Miami artist Xavier Cortada addresses issues of culture and identity in his solo exhibit “Cubaba” at the Artcenter/South Florida on Miami Beach, 1037 Lincoln Road. The show, featuring some of Cortada’s most recent works, opened on April 4, and will serve as a venue for nine other receptions – culminating with the Grand Finale on May 9, hosted by the Florida Governor’s Cuba Advisory Group.
“The paintings are really about the experience of growing up Cuban in Miami and of growing up in Cuban Miami,” says Cortada. “They distill the swirl of images of Cuban nostalgia and American reality as seen by someone who grew up in the middle of the exile enclave.”
The exhibit’s title “Cubaba” was actually the painter’s college fraternity nickname. Its was coined by a fellow student who mispronounced Cortada’s name. Cortada created an alter ego named Cubaba that combined stereotypical elements of Hispanic culture and Anglo-American college life. The experience of fashioning a new hybridized identity in his life outside the Cuban exile enclave mirrors the unconscious and constant renegotiations of identity that characterizes exile life. This is particularly true of the generation that finds itself “on the hyphen.”
“The exhibit is truly a cultural celebration,” Cortada said, “About then and now. About identity and belonging. About being Cuban, Being American. Being both, and being neither.” In style and content, Cortada, like his artist father and uncle before him, draws inspiration from the Cuban School of modern art, evoking the tropical palette of Amelia Pelaez, and the syncretic sensibilities of Wifredo Lam. And yet he offers the fresh point of view of a young Cuban-American born in Albany, New York and raised in Miami, gracefully balancing the influences of two cultures, teetering between two languages. His heart beats at once for his northern birthplace and for a tropical homeland he knows through the reminiscences of his parents.Cortada’s style is an amalgam of cubism and expressionism as filtered through the sensibilities of Cuban modernism. The Miami-based artist works primarily on canvas, although he has created numerous murals and has an impressive portfolio of drawings. He is also an attorney and community leader, who combines his artistic talents with his concern for social and political issues. Among the topics he has explored through his work are community development, racism, violence, poverty, political freedom, AIDS, and Cuba.
Cortada has taken his work to four continents: giving lectures and painting murals with community groups and using art as an agent of social change in places as diverse as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Leadville, Colorado; La Paz, Bolivia; and Freetown, Sierra Leone. Locally he has been commissioned to create community murals by museums (The Lowe Art Museum, the Wolfsonian, and the Florida Museum of Hispanic and Latin American Art) and non profit groups (including the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind, Centro Campesino, the Little Haiti Housing Authority, and the Little Havana Institute among others).
In addition, Cortada has been commissioned to create public art for groups like Nike, HBO, MADD and the Indiana Governor’s Office. Cortada has exhibited in museums and galleries in Washington, D.C., New York City, Berkeley, San Antonio, Madrid, Johannesburg, Mauritius, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Peru, and Bolivia. He was the first foreign artist to exhibit in Soweto after the end of apartheid in South Africa.