Smalltooth Sawfish

Xavier Cortada “(80.15 W:) Smalltooth Sawfish” Archival ink on paper (generated from drawings created on 11” x 8.5” carbon paper) Signed, numbered, limited edition (edition of 5) 44” x 36” 2010.


Smalltooth Sawfish | South Miami Plaza
Artist’s Statement

In these works, I showcase the animals that share South Florida with us. They make Biscayne Bay and the nearby ocean and coral reefs their home. We live alongside them. Our actions in and out of the water impact their habitat and lives. Through this public art piece at South Miami Plaza (Miami-Dade Housing Authority), I am saying, ‘You come here to visit your grandparents; they are a treasure of the community. There are also other treasures nearby that need to be cared for and protected, as well.

The Smalltooth Sawfish is among them.  It is a local fish, native to Miami.  It is also rare.

Once abundant on Biscayne Bay, Tequesta people would use its “teeth” in their ceremonies and wardrobes. 16th century Spanish explorers must have been amazed at the plentiful quantity of this remarkable fish on Biscayne Bay.

Today, their sighting is a rare spectacle.

It is one of 17 threatened and endangered species that call Biscayne National Park home.  In 2010, I created drawings of these 17 animals on carbon paper, a metaphor for the impact (or “carbon footprint”) that humans have had on that animal, even across the boundaries of a protected nature preserve. I titled it for Biscayne Bay’s longitude, “80.15 W,” to remind people that what they do here on the mainland has an impact on the Bay and on the islands inside a protected national park.

That work was part of Endangered World, a participatory eco-art project I developed to engage communities in addressing biodiversity loss. This project uses my temporary installations at the South Pole (2007) and the North Pole (2008) as a platform to engage others in thinking about biodiversity loss.

I feel compelled to draw awareness to the fact that we are presently experiencing this planet’s 6th mass extinction. Through global climate change, through habitat devastation we have destroyed these animals’ homes. As part of my art practice I try to connect humans with nature. Unlike my other related works, which are performative installations, here I decided to create a sculpture, my first of an endangered animal.  It is an object, but it is also a conceptual work.

It is made of porcelain.  Strong.  Durable.  For generations to enjoy.

However, the tragic reality is that this work will probably outlive its subject.

In art, that is pretty common.  Museums are filled with busts to memorialize individuals who left their mark.

But here, the subject is not an individual, but a whole species.

Imagine a sculptor carving the bust of the last human being.  Here the work marks what humans will have erased.

Soon, this probably the closest anyone will get to seeing a Smalltooth sawfish.


Xavier Cortada, “Sawfish,” ceramic, 2013 A public art project at South Miami Plaza (Miami-Dade Housing Authority), South Miami, FL