Professor uses art to portray the pandemic

Xavier Cortada, a professor of practice, created a series of video performances for his "Pandemic | Miami Corona Project" virtual exhibit. Photo courtesy Xavier Cortada
By Amanda M. Perez

Xavier Cortada, a professor of practice, created a series of video performances for his "Pandemic | Miami Corona Project" virtual exhibit. Photo courtesy Xavier Cortada

Professor uses art to portray the pandemic

By Amanda M. Perez
The University of Miami Department of Art and Art History presents “Pandemic | Miami Corona Project,” a virtual exhibit by artist Xavier Cortada.

As traditional holiday gatherings threaten the public health of our country, Xavier Cortada, a University of Miami professor of practice, has launched a new virtual exhibit at the Wynwood Gallery to remind the community of the dangers of this pandemic.

Cortada explained that in the exhibit, “Pandemic | Miami Corona Project,” he created a series of video performances to remind us that the virus is still here and it is getting worse.  

“I honored the dead by documenting their loss, and I did so to warn us of the danger yet to come,” Cortada said. “During this Thanksgiving, we need to be grateful, but we also must be ever mindful of following all protocols, so the virus isn’t spread at our dinner tables.”

In keeping with the reality of the times, the solo exhibition can only be experienced online. “Desperate times call for desperate measures. Perhaps our in-person holiday gatherings need to be deferred for another season,” he said.

In the exhibit, there are a variety of videos that honor and offer gratitude to those who have passed away. Since the pandemic began, thousands have died alone and away from their families in Miami-Dade County. In the video “Saying Goodbye: An Offering of Gratitude,” Cortada invites viewers to reenact his ritualistic performance and bring closure to the passing of loved ones who died in isolation.

“As an artist it is my job to speak the truth and unveil the reality of the pandemic,” he said. “In the videos, I try to humanize the deaths as a way to reflect on those who were lost.”

Cortada hopes that people learn and are inspired to practice safer health behaviors after experiencing his exhibit. 

“You can’t ignore or sugar coat the situation,” he said. “My hope is that someone who has stopped caring about the pandemic, comes across this work and realizes that their impulse to stop being vigilant may cause most harm to their loved ones during the holidays.” 

Cortada said that the purpose of starting this project was born out of his social practice. He explained that his work is intended to generate awareness and action using art’s elasticity to engage others. 

“I am an artist who uses art to engage the community in an interdisciplinary way to problem solve. In this project, the interdisciplinary approach involved having politicians, UM scientists, students, community members share perspectives on how the pandemic has been impacting us,” said Cortada.

The virtual exhibit is part of the University of Miami COVID-19 Rapid Response effort, where Cortada provided coronavirus updates to the community through videos and conversations, documenting and honoring the lives of Miami-Dade residents who succumbed to the virus.

The Miami Corona Project was based on a consistent online presence that engaged individuals through a variety of platforms. At a time when social distancing is the norm, this web-based project gives voice to individuals who felt disconnected from society. The project serves as a real-time record of the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on Miami-Dade County, while also providing an outlet for cross-communal engagement between individuals.

To view the digital exhibit, visit https://art.as.miami.edu/gallery/online-gallery/xc/xaviercortadapandemic.html