For Báez, painting becomes a means of giving form to memory, evincing the idea that presence is not negated by passing. Many of her works tap into oceanic imagery to suggest the broader history of black diaspora and the Middle Passage, in relationship to Glissant’s theory of the ocean as a connector and a repository of physical memory. This particular painting is a response to the nautical afrofuturist mythology developed by Drexciya, a Detroit-based electronic music duo. In the 1990’s, sleeve notes accompanying their techno albums described an underwater nation called Drexciya populated by a new generation of water-breathing humans: the unborn children of pregnant African women who were thrown off of slave ships and had adapted to breathe fluid within their mothers’ wombs. Here, Báez explands upon Drexciya’s counter-narrative with rich layers of abstract gesture—along with subtle hints of figuration—opening up the inherited story of the transaltlantic slave trade to new interpretations and generative possibilities.
James Cohan Tribeca, Firelei Báez, March 8 - April 25, 2020