Contemporary Arts Center presents "To See Beyond" by Firelei Báez, on view now through August 19. Báez’s inaugural Cincinnati exhibition navigates a broad spectrum of color, race and identity.
Born to a Dominican mother and a father of Haitian descent, the self-described “Caribbean hybrid” immigrated to the United States in 1990 and struggled with the restraints of her ethnicity within confining American designations. “There's a fluidity of color, of race, in the Caribbean," Báez says. But in the United States, those shades of gray were suddenly gone. "In America, you're black.”
To re-animate the beautiful complexity of being Afro-Latina and invite a greater congregation of cultural traditions, Báez creates large scale intricate paintings, murals, sculpture and works on paper that brim with vibrant patterns and political agency. Aiming to re-open perceptions with enchanted worlds of colorful avatars, she explains, “I try to disrupt the current system of social categorization through the creation of characters that refuse definition. As more people become multiracial, skin tone is no longer a sufficient signifier.”
With a self-proclaimed interest in the craft and form traditionally thought of as “women’s work” (i.e. textiles, jewelry, ceramics), she channels the history of ornamentation and fashion as acts of resistance among women of the African Diaspora. In concert with added dimensions of anthropology, folklore, science fiction and mythology, Báez’s art offers a fantastical vision within increasingly diverse societies. This exhibition marries important past works with several recent works and a kaleidoscopic new wall painting.
Ms. Báez currently lives and works in New York City. "To See Beyond" is on view at the Contemporary Arts Center through Sunday, August 19.