"To See Beyond Its Walls," a solo site-responsive installation by Firelei Báez, combines a large-scale painting of a female figure with a reimagined interior of Sans-Souci Palace (1813) in northern Haiti, tracing conflicted histories and current political contexts of Hispaniola (the shared island of the Dominican Republic and Haiti) and America.
To See Beyond Its Walls (and access the places that lie beyond) (2017) by Firelei BaezKemper Museum of Contemporary Art
The silhouette of a woman washed in vibrant teal and magenta hues appears in three-quarter profile looking directly at the viewer.
Her elaborate headdress or tignon, mandated by sumptuary law in Spanish colonial Louisiana to oppress women of African descent, is filled with historical and contemporary symbols.
Black panthers, emblems of the American black power movement of the 1960s, and azabache, stones carved into fists and worn in Latin American cultures to protect from evil spirits, are embedded in the painted cloth. The indigo color recalls the deep blue-violet dye originated in India and traced throughout the African slave trade.
Firelei Báez: To See Beyond Its Walls (and access the places that lie beyond) (2017) by Firelei BáezKemper Museum of Contemporary Art
Symbols in the painted wall surface include the royal seal of the early-nineteenth-century Haitian kingdom, delicate floral patterns, hair picks, and black power fists.
Báez packs the painting and wall with symbols of Latin America, the Caribbean, and America that acknowledge the complex lineage of colonial construct, resistance, and protection.
These symbols activate a space beyond the walls (of both the gallery and the palace) to imagine renewed historical and social narratives.
This commissioned project was organized by Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and curated by Erin Dziedzic, Director of Curatorial Affairs. On view August 2017–June 2018.
Firelei Báez, "To See Beyond Its Walls (and access the places that lie beyond)" (installation view), 2017, Bebe and Crosby Kemper Collection, Museum purchase made possible by a gift from the R. C. Kemper Charitable Trust, 2017.7.1 © Firelai Báez, courtesy Wendi Norris Gallery