Firelei Báez was born in 1981 in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic, and lives and works in New York, NY. She received a BFA from the Cooper Union School of Art and an MFA from Hunter College. In her paintings, drawings, and installations, Báez draws upon a wide range of African diasporic histories, reworking visual imagery from sources such as Dominican folklore, 18th-century taxonomy, and the Black Panther movement in order to reclaim power and imagine new possibilities for the future.
The presence of strong female characters is a hallmark of Báez’s work; the painting Untitled (Le Jeu du Monde) (2020) features Báez’s interpretation of the ciguapa, an evasive and cunning figure from Dominican folklore, and Towards an unseen force (2019) shows the self-possessed gaze of a woman wearing a tignon, an 18th-century colonially mandated headscarf that was appropriated by Afro-Caribbean women as a symbol of style, creativity, and resistance. Rendered with vibrant and often symbolic colors, Báez’s paintings feature exquisite details of hair textures and textile patterns. Her figures often appear to be in motion, like shape-shifters between human, animal, and plant forms, suggesting the mutable and unfixed nature of identity. Influenced by her experience of grappling with race while growing up in the Caribbean and the United States, Báez’s work resists predetermined stereotypes of Afro-Latina and Afro-Caribbean peoples, asserting the individuality and agency of her figures in a long and still-unfolding history of healing and resistance. The artist layers her painted imagery atop archival documents, such as maps and travelogues, in order to reexamine dominant historical narratives, to insert alternative or omitted histories, and to create a new, imaginative space of possibility.