Artist focuses on endangered species

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Entering Biscayne National Park, the entrance road is lined on both sides by red flags. At a distance, they look like simple decorations but upon a closer glance each flag has a specific image: an endangered or threatened animal representing all seven continents.

There are a total of 360 flags surrounding the park from the road leading through the entrance down through the park trail to the end of the jetty at Convoy Point, a distance of a mile. The flags are part of the Endangered World Exhibit created by South Florida artist Xavier Cortada.

Cortada and University of Miami undergrad biology students chose 360 endangered or threatened animals representing the 360 degrees of latitude around the world. Someone then would go on the website and ‘adopt’ one of the animals to create an image of said animal onto a flag to be placed in the park.

At right, one of the flags on display at Biscayne National Park highlights an endangered animal (Photos by Debora Rubi). Below, a selection of the different flags displayed throughout the  Fascell Visitor Center spaces is shown, such as those along the walkways and the boardwalk.

“The really important part is that it’s not only an art thing,” said Gary Bremen, a park ranger at Biscayne National Park who also serves as coordinator of the gallery at the Dante Fascell Visitor Center. “But they committed to do something in their lives to directly or indirectly impact the survival of that animal.”

The people representing the 360 flags are all natives of South Florida and their names can be seen at the entrance of the indoor exhibit and on the web site

The people sponsoring animals include Eugene Flinn, mayor of Palmetto Bay, after school programs like Branches After School Program, and students at FIU’s honors program.

“For the project, each student in my honors class had to paint a flag and write an essay about the animal we chose,” said FIU Sophomore Andie Doo. “I did the (Great) White Shark. My eco action consisted of spreading the word on the dangerously high rates of depletion that shark populations are facing.”

The outside endangered world exhibit goes hand in hand with the exhibit inside the Visitor Center. The exhibit, 80.15, is named after the specific degree longitude at which the Visitor Center is located. At the entrance there is a message expressing the artist’s connection with his hometown of Miami.

“This is my longitude… My land, my air, my water. It is my home…” writes Cortada.

The exhibit is made up of carbon prints of the 17 endangered animals at Biscayne National Park. BNP is 10th in the nation in number of endangered or threatened species living in the park ranging from Key Largo Woolrats to American Alligators.

“While the National Park are important as the last refuge for our animals,” said Cortada,” it is important not to romanticize that.”

The images are placed behind glass frames in order to protect the fragile carbon paper. The images, since they are carbon imprints are very dark and reversed.

“It’s not all attractive and aesthetic,” said Cortada. “I wanted to portray the animals as ephemeral and fleeting with the fragile carbon paper as a metaphor of how we press our own carbon footprint.”

The images are not visible from far away, looking instead like simple black frames until one looks closer, much similar to the impact we have on the planet which we do not notice until we look deeper into our actions.

The way carbon paper works to create duplicates is by sticking carbon on to a page in response to the original imprint made on top of it. In essence the image is the missing carbon, not the carbon itself, which is why the images are backwards. The glass creates a reflection of the visitor since the print inside is so dark.

“You see a lot of your own reflection looking back and that’s your ‘impact’ on that animal,” said Bremen.

The endangered world exhibit was created in response to Cortada’s frustrated efforts to create an exhibit of the North Pole composed of 360 flags representing the same animals as the Key Biscayne National park.

“I wanted to create the exhibit exactly where most of the damage is taking place in the melting ice caps and tie it to how it comes down to the rest of the world through the animals in the flags,” said Cortada.

The Russian police confiscated Cortada’s flags so instead Cortada wrote down the 360 animals on two canvases and laid them down on the North Pole according to the degree in which each animal lived.

The last installation was the Endangered World: Life Wall in Holland made up of 360 bricks deposited by glaciers. Each brick has a longitude representing the longitude at which the ‘adopted’ animal lives.

The specific exhibit at BNP is meant to work hand in hand with BioBlitz happening later in the spring at BNP.

BioBlitz is a program run by National Geographic Society over a 10-year span ending in 2016 to commemorate the national parks bicentennial. BioBlitz is a 24-hour species count to count the number of species that can be found at the park.

“There will be thousands of people working out here with scientists and everything from tree…whales to bacteria,” said Bremen. “People will go out in small groups with scientists that really know what he is doing in a specific area.”

The exhibit is one in many the park organizes throughout the year, each usually running three months.

The Endangered World Exhibit was opened on Feb. 17 in a night time ceremony under a full moon and runs through May 16.

It was Bremen, also a UM alumus, that invited Cortada to create an exhibit within the museum to complement with Bio Blitz at the end of April and beginning of May.

“Xavier and I were one class different at UM, so I’d known of him for a while,” said Bremen. “I knew that he was doing eco art type installations and we hadn’t had an installation in a while, something out of the ordinary. He came up with this idea and it tied up perfectly to BioBlitz.”

Aside from the FIU honors program and the biology students form the University of Miami, Cortada also used School of Communication students from the University of Miami.

“The students of the University of Miami School of Communication students were instrumental in creating the signage for the exhibit at Biscayne National park,” said Cortada.

Although the flags have a mesmerizing impact on the landscape of the park; unfortunately, some have begun to fade or entirely disappear under the stress of the rain and wind common to South Florida weather as the groups didn’t all use materials that could withstand the weather.

The commitments made to the animals painted on the flags, however, are meant to last much longer than the exhibit and flags themselves.

“The point of the exhibit is also to build a culture of caring about the environment,” said Cortada, “and get a sense of responsibility and empower ourselves to be actors and persuade others to help.

Those that still want to be involved in the project can become part of the Life Wall in The Netherlands by going on the web site and adopting an animal. Once the animal is adopted one writes the degree of the animal it on a stone to keep with them to encourage further conversation about the environment.


If You Go:

Biscayne National Park
9700 SW 328 St., Homestead, Fla. 33033

Dante Fascell Visitor Center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Entrance is free

Coming from U.S. 1, drive south and turn left on SW 328th Street (North Canal Street) and continue on the road until seeing the entrance on your left. Coming from the Florida Turnpike take Exit 6 Speedway Boulevard and turn left on the exit then turn left on SW 328th Street and continue on the road. The entrance will be visible on your left.

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