It is remarkable when art is the cause of a fundamental shift in perspective and action. That is what has happened to those in Hialeah who experienced Xavier Cortada’s CLIMA, an art exhibit highlighting sea-level rise and its effects.Cortada’s environmental art draws you in by its beauty and brilliance.
In “Testamento,” created for CLIMA, the artist turns documents – the will of a Cuban grandfather and the deed of the Cuban American granddaughter’s Hialeah home – into buildings, engulfed by the sea, words pulled into the waves as a symbol of the sea’s rising power over our lives and our future. In “Testamento,” Cortada starkly claims that this property will be inaccessible to her own grandchildren, just as her grandfather’s property, seized by the Communist regime, was no longer for her.
Over 1800 people visited the CLIMA exhibit and participated in panels and performance art designed by Cortada to engage our community during the 12 days of the Paris COP21 talks. Hialeah is not on the coast; however, if sea-levels continue to rise, it will be the one of the most impacted cities in Florida. Because of Cortada’s exhibit, Hialeah was host to a stream of renowned scientists; community leaders; other artists and musicians; and practitioners from around South Florida whose daily work it is to plan for and protect – to the extent we are able – our properties, our fresh water, and our unique South Florida environment.
Like others, I was transfixed by Cortada’s art, his “5 Action Steps” films, and the memorable performances. I felt gratitude that these panelists came to Hialeah and shared their expertise and inspired us. I witnessed both opening night, where Mayor Carlos Hernandez and Cortada stood on the grand steps of Milander in the midst of a melting iceberg while city employees mopped up the mess in the performance piece “Melt,” and the last day of the panels, when the signed Mayor’s Climate Action Pledge was presented, committing the City of Hialeah to participate in the forward-thinking Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact.
CLIMA inspired us to listen, to learn, and to act. We have learned that we cannot ignore sea level rise and the realities of its effects on the people, houses, land, animals and water in all of South Florida, not just the beach.