'Miami Women' finds strength in numbers

A new photography book focuses on 40 women, including an Arsht Center staffer.

by Jake Cline

Women from 17 countries appear in Femke Tewari’s weighty new book of images and interviews, Miami Women. The photographer set out to profile 25 women. She stopped at 40, knowing that her mission — to capture the city’s expansive diversity — allowed for many more.

Published in 2022, the book presents its subjects outdoors or at home. Many of the women are shown on a beach or in the ocean. More than one is surrounded by trees. No photo was taken in a studio. The book is suffused with natural light, in every sense of the term.

Tewari divides her subjects into “Crusaders,” “Trail Blazers,” “Heroes,” “Treasures,” “Creators” and “Mermaids.” Among them are artists, entrepreneurs, athletes, politicians and activists. Many have familiar names: choreographer Brigid Baker, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, author and humanitarian Dr. Alison Thompson, former Miami Shores mayor Crystal Wagar.

Despite the women’s disparate backgrounds and experiences, each has a story to tell about triumphing over adversity and about navigating life with deep confidence and a strong sense of purpose. Uncomfortable truths and painful memories are not elided from these accounts, but neither are expressions of pride and accomplishment.

Kimba King by Femke Tewari

(Kimba King. Photo by Femke Tewari.)

Included among the “Treasures” is Kimba King, the Arsht Center’s senior director of human resources and one of the first women Tewari photographed for the project. Presented in sharp black and white on Key Biscayne’s Crandon Beach, King shares her story of moving as a child from New York to Central Florida, and later to Miami, where, she told Tewari, she experienced racism like never before. “The whole discussion about race in America is long overdue, and of course very necessary,” she says in the book. King also relates her difficult but “liberating” decision in 2014 to cut her chemically straightened hair and let it grow naturally.

“What I liked about [working with Tewari] is whatever we wanted to talk about, she didn’t alter that,” recalls King, who this December will mark 18 years with the Arsht Center. “She didn’t say, ‘No, you can’t put that’ or ‘You can’t say that.’ So we were really our genuine, authentic selves.

“I don’t think my story is that exciting when I look at the other stories in the book,” King says, “but it’s definitely relevant to just being a woman of color in the world that we’re living in now.”

The interview and photo shoot took place in August 2020, in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic. “When we met, we met on the beach, because during that time you could hardly meet anywhere else,” Tewari says.

Kimba King by Femke Tewari

(Kimba King. Photo by Femke Tewari.)

Meanwhile, the nation was reeling from the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis. Tewari, a Netherlands-born commercial photographer and former finance professional who moved to Miami about seven years earlier, was motivated to honor the city’s multiracial, multicultural population.

“The book started because I wanted to show the beauty of diversity,” says Tewari, whose two daughters have Malaysian and Nepali heritage. “It was very important to me that the women in the book were from diverse backgrounds.”

The ocean also figures prominently in Miami Women, which features underwater photographer Paola Roldan on the cover and concludes with a section dedicated to surfers and paddleboarders who frequent the waves off Miami Beach.

“I like that community a lot, because I feel surfers are close to nature and they appreciate the ocean and that we have to fight to restore it,” says Tewari, a paddleboarder. “I’m very attracted to it.”

Water Women Collective by Femke Tewari

(Members of Water Women Collective Miami. Photo by Femke Tewari.)

The exhibition Miami Women: Featuring the Photography of Femke Tewari will be on view March 2 through June 10 in the Arsht Center's Ziff Ballet Opera House and Knight Concert Hall. To see more of Tewari’s work and to learn more about her book, go to femketewari.com.

See Miami Women at the Arsht Center.