I am interested in thematically exposing the post-colonial paradigm of suffering and resilience, through a collision of cruelty against compassion and ugliness against beauty. The generational struggle of my family and Afro-Indigenous Caribbean ancestors, coupled with my own personal experiences as a mixed-heritage, Black Cuban immigrant in the United States of America, informs my exploration of the diasporic stain of racism, born of colonialism, and of the unconquerable nature of the human spirit.
In a series of large oil paintings on canvas, which I call Antebellum Appropriations, I alter iconic paintings of classical European masters, commandeering them to tell Afro-Caribbean slave stories. My creations are richly codified with imagery of Afro-Caribbean folklore and religion and are centered on the generational exploitation of Black women.
Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus on an oyster shell in the Mediterranean, with Roman gods celebrating her, becomes The Sale of Venus on the auction block in the Caribbean, with syncretized Orishas (Yoruba deities) and Catholic saints protecting her. Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People, during the French Revolution of 1830, becomes Carlota Leading the People, during the Cuban Slave Revolt of 1843. Manet’s Olympia, reclined in a parlor, being served flowers by a Black maidservant in France, becomes Caroline, my Black great-grandmother, shackled in a shed, about to be raped by my White great-grandfather William Bernard, for whom she was a maidservant in Jamaica.
The purpose of creating these slave narratives reaches beyond an aesthetic exploration of racism and feminism. The paintings critically examine a void that exists, within the halls of art history: the failure to archive the important role which the abominable institution of slavery played in sustaining the very lifestyle of the innocuously beautiful figures who grace the ubiquitous, classical European canvases. By “flipping the script,” I shine the light of historical recognition upon these unsung enslaved heroines and heroes, whose lives of horror and resistance were overshadowed by serene scenes painted of their subjugators as subjects.
In another concurrent project, The Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure, I explore the psyche and self-perception of the colonized Black woman, from a contemporary perspective. The work is interdisciplinary and involves public engagement. It raises awareness of the pervasive subconscious association of blackness with wrongness, as evidenced in commonplace expressions, such as “bad hair” versus “good hair.
Part of the project narrates my own life-long dramatic attempts and resignation to "tame" the nappy locks which grow from my scalp, via the toxic and sometimes self-inflicted violent process of chemical hair straightening. The critical examination of these learned subconscious feelings of inadequacy, as reflected in hairstyle, speak to a larger audience and serve to create conversation about the collective unconscious dependency born out of colonialism.
In a separate research-based, public engagement project; I am investigating and creatively challenging the dearth and systematic omission of Black and Latino women in full-time faculty positions in visual art departments, which are power structures of the so-called mainstream "art world."
My arts activism extends to the advancement of BAILA
(Black Artists in Los Angeles) which is movement I began in December 2011. The purpose of BAILA is to illuminate the work and advance the careers of Black visual artists in the L.A. area. BAILA’s ultimate goal is to serve as a catalyst in the erasure of the gross marginalization of Black visual artists across the nation.
The BAILA work-effort involves my organizing and facilitating roundtable discussions between BAILA and mainstream art organizations, independently curating art exhibitions for the group, video and photo archiving BAILA happenings, organizing studio visits and critiques for BAILA members, writing and publishing, and mentoring BAILA youth and adults.
To visit the BAILA website and blog click here.