Kavi Gupta Gallery presents its first solo exhibition of new work by Dominican-American artist Firelei Báez, whose monumental installation at the recent 10th Berlin Biennale and concurrent solo exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem continue to receive international acclaim. Báez is interested in how culture and identity are shaped by inherited histories. Her work reveals the incomplete nature of our communal stories, constructing more egalitarian social narratives, so a more equitable future might emerge.
Portraiture is a key aspect of Báez’s work. She sees the human body as the most direct link between artist, viewer, and subject. Across the mediums of painting, sculpture, drawing, and installation, she layers strong, confident, imaginative portraits of Afrodiasporic figures over physical and conceptual echoes of the past. In her portraits, aspects of her personal identity are evident, revealing the intense personal connection Báez feels to the stories she is telling.
Materially, Báez makes work that looks both old and new. She sometimes achieves this aesthetic using traditional materials like acrylic paint on canvas, but more often paints her images directly onto found materials, such as pages from old scientific manuals, travelogues, or biographies of political figures published during key historical moments. On these surfaces, Báez layers the fabric of the past with visions of a newly imagined present. This is the meeting place of past, present, and future, where she creates what art historian Portia Malatjie called, “a space of possibility, a space where fictional alternative universes are imagined, often with strong female protagonists.”
The inescapable concrete conclusion Báez exposes is that history is not fixed. Meanwhile, on an abstract level, her visual language of figures, symbols, and calligraphic patterns conjure a psychological space where viewers might perceive echoes of their own presence in the ever-unfolding narratives of time.
The new works Báez has created for her solo exhibition at Kavi Gupta continue her ongoing examination of historical narratives, focusing particularly on issues surrounding territory, industry, and what it means to be a “true, blue” American. These works are unique but are also part of a continual unfolding, a process of revelation transpiring from Venice and Berlin to New York and Chicago. This exhibition is one new point of access to a much larger field of discovery, what Báez calls a “third space of refuge,” where forgotten history can be recalled and new paths forward can be imagined. By untying and re-tying the knots of history, she hopes to create a generative, productive space, where the bellicose ledger of the past can make way for new accounts of what we hope to become; and where individual viewers can search for themselves.
Báez received an M.F.A. from Hunter College and a B.F.A. from The Cooper Union’s School of Art and studied at The Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Recent solo exhibitions include The Studio Museum Harlem, NY, the 2018 Berlin Biennial, the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA, the Perez Art Museum, Miami, FL, and the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, Salt Lake City, UT.