Firelei Báez: To See Beyond Its Walls
Kemper Museum debuts the second in a series of commissioned atrium projects: a solo site-responsive installation by Firelei Báez (b. 1981, Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic; lives and works in New York). To See Beyond Its Walls combines a large-scale painting of a female figure with a reimagined interior of Sans-Souci Palace (1813) in northern Haiti, tracing conflicted histories and current political contexts of Hispaniola (the shared island of the Dominican Republic and Haiti) and America.
The silhouette of a woman washed in vibrant teal and magenta hues appears in three-quarter profile looking directly at the viewer. Her elaborate headdress, or tignon mandated by sumptuary law in Spanish colonial Louisiana to oppress women of African descent, is filled with historical and contemporary symbols. Black panthers, emblems of the American black power movement of the 1960s, and azabache, stones carved into fists and worn in Latin American cultures to protect from evil spirits, are embedded in the painted cloth. The indigo color recalls the deep blue-violet dye originated in India and traced throughout the African slave trade. Symbols in the painted wall surface include the royal seal of the early-nineteenth-century Haitian kingdom, delicate floral patterns, hair picks, and black power fists. Báez packs the painting and wall with symbols of Latin America, the Caribbean, and America that acknowledge the complex lineage of colonial construct, resistance, and protection. They activate a space beyond the walls (of both the gallery and the palace) to imagine renewed historical and social narratives.
This commissioned project was organized by Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and curated by Erin Dziedzic, director of curatorial affairs. Major support was provided by the following:
Christy and Bill Gautreaux
Linda Lighton and Lynn Adkins
Tom and Jean McDonnell