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Artist Xavier Cortada Reclaims Miami Landscape

December 26, 2006 By Maria de los Angeles in Miami: Local News  | 5 Comments

On the eve of the Winter Solstice some strange figures are appearing on South Beach and no, I’m not referring to scantily-clad snowbirds. Take a closer look:  what’s in those clear plastic cups lining the glass storefronts of many South Beach establishments? 


Is this the new cocktail trend in party town?  Not so: the strange object in each cup is a humble mangrove seedling that will be used to reforest an area of Biscayne Bay.  The brainchild of Miami artist Xavier Cortada, The Reclamation Project could also be called a heartchild because there’s a lot of love for the city and its natural habitat in this unique hands-on effort that combines art, ecology and community involvement.

The Reclamation Project

Cortada was originally moved to action by a 1915 photograph of Miami Beach founder Carl Fisher posing with Rosie the Elephant as they cleared the swamps to build Lincoln Road, leaving no room for mangroves, which are vital to wildlife as well as the health of Biscayne Bay.  With the help of over 800 volunteers, Cortada first brought mangroves to our collective consciousness in 2004 when he painted seedlings on the concrete columns that support I-95 in Downtown Miami.  The figures here are somewhat abstract and distorted, precisely because we’ve forgotten what the real Miami once looked like.  They continue to resonate today as the construction boom Downtown is making way to glass and concrete giants with little room for coastal greenspace.

From this “metaphoric reforestation” of Downtown, the effort has become litoral with Cortada’s eco-art intervention.  Last year, Cortada launched The Reclamation Project on Earth Day at the Bass Museum of Art.  This year, the project has evolved with 2,500 mangrove seedlings on the South Beach scene, letting their presence be known while making a statement.

“The Reclamation Project aims to remind us of what our community was like before all the concrete was poured. Through this installation, mangrove seedlings will conceptually reclaim an island where they thrived a few decades ago. Their reforestation will create a mangrove colony on Biscayne Bay, eventually rebuilding natural ecosystems above and below the water line. Through this process I explore our ability to coexist with the natural world.”

The project not only helps rebuild mangroves but also creates awareness.  Jackie Kellogg, Reclamation Coordinator explains:  “Every time someone asks ‘What are these things?’ we have succeeded just a little bit more.”

Coexistence seems to be the key message here; while we can’t always curb development, we can at least give nature a boost.  Coastal mangrove plants take root in water and depend on the tidal ebb and flow of Biscayne Bay’s waters for nourishment; in return, mangroves provide an ecosystem for marine life, birds and protect the land from tidal surge.  The long seedlings drop from the plant and float at the whim of the tides until they find a spot to take root.  Xavier’s project is a poetic tribute to this natural process of reproduction, migration and settling.  Seedlings are collected from a heavily forested area (such as Oleta River) and replanted elsewhere (Bear Cut) where reforestation is needed.  With the the help of human hands, these wayward seedlings are doing what they’d do naturally.

So next time you see the sweeping aerial views on Miami CSI, or stare up in awe at the towering cranes Downtown Miami, remember that lanky, unassuming seedling in the cup:  it represents a profoundly important ecosystem that depends on us for survival.


Come Look and Get Involved

The seedlings will be displayed through January 19, 2007.  A good corner to spot the project is Pennsylvania Avenue and Lincoln Road.  The Lincoln Theatre, home to the New World Symphony, as well as the Starbucks across the road, have ample storefronts to accommodate many rows of seedlings.  Planting will take place on Bear Cut, Key Biscayne, January 27, 2007 at 9 am.  Please join me as a volunteer to plant seedlings by calling Alex at Citizens for a Better South Florida (305) 648-0000.

Urban Mangrove Exploration

There’s a reason why Xavier has established this project: there simply aren’t as many mangroves as their should be in urban areas (as opposed to parks and preserves). 

Pine Tree Park (Miami Beach):  though scant in length, the boardwalk along Indian Creek Canal at Pine Tree Park is a good place to take a quick glance at coastal mangroves in an urban environment.  The contrast between these native plants and the facades of the Eden Roc and Fountainbleu hotels across the canal is impressive and drives the point home.  The Reclamation Project is working with the City of Miami Beach to build up this clump of mangroves as a focal point of coexistence between humans and nature in urban settings.  The park is located at 4400 Pine Tree Drive, just north of Arthur Godfrey Road and west of Collins Avenue.

Oleta River State Park (North Miami):  Get up close and personal with mangroves without having to drive down to the Everglades.  Rent a kayak and paddle the mangrove trails at Oleta River State Park, where the state sponsors its own on-going mangrove restoration project.  You won’t believe your eyes: a natural getaway right smack in urban North Miami, surrounded by the concrete jungle of condominiums that line the Intracoastal Waterway.  In spite of its namesake, there’s considerable paddling distance between the park and the Oleta River proper, so pick one or the other for a day’s outing.


Related Categories: Miami: Local News,

About the Author: Maria de los Angeles is a freelance wordsmith who loves to write about all things travel in Florida and the Caribbean. She is also the author of the award-winning blog Sex and the Beach.

See more articles by Maria de los Angeles.

See more articles by Maria de los Angeles

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5 Comments on

"Artist Xavier Cortada Reclaims Miami Landscape"

Gus says:

This sounds like a noble project. Thanks for explaining what those funky paintings are in Downtown Miami. I’ve seen them for years, and didn’t know what they were until now.

Posted on 12/26/2006 at 7:05 AM

Manola Blablablanik says:

I recently receive an email from Xavier all the way from the South Pole!  How cool is this?  A Cuban-American Miamian in Antartica!

Posted on 01/01/2007 at 8:38 PM

Gus says:

That’s super cool. His blog says:

“The Miami artist will be creating a series of art projects and installations: Cortada will be planting flags—and a mangrove seedling replica—on a moving glacier to mark the passage of time; creating a collaborative mural with scientists who work there”.

Does he miss Miami?

Posted on 01/02/2007 at 6:10 AM

Manola Blablablanik says:

Hi Gus!  I think he misses the warm weather!

Posted on 01/02/2007 at 12:19 PM

toronto says:

The Reclamation Project really aims to remind us of what our community was like before all the concrete was poured. A great project.

Posted on 11/14/2008 at 4:01 AM

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