Influences from Dominican childhood infuse Firelei Baez exhibit
Influences from Dominican childhood infuse Firelei Báez exhibit
By Kimberly Chun, Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Memory moves New York City artist Firelei Báez, now presenting her paintings and drawings in “Trust Memory Over History” at Gallery Wendi Norris.
“The physical memory of sunlight and landscape always informs the making of the work,” says Báez, 34, who grew up on the border of the Dominican Republic and Haiti before moving to Miami. “It’s something — even when I’m working in the north in, say, New York City or San Francisco — I’m always coming back to the experience of sunlight there. My palette is informed by that, in the figures and flora I depict.”
Metamorphosing female figures like a hirsute Mary Magdalene or the ciguapa, a magical trickster in Dominican folklore, recur in Báez’s work, which delves into sociopolitical black resistance movements throughout the African diaspora. The only fixed aspects of the mutable ciguapa, for example, are her backward legs.
“If you follow her footsteps, you’re going in the wrong direction,” the artist says. “She’s feminine and she can do and undo and get away with it, which is amazing considering there were such strict gender roles when I was growing up there. She allows for that slippage, and she’s so ambiguous that she becomes a Rorschach that allows me to explore all kinds of ideas around gender and culture.”
“Trust Memory Over History” marks Báez’s first public exhibit in San Francisco, but the Bay Area is also a return of sorts. She was an artist in residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts in Marin in 2013 and recently received the center’s 2015 Chiaro Award, which will bring her back once more later this year.
“I always had this mountainous memory,” says Báez, recalling her Dominican childhood, “and coming to the Headlands, with the mountains, mist and ocean, felt a lot like home.”
— Kimberly Chun
Trust Memory Over History: Reception and artist talk, 6-‐8 p.m. March 22. San Francisco Art Institute lecture hall, 800 Chestnut St., S.F. Gallery hours 11 a.m.-‐6 p.m. Through March 5. Gallery Wendi Norris, 161 Jessie St., S.F. (415) 346-‐ 7812.www.gallerywendinorris.com.