New York’s James Cohan gallery has added Firelei Báez to its artist roster. Her first solo exhibition at the gallery will be in May 2019.
The New York–based artist’s work melds various influences and source materials—from references to Dominican folklore and 18th-century laws regarding headwear for women of color to allusions to calligraphy, science fiction, and the iconography of the Black Panther movement—to create layered images that take the form of large-scale sculptures and installations, as well as works on paper and canvas. Much of her work features commanding portraits of women who stare back at viewers and often appear to be without mouths and noses.
Báez typically creates new bodies of work that are specific to the locations where they will be exhibited. Her contribution to the 10th Berlin Biennale this past summer explored the ways in which the histories of Haiti intersected with those of Germany, and was shown as an installation at the Akademie der Künste that included lavish colonial-era interiors and a sheetrock-and-steel architectural ruin outside the academy.
For the Prospect.3 triennial in 2014 in New Orleans, Báez explored the history of the tignon, a type of knotted headscarf worn by women of color during the city’s Spanish colonial era as a result of a 1785 law that sought to control the ways non-white women presented themselves in public. Much of her work alludes to tensions between the neighboring countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic on the island of Hispaniola. (Báez was born in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic, and her father is of Haitian descent.)
Báez’s work is currently the subject of a solo show at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York, organized by the Studio Museum in Harlem as part of its ongoing “inHarlem” exhibition series. She was also included in the traveling exhibition “Relational Undercurrents: Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Archipelago,” curated by Tatiana Flores and now on view at the Frost Art Museum in Miami. (That exhibition made a stop at the Wallach Art Gallery in New York, and first opened at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, California, as part of the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative.) She had a solo exhibition at the Pérez Art Museum Miami in 2015 (it went on to travel to the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh in 2017), and she recently completed a mosaic commission for the 163 Street–Amsterdam Avenue subway station in New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood.