Firelei Báez is interested in how culture and identity are shaped by inherited histories. Her work reveals the incomplete nature of our communal stories while constructing more egalitarian social narratives so a more equitable future might emerge.
Portraiture is a key aspect of Báez’s work. She sees the human body as the most direct link between artist, viewer, and subject. Across the mediums of painting, sculpture, drawing and installation, she layers strong, confident, imaginative portraits of Afrodiasporic figures over physical and conceptual echoes of the past. In her portraits, aspects of her personal identity are evident, revealing the intense personal connection Báez feels to the stories she is telling.Materially, Báez makes work that looks both old and new. She sometimes achieves this aesthetic using traditional materials like acrylic paint on canvas, but more often paints her images directly onto found materials, such as pages from old scientific manuals, travelogues, or biographies of political figures published during key historical moments. On these surfaces, Báez layers the fabric of the past with visions of a newly imagined present. This is the meeting place of past, present, and future, where she creates what art historian Portia Malatjie called “a space of possibility, a space where fictional alternative universes are imagined, often with strong female protagonists.”The inescapable conclusion Báez exposes is that history is not fixed. Her latest works continue her ongoing examination of historical narratives, focusing particularly on issues surrounding territory, industry, and what it means to be a “true, blue” American. These works are unique, but are also part of a continual unfolding, a process of revelation transpiring in exhibitions from Venice and Berlin to New York and Chicago.Each exhibition is one new point of access to a much larger field of discovery—what Báez calls a “third space of refuge,” where forgotten history can be recalled and new paths forward can be imagined. By untying and re-tying the knots of history, she hopes to create a generative, productive space, where the bellicose ledger of the past can make way for new accounts of what we hope to become and where individual viewers can search for themselves.Major exhibitions of Báez work include Artes Mundi 9, National Museum, Cardiff, Wales; Firelei Báez, Mennello Museum of American Art, Orlando, FL, USA; Firelei Báez, Witte de With Center for Contremporary Art, Rotterdam, NL; Joy Out of Fire, Studio Museum in Harlem, NY, USA; Firelei Báez: Bloodlines, Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), FL, USA; 10th Berlin Biennial, Berlin, DE; Firelei Báez: How To Slip Out Of Your Body Quietly, Kavi Gupta, Chicago, IL, USA; Firelei Báez: Bloodlines, Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA, USA; and The Modern Window, MoMA, New York, NY, USA. Báez has received numerous awards, including the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts 2020; Soros Arts Fellowship 2019; United States Artists Fellowship 2019; Institute of Contemporary Art Boston Watershed Artist 2019; College Art Association Artist Award for Distinguished Body of Work 2018; Future Generation Art Prize 2017; Chiaro Award 2016; and Joan Mitchell Painters & Sculptors Grant 2011. Her work belongs to the permanent collections of such institutions as the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY; Kemper Art Museum, St. Louis, MO; PAMM, Miami, FL; Cleveland Clinic Fine Art Collection, Cleveland, OH; Phillip and Tracey Riese Foundation, New York, NY; San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA; Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art, Hamilton College, Clinton, NY; Sindika Dokolo Foundation Collection, Luanda, Angola; Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Atlanta, GA; and Salomon Foundation for Contemporary Art, Annecy, France.Báez lives and works in New York, NY.