On View: Firelei Báez Explores Diasporic Histories, Mythical Figures, and Imagined Realms at James Cohan Gallery in New

Victoria L. Valentine, Culture Type, May 8, 2020

The dynamic works of Firelei Báez are studies in contrast—bridging the past and future, marrying static documents with painterly gestural images bursting with color, energy, movement, and symbolism. Báez paints directly on found maps, book pages, and book plates creating images that explore diasporic histories and imagined realms. A self-described “book hoarder,” the artist says the plates and pages provide “a window into different spaces” and “a way of looking from outside in.”

 

Her latest exhibition displayed at James Cohan Gallery in New York, was originally scheduled March 5-April 25. Closed temporarily due to COVID-19, the gallery is showcasing her new paintings in an online viewing room through May 30.

 

Born in Santiago de los Caballeros in the Dominican Republic, Báez lives and works in New York. Her new series was inspired by tales she was told during childhood about mythical figures. She remembers hearing about “Lilith-like wild women from the forest,” called Ciguapas, who have what she considers enviable characteristics. They are independent, untraceable, and fearless, “the antithesis of ideal femininity.”

Firelei Báez remembers hearing about “Lilith-like wild women from the forest,” called Ciguapas, who have what she considers enviable characteristics. They are independent, untraceable, and fearless, “the antithesis of ideal femininity.”

Others, Báez discovered later, on her own. In the 1990s, James Stinson and Gerald Donald, a pair of Detroit DJs who pioneered a mix of electro-techno music, reimagined the horrors and inhumanity of the Middle Passage. In the video below, the artist describes the incredible universe they envisioned:

“I have always been a fan of myth from all over the world so I always loved hearing about Atlantis. So when I came across the Drexciya myth, it was like European myth, world myth, African myth, and futuristic myth-making all put together by these musicians from Detroit who were able to articulate Drexciya, this mythic Black Atlantis that came out of women who might be unruly on slave ships and who were pregnant and who were thrown overboard. Supposing, what if those women survived and all their descendants created this super-advanced civilization creating this very articulated super space in the ocean?”

Based on problematic histories and survival instincts, these folkloric creatures evoke precious memories and powerful narratives. Báez’s paintings bring them to life. 

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