Firelei Báez, To breathe full and free: a declaration, a re-visioning, a correction (19°36’16.9”N 72°13’07.0”W, 42° 21’48.762” N 71°1’59.628” W), 2021. Installation view, ICA Watershed, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and James Cohan, New York. Photo by Chuck Choi. © Firelei Báez
In summer 2021, the ICA Watershed featured a newly commissioned, monumental sculpture by acclaimed artist Firelei Báez. In her largest sculptural installation to date, the artist reimagined the archeological ruins of the Sans-Souci Palace in Haiti as though they were revealed in East Boston after the sea receded from the Watershed floor. The Watershed’s location—in a working shipyard and as a trade site and point of entry and home for immigrants over decades—provided a pivotal point of reference. Báez embedded Sans-Souci within the geological layers of Boston, where histories of revolution and independence are integral to the city’s identity. This site-specific installation invited visitors to traverse passageways and travel through time, engaging with streams of influence and interconnectedness. The work’s intricately painted architectural surfaces include symbols of healing and resistance, patterning drawn from West African indigo printing traditions (later used in the American South), and sea growths native to Caribbean waters. Báez’s sculpture points to the centuries-long exchanges of ideas and influence between Europe, the African continent, and the Americas.
Báez was born in 1981 in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic, to a Dominican mother and a father of Haitian descent. Her upbringing between Hispaniola’s two countries, which have a longstanding history of tension predicated on ethnic difference, informs her concerns with the politics of place and heritage. She currently lives and works in New York City.
Firelei Báez will be on view at The Momentary at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, from November 19, 2022 through October 15, 2023.