Disem, Latino artist who paints celebrity murals in Miami
In the bustling neighborhood of Wynwood, known worldwide for its colorful murals, are four graffiti portraits of baseball players who have contributed to the culture and diversity of American sports: Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Mickey Mantle and Jose Fernandez.
Next to La Casa de los Trucos on Calle Ocho stands a mural by Gloria and Emilio Estefan with the same colors and vivid style.
These and other portraits scattered across Miami look like oil paintings on brick and concrete walls in neighborhoods where their depictions hold great significance. Behind each is a Hispanic artist whose love for traditional art is reflected in Miami’s urban street art. His artistic name is Disem.
A graffiti artist from a Panamanian, Colombian and Italian family, and raised in Kendall, Disem leaves a piece of Miami wherever he goes. He grew up in a family of artists and art played a major role in his upbringing and style. His parents met in art school, so it can be said that his love for art existed before he was born.
He grew up appreciating all kinds of art and still practices different modalities and techniques, from oil to watercolor.
“My family has a lot of artists,” he said, noting that he grew up between Panama and Miami.
As for the name he chose to work under, it was inspired by his childhood nickname which he received while playing basketball.
“When I was younger I had a little afro and I played basketball. So the kids in the park started calling me ‘Disco’,” he said, refusing to reveal his real name and his age.
However, he soon learned that there was another graffiti artist in the Washington, D.C. area who also went by the name “Disco” or “Cool Disco Dan”.
Disem, studying his work, admired his style, but did not want to use the same name out of respect.
“I just had respect for someone who had started doing what I was doing long before me,” he said. He wanted to keep a name that would pay homage to his childhood nickname, but still be unique to his work.
After playing around with a few letters, he decided on the name he uses today. “I just love how the letters work together. DISEM.
Portraits of Famous Baseball Players
Yunel Escobar, former shortstop for the Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Rays and more, commissioned Disem to do portraits of baseball players in Wynwood. For his project, he wanted to show the diversity of baseball, but also wanted to honor the neighborhood and the community of Wynwood. After some research, he found that Disem was the best artist to bring his idea to fruition.
“We wanted to do something for the community. I interviewed many artists, but since he is from here, speaks Spanish and is recognized around the world, we hired him,” Escobar said.
They made the decision together for the four players they would add; Jackie Robinson, for leading the way for players of color in the 1940s during segregation; Roberto Clemente, the first Latino baseball player to collect 3,000 hits and honor the historically Puerto Rican community of Wynwood; Mickey Mantle, an iconic Yankee; and José Fernández, a beloved Cuban-American Marlin thrower who tragically died in 2016.
“We wanted to leave a message for the community, something everyone who loves baseball recognizes,” Escobar said.
On Calle Ocho, Disem worked with Kcull, a nonprofit that works to preserve Latin American heritage through art.
“It’s about making sure the artist is recognized and always that we support the artist and we talk about their story and we really show what it’s all about, which is bringing cultures together and express it through art,” said Taylor Summersill, Mural Events Manager for Kcull.
Walter Santiago, the founder of Kcull, wanted a portrait of Gloria Estefan, an iconic Cuban-American artist who has been a symbol of self-transcendence and achievement in Miami. After contacting Disem, they decided to also include her husband, the famous musician and producer Emilio Estefan.
“When I came to Little Havana and watched their old music videos, that was everything here in Little Havana,” Summersill said. “It makes a statement to see those two people there on Calle Ocho.”
“To me, this piece was about someone who grew up in Miami, had the same opportunities as everyone else, and just went through blood, sweat, and tears,” Disem said, “That’s why there is blood in this portrait. There are tears in this portrait. There is sweat in this portrait to represent the struggle and what you could achieve if you overcome and commit. .
Gloria Estefan took to Instagram after seeing it for herself, calling it an “honor”.
Santiago said he will work with Disem again for another project in Little Havana which will hopefully be unveiled by the end of the year. The mural will be done in collaboration with Disem and Puerto Rican graffiti artist Don Rimx.
“This is going to be a historic collaboration of two great artists coming together,” Santiago said.
However, Disem’s favorite project so far has not been a portrait. Although he appreciates and loves portraits, his favorite piece is a mural he painted outside of Survival, a clothing store in downtown Miami.
“I think aesthetically it’s a beautiful piece, but at the same time there’s a lot of messaging there where the bullets raining down from the sky represent the violence created by people pursuing materialistic things,” a- he declared.
“There are a lot of contrasts and simple devices that could be caused by the pursuit of materialism, and all of these things coexist in a beautiful place,” he said.
Looking ahead, and as more and more people recognize his work, Disem hopes those who appreciate him can find meaning in his graffiti.
“Most of my work has a lot more symbolism,” he concluded. “I want them to see this.”