Florida’s 2006 Heritage Month
Miami artist Xavier Cortada sees the past in every concrete-and-steel vision of the future. As an unprecedented building boom continues to remake his city, he walks familiar paths and increasingly is left with the sense of being lost.
As landmarks vanish and slick new buildings loom, Cortada focuses on what used to be. “When you walk by a new building today you can’t imagine that in 1914 there was a wooden shack there. And much less, that 20 years before there was a mangrove forest. We get stuck in visual constructions. We are so focused on the here and now and what looks to be concrete that we forget that history makes the concrete fluid.”
Through his art, Cortada attempts to reclaim Florida’s fertile past. The concrete columns that hold up I-95 through downtown Miami now bear his mark: in 2004, he painted colorful mangrove seedlings on columns across four neighborhoods, a metaphoric re-foresting and an invitation to locals to celebrate the cultural riches that made Miami.
“I hope my art helps people think about what was here before, what immigrant groups came here, what kinds of struggles the people had to go through to get us to where we are. Context is what allows us to go forward in a sensitive and proactive way. To grow and to not take a look back is what is problematic.”
He has elaborated on the mangrove metaphor in murals he created for Miami City Hall and the Miami-Dade County Commission Chambers. Cortada uses mangroves to portray the journey and interconnectedness of Floridians. “We all come from different places to make Miami our home, much like a mangrove seedling that washes up on a Florida sandbar sets roots.
Cortada, who was born in Albany, New York and grew up in Miami, has exhibited his work in museums, galleries and cultural venues around the world. He has created art for the White House, the World Bank, the Miami Art Museum, the Miami-Dade Juvenile Courthouse and the Miami Children’s Museum.
Cortada is currently working on a painting for the Old Capitol Building in Tallahassee. He was selected to produce the painting which will become the 2006 Florida Heritage Month poster, distributed to schools, museums, libraries, local arts agencies, and state service organizations throughout the state.
Floridians and visitors can see other Cortada work throughout the state. A series of paintings depicting landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases originating in Florida are on long-term loan to the Florida Supreme Court in Tallahassee. And, two paintings hang in Tallahassee’s Museum of Florida History. They were created to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month 2003, when Governor Bush unveiled the mangrove-themed paintings, one about Ponce de Leon’s 1513 landing on Florida shores and the other about recent arrivals who came by raft.
In March 2005, a solo exhibit on mangroves opened at the capitol’s penthouse gallery and is now touring the state. It will be seen at the Artel Gallery in Pensacola on February 2006.
Cortada used mangroves in his portrait of Florida’s first catholic bishop, Augustin Verot. The painting was transformed into a 16-foot glass mosaic that hangs in the courtyard of Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers.
Cortada is also well-known for his collaborative public art. Major projects include International AIDS Conference murals in Switzerland and South Africa, peace murals in Northern Ireland and Cyprus, and child welfare murals in Bolivia and Panama. Corporations such as Nike, Heineken and Hershey’s have commissioned his art. Publishers like McDougal and Random House have featured it in school textbooks.
Cortada holds degrees from the University of Miami College of Arts and Sciences, Graduate School of Business and School of Law.