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by  Xavier Cortada

Installation at OMNIART Miami
December 3 -6, 2005 (during Art Basel Miami Beach)

Xavier Cortada
Absence of Place, 2005 


Absentees: 180 photographs of “absent” Miami (inside plastic bags) clipped on to a wall of a building soon to be demolished (site of OMNIART 3).

Residue: primer, cinder blocks and mangrove plants on a floor where a mangrove forest once grew. 

Urban renewal: 224 mangrove seedlings (in water-filled plastic cups) lined along a plane where a new development will soon be erected.


In a few years, I will sit in this very spot, sip on a Martini before ordering my steak, and wonder, “Is this where I installed Absence of Place?”



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, he attempts to reclaim Florida's fertile past. The concrete columns that hold up I-95 through downtown Miami now bear Cortada's 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, the Miami-Dade County Commission Chambers, the Florida Capitol, and the Museum of Florida History.





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Xavier Cortada was born in Albany, New York and was raised and lives in Miami. The Cuban-American artist holds three degrees from the University of Miami. His work has been shown across four continents and is in the permanent collection of The World Bank. Cortada has been commissioned to create art for government agencies (the White House, Miami City Hall), cultural institutions (Miami Art Museum, Museum of Florida History) and corporations (Nike, Heineken). Major collaborative art projects include International AIDS murals in Switzerland and South Africa, peace murals in Northern Ireland and Cyprus and child welfare murals in Bolivia and Panama. For more information, please visit

Copyright © 1997-2005 by Xavier Cortada. All rights reserved.