Chapter 3: Xavier Cortada

Socially Engaged Activist Artist


This chapter examines the art of Xavier Cortada, who engages a social art praxis that is deeply tied to community participation and transformation. Cortada works across media to edge individuals and communities into action. Through his series May It Please the Court, Cortada uses easel painting to trace precedent-setting Florida cases that were heard before the U.S. Supreme Court.


“For Cortada, art has the profound ability to bring public awareness to pressing social, environmental, and political issues. His activist art-making includes painted and collaged murals, easel painting, mosaics, site-specific installations, performance, textiles and banners, and interventions in the environment. In this introductory essay to Painting Constitutional Law, I consider the diverse range of Cortada’s work, including murals such as Bridging the Gap; Stepping into the American Dream; and Protecting America’s Children: A National Message Mural. I give sustained attention to each of the ten easel paintings that make up the May It Please the Court series, which are the subject of this volume. Lastly, I consider Cortada’s science-art projects, including the environmental community-sourced Reclamation Project and the science-art installations The Markers (South Pole) and Ancestral Journeys. In this work, Cortada asserts the power of art to build community and make social connections.”


Renée D. Ater is Associate Professor of American Art Emeritus at the University of Maryland. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Maryland and has written many works on the relationship among art, race, gender, national identity, and public culture. She is the author of Remaking Race and History: The Sculpture of Met Warrick Fuller (2011) and co-author of a study on Xavier Cortada, ‘Art in the Anthropocene,’ published in American Art (2014).

Xavier Cortada is Professor of Practice at the University of Miami Department of Art and Art History. He grew up in Miami and holds degrees from the University of Miami College of Arts and Sciences, School of Law, and Graduate School of Business. His work merges art with other disciplines, including law, science, and politics.