Artist Spotlight: Firelei Báez


 Discovered the work of this formidable Dominican artist at the Perez Museum of Art in Miami

Báez's art is a reflection of the anthropology, science fiction, politics and history of the Afro-American diaspora. Her dense and colorful paintings and drawings are inspired by her personal narrative: a dual identity construct. Born in 1981 near the Dominican Republic’s Haitian border, as a child, Báez witnessed racial tensions between citizens of the two ethnicities of the island (one predominantly Hispanic, the other mostly black). Later, she migrated with her family to Miami, where she was confronted with the identity clash between the Afro-Caribbean immigrants and US racism.

                                            Firelei Báez, from the left: Fear Joy and Pleasure (June 19th), 2015; Patterns of Resistence (Azabache), 2015

Báez investigates with humor and fantasy the painful experiences of various black resistance movements across the global diaspora, ranging from female resistance in 18th-century Louisiana, to 19th-century socialism, to the 1960s civil rights movement in the US.

Báez depicts female subjects emphasizing textiles, hair design and body ornaments. Hiding the skin tone with an exuberant use of color and abstract motifs, she creates a unique imagery of resistance, universal symbol of past and present struggles. The artist explains: "I try to disrupt the current system of social categorization through the creation of characters that refuse definition. As more people become multiracial, skin tone is no longer a sufficient identifier.... I use symbolically loaded scenarios to metaphorically illustrate the multiplicities and hypocrisies that make up the current discussion about race and class within popular culture."

The beauty of these silhouetted heads, with their distinctive fashion and hairstyle, become an emblem of empowerment and positive approach to oppression. In her new body of work, Bloodlines, one of the main symbols of subjugation is represented by the tignons - headwraps that black women were forced by law to wear in 18th-century Louisiana- which are later converted into a symbol of emancipation and self-expression of creativity and design, signals of confident cultural identity.

Another work we purchased is the large-scale paper work “Ciguapa Pantera” (2015), part of the Ciguapas Series (2005-15). This work was exhibited at the Perez Art Museum and adorns the cover of her most recent book, so is undoubtedly iconic. Ciguapa is a feminine archetype who lives in the high mountains of the Dominican Republic. According to the Dominican mythology, ciguapas might be beautiful or horrendous depending on who encounters them, bringing darkness or light into one's life.  Báez creates these female tricksters who live beyond borders, self-empowered through their magical qualities. Once again, Báez employs motifs from the Carribean folklore to explore issues related to landscape, race and womanhood. 

Báez is one of the most gifted and relevant artist in the contemporary art world. She received a B.F.A. from The Cooper Union's School of Art and participated in The Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Her work has been exhibited at the New Museum, The Perez Art Museum of Miami, The Provincetown Art Museum and was on view at The Studio Museum's emerging artist exhibition Fore. Her work was recently featured in the US Biennial Prospect.3 in New Orleans, curated by Franklin Sirmans. Báez debuted with her first solo museum exhibitions at The Perez Museum of Art in Miami and the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art in the fall of 2015.                                                         

Báez’ works are included in numerous museum collections, among others the Perez Art Museum in Miami; Studio Museum, Harlem; Wellin Museum of Art and San Jose Museum of Art. She is represented by Wendi Norris Gallery in San Francisco. During Frieze NY in May, we stopped by Firelei's New York studio and paid her a visit (below).