics deemed inappropriate by the Irish government. An artistic testament to Ireland's outsized contribution to English literature, the window is also an artifact of state censorship.

The Window of Life

A poem inspired by Harry Clarke's stained-glass Geneva Window

Ireland in the eyes of Clarke, snippets of life inspired by words and books and brogue 
Illustrations of vices taking more importance than family, questioning the strength of one's faith
Naked bodies indulging in each other's presence, mirroring almost all 7 deadly sins
On a rosy day, sun rays hit the window's every crevice 
Each reflection lighting up moral flaws of gluttony, greed, lust, and pride 
Anecdotes of the human experience wallowing in sex, booze, and luxury 
Each vignette leaning toward apostasy as the images are lit 
The reality of life is too honest to be received by Ireland's free state
Consternation is expressed as rejection as the decorative art no longer suits their wants 
Fearful of their personal portraits in the window 
The willingness to accept an honest attestation of the country
Quickly fades as a truthful embodiment of life is materialized

– Melanie Giraldo, junior (Chemistry major)

Stained-glass window detail view