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← Firelei Báez: An Open Horizon (or) the Stillness of a Wound | Art21 "New York Close Up"

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Showing Revision 3 created 02/14/2021 by Jonathan Munar.

  1. FIRELEI BÁEZ:
    In most power relationships,
  2. you have the victim trying to solve the situation.
  3. I don't want to create narratives of victimhood.
  4. I want to flip it.
  5. The freedom that I offer in each painting
    is in the mutable body.
  6. In having bodies in constant transition,
  7. it leaves it open for the viewer to
    shift ideas of power.
  8. In that process,
    you shift the world around you.
  9. That's where beauty can be subversive.
  10. ["Firelei Báez: An Open Horizon (or)
    the Stillness of a Wound"]
  11. If it were up to me,
  12. I'd be a hermit in some mountain seascape,
  13. [LAUGHS]
  14. and I'd have my giant space with open windows,
  15. and f*** it if rains comes in.
  16. That's the dream.
  17. [CHORAL SINGING]
  18. [Firelei's studio, The Bronx]
  19. But I remember always making.
  20. Maybe one time when I was six,
  21. other kids would have me draw out these
    very fancy "mariquitas" for them.
  22. I would have these elaborate ball gowns.
  23. They would always have very intricate hair.
  24. I was always dealing with the body.
  25. My earliest childhood was in Loma de Cabrera,
  26. which is right at the border of
    Dominican Republic and Haiti.
  27. [ARCHIVAL VOICE OVER]
    --Should you go straight out
  28. --from that southeast end of Cuba,
  29. --you will come next to the second largest
    island of the romantic archipelago.
  30. We would make all these assumptions of what
    it is to be someone from the Caribbean,
  31. and when you fall outside that,
    then you can get something better.
  32. One of the first reasons that I wanted to
    work on these paintings
  33. was looking at some of the first
    scientific illustrations
  34. of flora and fauna from the New World.
  35. Looking at Carl Linneaus,
  36. here is this guy who was the foundation of
    modern scientific methods
  37. of observation and categorization.
  38. But so much of his work was sheer nonsense.
  39. It equated the New World Black and Brown body
  40. with beastiality.
  41. In telling of what the New World people were,
  42. you'd be next to cannibals and vampires--
  43. so, leaning into their already fallible vision
  44. and making something new.
  45. In reading my paintings of "ciguapas,"
  46. I'm asking the viewer to come to terms
    with their own feelings
  47. around a woman's body.
  48. [Ciguapa: A mythological 
    creature of Domincan folklore]
  49. The ciguapa is this trickster figure.
  50. She is a seductress.
  51. Someone will be lured by her and then 
    be completely lost and never seen again.
  52. The description is so ambiguous.
  53. It can be anything from a mongoose,
  54. to the most beautiful woman,
  55. to the most ugly woman.
  56. The only certain thing is 
    that her legs are backwards--
  57. if you followed their footsteps, you 
    were going in the wrong direction--
  58. and that she has this lustrous mane of hair.
  59. She was meant to be something 
    that made us so fearful
  60. that we could be quiet for long 
    enough to be groomed into civility.
  61. The normative tone of the story
  62. is these are wanton female creatures.
  63. They're hyper-sexual and they derail culture.
  64. The understory is they are highly independent,
  65. they're self-possessed,
  66. and they feel deeply.
  67. So who wouldn't want to be that?
  68. What was exciting in using that image
  69. was to be able to incorporate all 
    those things that were labeled abject--
  70. that were seen as unwanted--
  71. and reframe them as something beautiful
  72. and with an eye of desire.
  73. ["Ciguapa Antellana," 2018, Harlem]
  74. I recently went to my aunts, and she was like,
  75. "You know, I never would have 
    thought you would be an artist."
  76. She was the one who was
    raising us when I was about seven.
  77. For her, she saw it as a 
    little bit of troublemaking,
  78. because I'd be the one 
    trying to sew paper together
  79. and getting my finger stuck in the needle.
  80. Like sewing right through my finger.
  81. But I was just like, "I want to bind my book."
  82. "It's going to be the thing. 
    I'm going to make it perfect."
  83. They did call me...I don't know if it 
    was "The Demolisher" or "The Hellion."
  84. [LAUGHS]
  85. Whenever I imagine a painter,
  86. it's someone who is very composed--
  87. kind of like a "lady painter."
  88. But, I feel like a car mechanic.
  89. My mom is a master seamstress.
  90. She can make really beautiful things.
  91. But she was so caught up in a 100-hour work week
  92. that she always does things for bare function.
  93. It makes for a lot of precarity.
  94. So none of the things that you build tend to last.
  95. I'm trying to break that cycle 
    and teach my nephews and nieces
  96. to think of themselves as part 
    of longer cycles behind them
  97. and long cycles before them--
  98. that every choice that we make is predicated 
    by the people we hope to love in the future
  99. and the people we love in the past.
  100. It's always within your grasp
  101. to make something new.
  102. It's exhausting,
  103. but limitless.