“My socially-engaged environmental art practice aims to help address the problem at hand… I engage my neighbors as problem-solvers who will learn together and work together now to plan and better prepare (themselves and their heirs) for the chaos to come”Xavier Cortada
Luzmariana Iacono is an enthusiastic and passionate student in her junior year at the honors College in Florida International University. She is majoring in Marketing and International Business with the hopes of using the skills and lessons learned for her own future business and career. She is a Skin Care specialist and Makeup Artist who is striving to grow in the beauty industry by working as a Freelancer for Makeup and at a franchise to become an expert in waxing. They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and she sees the beauty of art in nature, through sculptures, and just in artistic concepts that are yet to be developed.
Artist Xavier Cortada was born of Cuban parents in New York but grew up in Miami since the age of three. Usually people say that if someone predominantly uses the left part of the brain, which is in charge of reasoning and seeing reality objectively, then it is uncommon for them to activate the right brain for creativity. Obviously it is not impossible, but I find it interesting that Mr. Cortada studied three degrees that have nothing to do with art; he obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Miami, a Master in Public Administration from Miami Herbert Business School, and finally a Doctorate from University of Miami School of Law. It was his career and background that led him to choose art as a way to fight for social justice issues and environmental changes. According to his manager Adam Roberti, it was his “tough upbringing (that gave him a position of) leadership and problem solver. There was a turning point for him, when the “State department asked him to go an international speaking tour to build community… through it he saw the power of art to be this collaborative, creative, empathetic tour.” Art is truly powerful as through it you can teach, inspire, and lead an entire community which is what artist Cortada is accomplishing.
Mr. Cortada is a multifaceted artist, lawyer, and environmental activist who brings his personality and interests along in his work. He is known for his problem solving skills in different areas of his life, starting from a personal perspective when he was a young adult up to his professional life with his initiatives as a leader. It was his drive to make a change that brought him to be nominated by the Miami Herald as one of its 50 Florida Influencers because he reasoned that when you combine two areas of study (in his case science and art), “you get more dynamic results, you can move forward faster.” (Berg, 2019). He is correct indeed because everything is interconnected. For example, business leaders have such a strong influence on society because depending on how they bring forth their ideas – whether in a sustainable manner or not – people will follow. In fact, one way in which he collaborated in bringing awareness to this was by securing the donation “of 100 salt-tolerant plants from the Frost Science Museum for business students to plant in low-lying areas of Miami.” This allowed students to learn early on that they are in a position to make an impact and implement sustainable practices in their future as business leaders.
Another issue he also tried to address relates to migration. As a son of Cuban immigrants and as someone who lives in Miami surrounded by people from different cultures, he emphasized that one of the most disastrous consequences of climate change is the migration of millions of people who “will flee their homelands within 50 years to escape rising seas, crop failures, and water scarcities.” (Berg, 2019) This is such a broad topic to tackle but his take on it focused on allowing the University of Miami to provide help in the area of housing by hopefully utilizing “the School of Communication’s big data visualizations to understand the trends, and then help community leaders plan for this migration.” Not only this is such a clever approach but it is also effective because with enough research, people can come to solutions. Knowledge is power.
The driving force behind his willingness to merge different mediums and knowledge to bring awareness is his curiosity towards the world and his desire to make it a better place. He demonstrates that through every project and as he likes to explain “art is his medium, science his muse, but solving problems is his second nature,” but merging all three pursuits was possible through his experience as an undergrad at UM. He wants future scholars to have a similar experience, an awakening, something that helps them “shatter assumptions and find the commonalities between disciplines that help people understand the world, and advance human knowledge.”
Who could be a better advocate for cultural diversity than someone who has been living in Miami for his whole life? Although he is an American artist and lawyer, viewers can notice the Latino influence in his artwork and projects. In particular the “Reclamation Project” which started in 2006 up to the present has a metaphor with the history of immigrants in Florida. Through this ecological art project, he has motivated Floridians in learning about the disappearance of Florida native vegetation by allowing them to plant mangrove propagules; he associates the seeds to the life of an immigrant, who floats to a new shore to contribute to a fertile new home community. As mangroves become a symbol to him, they became a central theme in several commissioned mural-sized paintings. One of his most recent projects, however, more directly represents his national identity as he launched the “Arts Resilient 305” initiative to spread awareness about the impact of climate change in Miami-Dade County. Through this project he tackles the environmental issues that threaten our community in three steps: first a social media campaign that shares information curated by the “Arts and Green Opportunities;” second, the Resilient Arts Prizes and Fellowships will serve to sponsor local models and best practices for art in Miami-Dade County; lastly, the Department will promote opportunities for action and advocacy at local, state, federal and international levels. (Hernandez-Constenla, 2019). These are just a few examples of how much Mr. Cortada is involved with the community, representing people from different cultures, and striving to ameliorate the current environmental condition in Miami.
SUBJECT OF ARTWORK
Artist Xavier Cortada focuses on several subjects in his artwork, the main ones being justice and environmental sustainability. As far as projects towards justice, he worked on “Hasta Cuando?” in 1996, which was a beautiful mural located in Philadelphia depicting a Mother’s day card that told a very heartwarming story. A 16 year old was shot by a rival gang member as he sprayed his name on a wall, demonstrating that death can catch you at any time if you are wandering through the streets where violence is so prevalent amongst teenagers and adults. This mural brings the conversation of drug culture, fear coming both from mothers and children who live in the community and helplessly ask themselves “Hasta Cuando?” Spanish for “Until when?”. Artist Cortada is an attorney who has worked with youth in juvenile violence prevention programs in Miami, and associating such intricate issues with art has really made a statement. Another mural that focused on spreading awareness and giving voice to the ones who most need it is the “Trapped” mural which was presented on June 21, 2002 at the Florida Bar Public Interest Law Section Luncheon in Boca Raton. This mural is part of a project that he worked on with adolescents in South Florida who resided in a psychiatric treatment facility and represents their “voice” and concerns, which was followed by another mural entitled “May it Please the Court” this time being a solo exhibit in the Supreme Court of Florida. Once again, Artist Cortada gives art a legal twist by actually making the artwork speak for itself and make a statement that spurs conversation amongst the community.
Another prominent subject in his artwork is environmental sustainability, and most of his featured projects are relating to this. “Underwater HOA” is an amazing art project that brings the community together to combat sea-level rise. His statement towards this project explains that it encourages Florida residents to install what would be a yard sign on their front lawn to show how many feet of melting glacial water must rise before their property is underwater. He is highly motivated and encourages others through this wake up call as he states “by mapping the crisis to come, I make the invisible visible. Block by block, house by house, neighbor by neighbor, I want to make the future impact of sea level rise something no longer possible to ignore.”
FORMAL ELEMENTS OF ARTWORK
Artist Cortada utilizes a variety of mediums to bring forth his ideas and project initiatives to the community. He is well known for his murals, whether it be using paint or even ceramic flat tiles for the El Manglar and the Miami Mangrove Forest murals. He has some works on paper, and some performances recorded, but what inspires him the most is nature itself and he utilizes it as a canvas when creating a statement and to spur conversation. In one of his most famous installations, he utilized shoes to tell a story regarding the impact of climate change to people’s lives and the world we live in. He placed 24 shoes in a circle around the South Pole (in 2007) and the North Pole (in 2008) along the respective longitude lines and recited a statement of those people who have been affected by climate change. Also, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, he took advantage of the power of social media to maintain the community active and allow them to participate virtually with the projects “Florida is Nature” and “Letters to the Future”. The first one asks Instagram followers to take a photograph, paint, or draw Florida’s natural beauty and then share it along with the slide “Florida is…” found on his Instagram page and tag him. Similarly with “Letters to the Future,” using the same process, followers are called to write a letter to someone living 100 years from present day and imagine how climate change will impact their life. Not only this initiative is very innovative and a new approach to collaborative art, but it also serves as a great marketing tool for both the artist and those pages who choose to participate in the artwork – they will be exposed to a new network of artists and hopefully grow in the art community, if they wish to pursue art.
EXHIBITION AND PROJECT HISTORY
Cortada has been commissioned to create public art across six continents. His work has traveled with him as he utilized innovative art solutions to address the relationship between humans and the environment. He has worked on several public art commissions in Miami-Dade County, Broward County, in the Frost Art Museum, Florida Botanical Gardens, and North Key Largo Fire Station among others. Viewers can also appreciate his permanent collections in selected museums such as the Perez Art Museum, the NSU Museum of Art, the Patricia and Philip Frost Art Museum, in The World Bank, and even in the Department of State Art Collection. He has traveled extensively and left a part of his work everywhere he went, even digitally he leaves a mark and continues to spread awareness to the incurring issues with the environment.
Most of my life I looked at art and thought of it as a beautiful, often misunderstood extension of the artist’s perspective of the world. Artists view life differently, and I was used to the philosophical approach to things, the psychology behind a piece and the inevitable representation of emotion through it. However, with Xavier Cortada I learned that art has no limits and it can serve as an essential part of spreading awareness about real things happening in the world right now. He makes art relatable and allows others to participate in his works, collaborating with him to create something and be actively involved in the community whether it be by creating a mural or planting mangroves. Through his art installations and projects, he gives viewers an essential role in his final result because his main focus has always been to make the world a better place in any way possible. Social injustice, poverty, health, and environmental risks are at the centerpiece of his work and I couldn’t agree more about his statements for each of them. I am usually not a “nature” person, I am afraid of many things that are unknown to me, but art is an universal language that allows everyone to have a say in the world surrounding us – Xavier Cortada facilitates this process.
Berg, Julia D. “Problem Solving Is Second Nature: Staff: Faculty and Staff News: University of Miami.” University of Miami, news.miami.edu/life/stories/2019/04/xavier-cortada.html.
Cortada Studio & Projects. “Xavier Cortada .” Xavier Cortada, 22 Mar. 2021, www.cortada.com/artist/.
Hernandez-Constenla, Liliana. “Arts Resilient 305” Initiative Launched by the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs, 21 June 2019, http://www.miamidade.gov/releases/2019-06-21-arts-resilient-initiative.asp.