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Miami Mangrove Forest, 2004

The Miami Mangrove Forest, 2004:
A metaphoric reforestation of downtown Miami

In 2004, Miami artist Xavier Cortada worked with Hands on Miami volunteers to metaphorically reforest the I-95 underpasses in downtown Miami, Little Havana and Allapattah neighborhoods.

Cortada's drawings of mangrove seedlings were used by volunteers to paint dozens of columns beneath I-95 and create theMiami Mangrove Forest.

The drawings were initially exhibited at Miami Art Fairs: OMNIART I in December 2004 (right top) and OMNIART II in January 2005 (right).


Miami artist Xavier Cortada chose the image of the mangrove tree as the centerpiece of this project to the transform clammy, dingy and dark places beneath Miami’s highways. Cortada decided to recreate the underpass' natural environment when the first European settlers arrived: a mangrove forest.

Miami is a young City. Instead of painting a full grown forest, Cortada chose to portray the mangrove early in its lifecycle of growth: a sea of floating seedlings readying to set their roots. Mangrove seedlings serve as a metaphor to honor the people who made the journey to Miami and decided to set their roots here. "We’ve all come from different places to make Miami our home," said Cortada, "much like a mangrove seed washes up and takes root on a Florida sandbar and helps builds new land where new life can take hold."

The mangrove roots symbolize the residents who have set roots in their neighborhood and built community. "Having this painted forest's roots spread across these different neighborhoods, depicts our interconnectedness,” stated the artist, "by reaching out to others, we build a stronger community, much like the walking feet of mangrove roots do to build formidable structures and nurture new life.”

Indeed, that is what hundreds of volunteers did on Hands on Miami Day 2004, when they began the transformation of what were once blighted areas. Using 8 foot by 4 foot stencils designed by the artist, Hands on Miami volunteers painted three mangrove seedlings on each of the underpass' columns. Each seedling was painted in one of 18 colors. The areas around each seedling were painted in blues to simulate the sea and sky. Students from Miami International University of Art and Design then returned to the downtown site to work on the colored seedlings. Using black paint they executed unique drawings Cortada created for each and every seedling.

Together, hundreds of volunteers came together to help transform the neighborhoods into works of art. Using paint, they planted these unique seedlings that will grow into the Miami Mangrove Forest and inspire others to reach out to other neighborhoods in building a stronger Miami.

Portraying the natural world in urban spaces is also important because it reminds us of what was here before all the concrete was poured. As generations and growth transform Miami, we as a people are grounded by nature, the one constant in this ever changing and wonderful city.

 2004 - 2013


Xavier Cortada's participatory art practice is based at Florida International University.

FIU College of Architecture + The Arts

Xavier Cortada
FIU College of Architecture + The Arts
Miami Beach Urban Studios
420 Lincoln Road, Suite 440
Miami Beach, FL 33139

 Reclamation Project 



Native Flags

The Reclamation Project and Native Flags are participatory eco-art projects by FIU College of Architecture + The Arts Artist-in-Residence Xavier Cortada.  

In South Florida, they are presented in coordination with our project partners:

FIU Office of University Sustainabiity
MDC Earth Ethics Institute

Copyright 2006-2013 
Xavier Cortada