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A common thread in Xavier Cortada’s work is an attempt to reframe the way we see one another and our collective vulnerability to risks associated with the impacts of climate change.

In Cortada’s participatory The Underwater, he “makes the invisible visible” by mapping the topography of a conceptual coastline to depict South Florida homeowners’ vulnerability to sea-level rise. The artist facilitates conversations across the City of Miami with his fellow citizens, combining compelling imagery with technical expertise, to inspire a collective desire for policy solutions. As part of the project, Cortada has facilitated monthly Underwater Homeowners Association (UHOA) meetings bringing together people living at the same elevation, organized a Climate Town Hall open to the public, and held workshops with thousands of local high school students. The artist also distributes yard signs that visualize houses’ current elevation above sea level against the backdrop of his Antarctic Ice Paintings, and maintains an online resource center called the Underwater Intel.

For the participatory project Hello, Cortada distributed name tags to COP26 delegates, asking them to define themselves not by their first names, but by their fears, hopes, purposes, futures, and elevations above sea level. Through this process, Cortada hoped to spark conversations about the climate crisis’ impact on vulnerable communities around the world, and urge world leaders to realize the weight of the decisions at the UN climate change conference.

Antarctic Ice Paintings: Global Coastlines highlights our global vulnerability to sea-level rise by illustrating how melting ice from Antarctica is “coming to Global Coastlines.” The series includes paintings made from melting glacial and sea ice from Antarctica’s Ross Sea and sediment from Antarctica’s Dry valley, which Cortada then invites government representatives to name, referencing a coastal area in their respective territory that is vulnerable to sea-level rise. Examples include Barcelona— titled by Spain’s General Consul in Miami, Cándido Creis Estrada, Sylt — titled by Germany’s General Consul in Miami, Annette Klein, The Wadden Sea — titled by the Dutch General Consul in Miami, Gera Sneller,  and Tahiti — titled by France’s General Consul in Miami, Clément Leclerc.

Cortada’s Longitudinal Installation is a ritualistic performance that presents the effects of climate change from both a global and personal perspective. In this performance, Cortada recites quotes from twenty-four different people across twenty-four time zones that describe personal impacts of climate change. Each quote is recited above a shoe, painted with an acrylic mix of soil samples from the Dry Valleys in Antarctica, that is representative of its specific time zone – the twenty-four shoes arranged in a circle, each aligned with its corresponding longitude as they all converge on the South Pole.

Xavier Cortada is an artist and professor of practice at the University of Miami Department of Art and Art History, with secondary appointments to the University of Miami School of Law and the Miller School of Medicine. Over the past three decades, the Cuban-American artist has created art at the North and South poles and across six continents, including more than 150 public art pieces and dozens of installations, collaborative murals and socially engaged projects. The crux of Cortada’s work finds itself rooted in a deep conceptual engagement of his participants. Environmentally focused, Cortada’s work intends to generate awareness and action towards global climate change issues.

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Xavier Cortada, “Underwater HOA: Marker 8,” 2018. Photo: Guido H. Inguanzo, Jr.
Xavier Cortada, “astrid,” Antarctic ice, sediment from Antarctica’s Dry Valleys, and mixed media on paper, 12″ x 9″, 2007.
Xavier Cortada, “Underwater HOA Elevation Drive: 7,” paint on asphalt, 2018. Photo: Adam Pascale.
Xavier Cortada, “Underwater HOA Elevation Drive: 9,” paint on asphalt, 2018. Photo: Adam Pascale.
Xavier Cortada, “Hello Badges at COP26,” 2021.
Xavier Cortada, “Longitudinal Installation (South Pole),” 2007.