Firelei Báez: I Consider Myself a Filter
"My work is built for human senses." Dominican-American artist Firelei Báez shares a closer look into her artworks and practice. Through vibrant colours and repurposed found maps, Báez explores themes of memory and history with references to her Caribbean origin. "I think the best thing is to just consider myself a filter." Firelei Báez has been fascinated with art since early childhood when observing her older sister's – in Báez's own words – "masterful" drawing skills: "I have been stuck since that point with art. And it's just this thing that… It makes me feel alive. And it's been a point of refuge since I was a very young child." Not only was it the skills themselves that interested her, but she was also intrigued by her heritage and history: "I was interested in how my individual story tied to the rest of the world," she says and continues: "I would be creating in a way that would connect me to my family." A reoccurring figure in the oeuvre of Firelei Báez is the folkloric, mythical "ciguapa". It's a creature from the same place in the Caribbean that Báez is from. It's described best as a female trickster. "There are two constants about her. One is that her feet are backwards," Báez explains: "And that she has a long, lustrous mane of hair." Although there was often a negative connotation to the ciguapa, Báez also saw certain freedom in her, as the ciguapa is almost traceless: "If you follow her footsteps, you are going in the wrong direction," she says and asks: "What are the risks and what are the gains of belonging or not belonging?" Many of Firelei Báez's works are painted on old, found pages. It can be from books or maps thrown out for various reasons. There is a particular vandalism to the act of painting on top of, for example, a blueprint of the Lee Monument. But Báez gives the violence an undeniable beauty with vibrant colours and depictions of shiny, black hair or juicy-looking fruits. "I think if I just gave violence, it's very easy to just look away," she says. "That is our biggest power at the moment. Who do we give our attention to?" she asks and continues: "I'm fully capable of making a juicy, beautiful painting that is just all pleasure. And that's good. But that only sustains for a short period of time. I'm interested in giving something that is generous enough to make it linger in your mind afterwards." When talking about the quality of an artwork, Báez shares the following thoughts: "A dead painting, for me, is one that leaves you uncurious. And that doesn't draw you or doesn't stay with you when you leave its presence," Firelei Báez reflects. "One that is active and effective is one that either bothers you enough to think about it some more. Or that excites you into thinking something new. That's where the maker has left a part of themselves that is still enacting." Firelei Báez (b. 1981) is a Dominican-American artist who lives and works in New York. In her monumental paintings and installations, she creates images bursting with colours and symbols based on her Caribbean heritage, featuring folktales, colonial occupation, revolution and divided societies. Báez received an M.F.A. from Hunter College, a B.F.A. from the Cooper Union's School of Art, and studied at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Her work has been presented in significant international exhibitions, including the inaugural installation at the ICA Watershed, Boston (2021), and the Milk of Dreams at the 59th Venice Biennale (2022). Recent solo presentations of Báez's work include exhibitions at The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; and Pérez Art Museum Miami. Báez's work is held in many public collections: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Guggenheim Abu Dhabi; Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; Nasjonalmuseet, Oslo; Pérez Art Museum Miami; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Sindika Dokolo Foundation, Luanda, Angola; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Tate, London; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.