November 2020 – As the holidays approach, professor uses art to portray the pandemic

The University of Miami Department of Art and Art History presents “Pandemic | Miami Corona Project,” a virtual exhibit by artist Xavier Cortada

As traditional holiday gatherings threaten the public health of our country, Xavier Cortada, a University of Miami professor of practice, has launched a new virtual exhibit at the Wynwood Gallery to remind the community of the dangers of this pandemic.

Cortada explained that in the exhibit, “Pandemic | Miami Corona Project,” he created a series of video performances to remind us that the virus is still here and it is getting worse.

“I honored the dead by documenting their loss, and I did so to warn us of the danger yet to come,” Cortada said. “During this Thanksgiving, we need to be grateful, but we also must be ever mindful of following all protocols, so the virus isn’t spread at our dinner tables.”

In keeping with the reality of the times, the solo exhibition can only be experienced online. “Desperate times call for desperate measures. Perhaps our in-person holiday gatherings need to be deferred for another season,” he said.

In the exhibit, there are a variety of videos that honor and offer gratitude to those who have passed away. Since the pandemic began, thousands have died alone and away from their families in Miami-Dade County. In the video “Saying Goodbye: An Offering of Gratitude,” Cortada invites viewers to reenact his ritualistic performance and bring closure to the passing of loved ones who died in isolation.

“As an artist it is my job to speak the truth and unveil the reality of the pandemic,” he said. “In the videos, I try to humanize the deaths as a way to reflect on those who were lost.”

Cortada hopes that people learn and are inspired to practice safer health behaviors after experiencing his exhibit.

“You can’t ignore or sugar coat the situation,” he said. “My hope is that someone who has stopped caring about the pandemic, comes across this work and realizes that their impulse to stop being vigilant may cause most harm to their loved ones during the holidays.”

Cortada said that the purpose of starting this project was born out of his social practice. He explained that his work is intended to generate awareness and action using art’s elasticity to engage others.

“I am an artist who uses art to engage the community in an interdisciplinary way to problem solve. In this project, the interdisciplinary approach involved having politicians, UM scientists, students, community members share perspectives on how the pandemic has been impacting us,” said Cortada.

The virtual exhibit is part of the University of Miami COVID-19 Rapid Response effort, where Cortada provided coronavirus updates to the community through videos and conversations, documenting and honoring the lives of Miami-Dade residents who succumbed to the virus.

The Miami Corona Project was based on a consistent online presence that engaged individuals through a variety of platforms. At a time when social distancing is the norm, this web-based project gives voice to individuals who felt disconnected from society. The project serves as a real-time record of the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on Miami-Dade County, while also providing an outlet for cross-communal engagement between individuals.

To view the digital exhibit, scroll down or visit https://art.as.miami.edu/gallery/online-gallery/xc/xaviercortadapandemic.html

 Xavier Cortada, “Miami Pronouncements (March 26 – June 15, 2020): 826 Deaths in Miami-Dade,” digital art, 2020.

Xavier Cortada

Pandemic | Miami Corona Project

University of Miami Professor of Practice, Xavier Cortada developed the “Miami Corona Project” to assess and address the coronavirus pandemic in Miami. As part of the University of Miami COVID-19 Rapid Response effort, Cortada provided coronavirus updates to the community through videos and conversations, documenting and honoring the lives of Miami-Dade residents who succumbed to the virus.

The Miami Corona Project was based on a consistent online presence that engaged individuals through a variety of platforms. At a time when social distancing was the norm, this web-based project gave voice to individuals who feel disconnected from society. The project served as a real-time record of the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on Miami-Dade County, while also providing an outlet for cross-communal engagement between individuals. Through the chronicling of data and information related to the virus, as well as a series of participatory art projects, Cortada captured stories from individuals across South Florida as they were being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Honoring the Dead

On May 8, 2020, Cortada made 454 marks on the coastline of Key Biscayne, one of Miami’s barrier islands, as part of a ritualistic performance to honor the 454 neighbors who had died due to complications from COVID-19 as of that date. Although waves washed Cortada’s markings away, those impacted by these deaths will never forget their loss – and, conceptually, the waves share our grief with those also grieving on shorelines around the world.

Saying Goodbye: An Offering of Gratitude

Since the pandemic began, thousands have died alone and away from their families in Miami-Dade County. In “Saying Goodbye: An Offering of Gratitude,” Cortada invites viewers to reenact his ritualistic performance and bring closure to the passing of loved ones who died in isolation. Participants imagine what they would have said to their loved ones and what their loved ones would have said to them if they had been able to be by their bedside.

Miami Pronouncement

Since March 26, 2020, the day of the first coronavirus death in Miami-Dade County, Cortada has kept a daily record of those who have been pronounced dead in Miami due to COVID-19. “Miami Pronouncement,” the work’s title, implicates both a conceptual and literal statement of death. In this consistent, daily, handwritten format, Cortada aims to bring attention to this data and to archive a real-time record of how the pandemic impacted the county.

Necrologie La Repubblica

On March 17th, 2020, there were a record number of 475 coronavirus deaths in Italy. As of that date, the country had 41,035 coronavirus cases leading to a total of 3,405 deaths. A precursor to Cortada’s “Miami Pronouncement,” this performance has the artist recite names from an Italian obituary to acknowledge the loss and to warn about the deaths the pandemic would bring to Miami.

Share Your Voice

In the “Share Your Voice” participatory art component of the Miami Corona Project, Cortada engaged community members by asking them how they had been personally impacted by the pandemic. Participants reflected on what was occurring in real-time, sharing and learning from one another through Cortada’s online platform.

MIAMI PRONOUNCEMENT

The Miami Pronouncement was a daily record of those that have passed away due to coronavirus (March 26th – November 6th), the title implicating a conceptual, and literal, statement of death. This was done through social media posts that provided the audience with accurate data (by the Florida Department of Health) on the number of coronavirus deaths within Miami-Dade County.

This data presented in a handwritten, sentimental format became increasingly ritualistic with each passing day. Through a consistent digital presence, the artist Xavier Cortada aimed to bring attention to this data, effectively producing and archiving a realtime record of the coronavirus pandemic through the organic act of a handwritten declaration. See works at cortadaprojects.org/projects/corona/miami-pronouncement

CONVERSATIONS

Miami Corona Project Conversations was created to function as a platform in which the issues of the coronavirus pandemic can be addressed through video interviews of professionals from a variety of different disciplines and industries. “Miami Corona Project Conversations” presented these problems in an educational and involved way.

By engaging local leaders, influencers, elected officials, and personnel from various sectors in informal conversations and interviews that asked questions about how they and their sector had been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, we explored the lessons being learned so that we would be better prepared to face the future. See works at cortadaprojects.org/projects/corona/conversations

DAILY UPDATES

The MCP Daily Update initiative is a short videotaped report on what occurred the day before, documenting the number of local and national cases of coronavirus. From April 7th to May 3rd, Cortada also noted the number of deceased neighbors each day. The daily report also included new and relevant information relating to the spread of coronavirus, aggregating news and sources from both Miami-Dade County and national-level news.

Through the inclusion and communication of this information, a generation of awareness and engagement towards the issue was achieved, prompting the audience to further their involvement with the project as a whole. However, the purpose of MCP Daily Update was to function both as an assessment of what is currently happening across Miami, as well as a historical record of the impact coronavirus had throughout our community. See works at cortadaprojects.org/projects/corona/videos/daily-updates

SHARE YOUR VOICE

Was an ongoing process throughout the Miami Corona Project, “Share Your Voice” is a participatory art piece chronicling the eight month duration of the project by sharing participant posts. This aspect of the project aimed to prompt individual engagement from the participating audience whose messages were posted online.

Responses were collected digitally via Miami Corona Project’s webpage. A form asked participants to share their voice and include their name and zip code to help place an identity to our fellow neighbors. In addition to these shared voices, a visualization map literally placed each community member in our city as well as messages and links to conversations from elected officials and community leaders. See voices at cortadaprojects.org/projects/corona/share-your-voice/voices

Artist's statement

Cortada performing “Honoring the Dead,” Key Biscayne, FL, 2020.

As the 2020 holidays approach, family and friends will gather around the dinner table and share time, meals, and coronavirus with one another. As these traditional gatherings threaten the public health, I launch “Pandemic | Miami Corona Project” at the beginning of the holiday season as a virtual exhibition at the University of Miami Wynwood Gallery.

In the face of a crushing public health calamity the likes of which this nation hasn’t seen in over a century, we must still be grateful that we have one another for support,” said Cortada. “While we express our gratitude for all that we have, let us also remember and honor all those we have lost and have yet to lose.

I create these performances to remind us that the virus is still here, and it is getting worse, I honored the dead by documenting their loss and I did so to warn us of the danger yet to come. During this Thanksgiving, we need to be grateful, but we also must be ever mindful of following all protocols, so the virus isn’t spread at our dinner tables.”

In keeping with the reality of our times, the solo exhibition can only be experienced online. Desperate times call for desperate measures, perhaps our in-person holiday gatherings need to be deferred for another season.

About the Artist

Xavier Cortada is an artist, Professor of Practice at the University of Miami Department of Art and Art History and Artist-in-Residence at Pinecrest Gardens, where his studio, gallery and socially engaged art practice are based. Cortada’s work is intended to generate awareness and action towards issues of global climate change.

Using art’s elasticity to engage others, Cortada educates and inspires community members to work and learn together to solve our community’s problems.

The artist has created art installations at the North and South Poles to address environmental concerns at every point in between. He has developed numerous collaborative art projects globally, including peace murals in Cyprus and Northern Ireland, child welfare murals in Bolivia and Panama, AIDS murals in Geneva and South Africa, and eco-art projects in Hawaii, New Hampshire, Taiwan, Holland and Latvia.

Cortada has also been commissioned to create art for the White House, the World Bank, Pinecrest Village Hall, Miami City Hall, Miami-Dade County Hall, Florida Botanical Gardens, Port Everglades, the Florida Turnpike, the University of Miami, the Miami Art Museum, the Museum of Florida History and the Frost Art Museum.

Cortada’s work is in the permanent collections of the Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), the NSU Museum of Art in Ft. Lauderdale, the Whatcom Museum, the Phillip and Patricia Frost Art Museum, the MDC Museum of Art + Design and the World Bank.

The Cuban-American artist was born in Albany, NY and raised in Miami, holds undergraduate, graduate and law degrees from the University of Miami. Learn more at www.cortada.com

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