If you pause for a moment in front of the poster at the Mennello Museum of American Art you’ll read, “Engage with imaginings of goddesses and historical peoples of the African and Caribbean diasporas through the eyes of world-renowned artist, Firelei Báez. Witness as her blending of time and deep personal connections weave stories in paint of what it means to be a diverse people.”
And it’s so true. But it’s so much MORE. Báez inspires us to think about the patterns of history and the deeper meaning of shapes and colors that trace our own memory and which are incorporated in every single piece. The minuscule fiber-like paint strings that knot as hairs on the legs of mythical creatures or are at times held by a tiny clenched fist. Rich deep colors full of presence and authority and light pink puffs of imaginary moments mixed with a dusting of what is it? Nostalgia? How can you be nostalgic, or ache, for a place you’ve never been to or seen? The illusion of a better time, and the people drowning in that illusion.
The fist, both protection and resistance. The headscarf, both restrictive necessity and powerful fashion statement. It seems like there are two sides to everything in this show and I almost want to stop thinking and have her do the work for me. Just tell me what to think, Firelei! But no, she allows us to move through time and history and story of our own to arrive at where she thinks we should be, for ourselves and in that moment. It’s brilliant. It’s disturbing. It’s beautiful. It’s slightly frightening.
You might need a headache powder afterward, but in a good way. You will have truly earned it.
Step into her world and you won’t come out unmoved.
Immersion Into Compounded Time and The Paintings of Firelei Báez is at the Mennello Museum of American Art until September 7, 2019.