Firelei Báez

5.10.23 - 20.5.24

The first solo exhibition in Europe of Dominican-American artist Firelei Báez (b. 1981). In her monumental paintings and installations, New York-based Báez creates images bursting with colours and symbols based on her own Caribbean culture, featuring folktales, colonial occupation, revolution and divided societies.

The exhibition is supported by the C.L David Foundation and Collection. and will travel on to Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Germany.

A key figure in painting today, Firelei Báez succeeds in drawing her viewers into enveloping, fictional worlds with poetic precision. Taking point of departure in how inherited stories shape and maintain culture and identity, Báez challenges powerful concepts like truth and history. Her approach to painting is thus intentionally destructive.

Encyclopedia of gestures (Jeu du monde), 2023. Courtesy: Firelei Báez & James Cohen Gallery, NY

A new language of power

Firelei Báez usually paints on top of ancient colonial maps or construction plans for colonial architecture, both of which represent the establishment’s notion of truthfulness and objectivity. The artist overwrites – or replaces – the traditional language of power with a new energetic force and vibrant, colourful expressions, mixing real-life events with sci-fi fables.

Untitled (Flow of merchandise in France on railways and waterways in the year 1856), 2020. Courtesy Firelei Báez and James Cohan Gallery, NY

The exhibition, entitled ‘Trust Memory over History’, focused mainly on works Báez had created over the past five years, including a large number of new works. It also featured several of Báez’s characteristic paper installations, in which she combines countless painted pages of books and maps to form a single work. These installations form the basis of her large paintings.

Meet Firelei Báez

In this interview from Louisiana Channel, you are invited to join Firelei Báez in her studio, where she shares a closer look into her artworks and practice.

Violence and beauty

How to slip out of your body quietly, 2018. Courtesy Firelei Báez & James Cohan Gallery, NY

Black quantum physicists (Duppy for Delacroix), 2023. Courtesy Firelei Báez & James Cohan Gallery, NY

While confronting and addressing the language of power and the hegemony of the Western world, Báez's art thrives on contradictions and ambiguities in which beauty is intervowen with violence. Báez gives the violence of the past an undeniable overlay of beauty with vibrant colours and depictions of shiny, black hair or juicy-looking fruits.

Firelei Báez in her studio, New York, 2023. Photo: Sean Hanley

“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.”

Water, hair and the ciguapa

Both hair and water are recurring elements in Firelei Báez’s works. Straightened black hair gathered into small buns can be seen in both her figurative and abstract hybrid compositions, and serve – among other things – as a reference point for the cultural significance associated with hair. For many artists of the diaspora, the ocean in particular serves as a repository for the violence endured during the Middle Passage. However, in Báez’s interpretation of water, the spotlight shifts towards a kind of rebirth and the beauty that emerges from even the most dire of circumstances.

Especially the Ciguapa – a mythological creature originating in Dominican folklore – returns again and again as a motif in her work. It is a figure that holds a special connection to her childhood memories, which she in her works depicts as a hybrid being with both feminine and masculine attributes as well as human, animal, and plant characteristics.

Information

It is so beautiful, it is almost incomprehensible. These bodies are alive, I swear they almost twitched as I looked at them.

Kulturinformation

Firelei Báez's colorful and thought-provoking stories from the Caribbean are an experience of the greats. Don't miss this exhibition. It is one of the very best offers of the season in the Danish museum world.