Firelei Báez, Untitled (Les tables de geographie reduites en un jeu de cartes), 2022. Oil and acrylic on archival printed canvas. 82 3/8 × 105 3/4 inches (209.2 × 268.4 cm). Collection of Deborah Beckmann and Jacob Kotzubei. Courtesy the artist and James Cohan, New York. Photo by Jackie Furtado. © Firelei Báez
Paintings, drawings, and installations will span nearly 20 years of the artist’s practice and expand upon recent installations
(Boston, MA—Sept. 15, 2023) In April 2024, the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston (ICA) presents Firelei Báez, the first museum survey dedicated to the richly layered work of Firelei Báez (b. 1981, Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic). The exhibition will feature approximately 40 works—paintings, installations, and works on paper spanning nearly two decades of the artist’s practice—and showcase Báez’s profoundly moving body of work, which explores the complicated and often incomplete historical narratives that surround the Atlantic basin. The artist will premiere new works in the exhibition, which is slated to tour throughout North America to the Vancouver Art Gallery (Fall 2024) and Des Moines Art Center (Spring 2025). The exhibition will be accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue co-published by the ICA and DelMonico Books. On view from April 4 to Sept. 2, 2024, Firelei Báez is organized by Eva Respini, Deputy Director and Director of Curatorial Programs, Vancouver Art Gallery (former Barbara Lee Chief Curator at the ICA), with Tessa Bachi Haas, ICA Curatorial Assistant.
“Firelei Báez is part of a vital movement in contemporary art that embraces the role of art in understanding gaps in the historical record,” said Jill Medvedow, ICA Ellen Matilda Poss Director. “She delves into the historical narratives and fluid identities of the Atlantic basin in a way that invites audiences to reimagine and reassess. Firelei’s stunning, immersive installation at the ICA Watershed in 2021 left an indelible impression on all who saw it. This comprehensive survey will examine two decades of the artist’s practice, offering audiences a deeper and richer encounter with the work of this important artist.”
“This survey highlights Báez’s investment in the medium of painting and its capacity for storytelling and mythmaking, featuring complex and layered uses of pattern, decoration, and saturated color, often overlaid on maps made during colonial rule in the Americas,” said Respini. “Her work is about looking at history through multiple lenses – she shifts perspectives and creates layers of complexity where history has only provided a single perspective.”
Drawing on disciplines of anthropology, geography, folklore, fantasy, science fiction, and social history, Báez presents works that engage with Caribbean, African, and Latin American diasporas and histories. Her large-scale map paintings, featuring colonial maps, charts, and architectural plans immerse audiences in sweeping narratives that bring together myth and history. In Man Without a Country (aka anthropophagist wading in the Artibonite River) (2014-2015), Báez uses 225 pages sourced from late nineteenth-century texts on the history of Hispaniola—the Caribbean island that is divided between the Dominican Republic and Haiti—as supports for her drawings depicting chimeric organisms, femme figurations, and decorative embellishments. The markings intervene across the text, fusing folkloric motifs with academic writing to offer new ways of reading history and culture. Báez installs each page individually to form this wall-size installation, suggestive of island geographies and bodies of water, which viewers navigate according to their own trajectories, resisting singular narratives in favor of multiple readings.
Báez employs a similar reframing of recorded histories in her drawings. In Can I Pass? Introducing the Paper Bag to the Fan Test for the Month of July (2011), she creates a series of 31 self-portraits displayed like a calendar for the month of July. The self-portraits detail only the artist’s eyes and silhouette as she poses with different hair styles for each day of the calendar month. All of the portraits are made to match the artist’s shifting skin tone as it darkens and lightens with changing seasons. This exercise is reminiscent of the social practice of using the Brown Paper Bag Test to admit or deny entry to social functions based on one’s skin color in the 20th century United States.
Bringing the powerful quality of her paintings into three dimensions with her sculptural installations, Báez creates generative spaces with painted architectural forms that invite new possibilities and ideas to be explored. A Drexcyen Chronocommons (To win the war you fought it sideways) (2019) is an immersive installation that invites audiences to reexamine historical narratives, echoing some of the same characteristics of her 2021 commission for the ICA Watershed. Báez envelops the space in a hand-perforated blue tarp, casting spots of light onto surfaces painted with symbols reflective of the Black diaspora, constructing a place where the past, present, and future intertwine.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue featuring works in the exhibition, works from throughout Báez’s career, and essays from Leticia Alvarado, Katherine Brinson, Jessica Bell Brown, Julie Crooks, Daniella Rose King, Eva Respini, Hallie Ringle, and Katy Siegel.
About the ICA
Since its founding in 1936, the ICA has shared the pleasures of reflection, inspiration, imagination, and provocation that contemporary art offers with its audiences. A museum at the intersection of contemporary art and civic life, the ICA has advanced a bold vision for amplifying the artist’s voice and expanding the museum’s role as educator, incubator, and convener. Its exhibitions, performances, and educational programs provide access to the breadth and diversity of contemporary art, artists, and the creative process, inviting audiences of all ages and backgrounds to participate in the excitement of new art and ideas. The ICA is located at 25 Harbor Shore Drive, Boston, MA, 02210. The Watershed is located at 256 Marginal Street, East Boston, MA 02128. For more information, call 617-478-3100 or visit our website at icaboston.org. Follow the ICA on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.
Theresa Romualdez, email@example.com
This exhibition is organized by Eva Respini, Deputy Director and Director of Curatorial Programs, Vancouver Art Gallery (former Barbara Lee Chief Curator, ICA/Boston), with Tessa Bachi Haas, Curatorial Assistant, ICA/Boston
Major support for Firelei Báez is provided by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
This project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, Karen and Brian Conway, David and Jocelyne DeNunzio, Mathieu O. Gaulin, The Kotzubei-Beckmann Family Philanthropic Fund, Lise and Jeffrey Wilks, the Jennifer Epstein Fund for Women Artists, and the ICA’s Avant Guardian Society.