November 20, 2018
Firelei Báez’s innovative art graces the cover of the November issue of The Brooklyn Rail, the widely-read free journal of arts, culture and politics published in newsprint format in New York City. An interview of the artist also appears in the same issue. Born in the Dominican Republic, the US-based avant-garde artist spoke to The Brooklyn Rail about her work in an interview conducted by Hồng-Ân Trương, an artist and professor. Hồng-Ân Trương is also the director of the graduate studies in the Masters of Fine Arts program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Accompanying the interview is a portrait of the artist by Phong Bui, publisher and artistic director of The Rail as it is commonly known. Since May, Firelei Báez’s exhibition “Joy Out of Fire” has been on display at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York. The exhibition closes on November 24.
In her work, Firelei Báez deals with themes of colonial violence, identity, blackness, gender, race and class, erasure and more. Her cover art appears on the book Colonial Phantoms: Belonging and Refusal in the Dominican Americas, from the 19th Century to the Present ( New York University Press, 2018) by Dixa Ramírez interviewed by ESENDOM in July.
[Read the interview with Dixa Ramírez here.]
You can read a brief excerpt of The Brooklyn Rail interview with Firelei Báez below.
Hồng-Ân Trương (Rail): We were just talking about superstition and we both have some of our own family burdens.
Firelei Báez: Is it a burden or is it caring? What is it to have them all with you no matter where you go?
Rail: These kinds of superstitions really shape us. Even though they feel insignificant, they shape how we see the world. In your work, you incorporate these aspects of mythology. Is it intentional, or do you feel like this is the way that you just filter the world?
Báez: It is obviously lived, but I don’t think that's the core of how the work or why the work is made. I grew up hearing stories of Lilith-like wild women from the forest, Ciguapas, told to me as a warning: you can’t be too wild, too much of nature, don't be too independent. Everything that’s inscribed onto that figure becomes the antithesis of ideal femininity. And then as a kid I’d think, "There's so much freedom in that, why would I not want to be that? Why would I not want to be untraceable and fearless?" I think moving to the U.S. broke that acculturation process. If I had grown up in the Dominican Republic, I probably would have absorbed all of that. I probably would have been like “my ideal self is passive, my ideal self waits to be activated.” All the things that are etched into language and into the subtle little stories that are told to us. Coming to the States with third-wave feminism—even if it wasn't part of what my mom was telling me in the household—it was what the teachers were saying in the school and it was always being enacted in every public space.
To learn more about Firelei Báez visit her website at https://fireleibaezstudio.com/