The island’s geography has been chosen by writers and utopians as the ideal place for the development of horizontal communities, without rich or poor, without envy or competitiveness, such as Aldous Huxley’s Pala. But the history tells us otherwise, locating in the most beautiful islands bloody chronicles of colonial despotism, cultural extermination and natural exploitation, to end up as a cover photo in a tourist brochure.
The Dominican Raquel Paiewonsky belongs to a generation of artists who, in the nineties, were able to distance themselves both from the localism of folk art and from the internationalism of preceding avant-gardes.
Her work stems from her experience, although it is not confessional. She speaks of social contradictions related to gender, class and ethnicity that describe troubled situations in her homeland but are also referring to the universality of the struggle between the sexes, the patriarchy and the instrumentalization of the body.
Edouard Glissant, thinking about the Antilles, forged the image of the archipelago as a metaphor for cultural dissemination in opposition to island essentialism: the sea destroys the idea of roots favoring the rhizome. Being a Martinique writer, he denied the insular exclusivity and advocated to explore the “footprint”, to interrelate African myths, Creole languages, Indian traditions…; approaching shores and marrying horizons.
I would say that in your work you also chase traces, not so much to bond the Caribbean culture but to overlap in each body traces of blurred identities.
Diversity has always been present naturally in my work. It’s something that I’m very aware of and I like to keep that.
I come from a hybrid place in all senses, geographically, ethnically and culturally. Migrations began before the colony and syncretism have been established at all levels making this region so complex and fascinating. In this context, many of the ideas in my work are being developed. The places, characters and situations that I choose come from here but in some way connect with the world that in essence is the same one.
In CAAM, you have covered a wall with white linen breasts embroidered by hand. Regarding the title, Inopia, would we talk of what has been left aside from public sphere, what is usually ignored, what remains invisible?
I think we have long ignored the feminine energy that belongs to all of us as humanity. We live in a world focused on productivity and achieving results. Our haste does not allow us to give importance to intimacy, personal rituals or processes. We have trivialized values as powerful as breasts.
That part of our anatomy and its symbolic versatility has allowed me to talk about multiple concerns about our perception of the feminine and our gender attitudes.
Inopia, 2012, is one of several walls intervened by hand-embroidered breasts in a kind of architectural ritual that has allowed me to make many reflections on our vulnerability, our invisibility, on attachment, breastfeeding and stereotypes.
Contrasting that virginal whiteness with colorful breasts (Bitch balls), a piece also exhibited in your solo show “I am my own landscape”, the denouncing of racism is evident, as if black were doomed to prostitution and white doomed to be eternal nursing mothers.
In Bitch Balls, 2008, I use the word Bitch, commonly used as a pejorative term that compares women to a female dog in heat. I try to rescue this common term from universal popular culture and use it, assigning new interpretations to the representation of the feminine. I take the game of words that connects inflatable beach balls inflatable beach balls with the term Bitch Balls.
Although I do not directly address the racial issue with them, these upholstered and hand-embroidered beach balls in the full range of possible skin colors, from the palest to the darkest, represent the plurality, autonomy and beauty of bodies free of restrictions and conventions.
“Guardarropía” brings together photographs of women wearing a “second skin” that shows what is usually hidden (pregnant bellies, nipples …) and, on the contrary, conceals the face. You underscore the sexualization of women, but in the video “Dunas” the suits of “sensory isolation” facilitate a certain liberation: losing oneself to be able to meet again?
Guardarropía, 2010, was created in response to the questionable circumstances surrounding the personal freedoms of women in the Dominican Republic, where different forms of violence, denial of basic reproductive rights and absurdly biased legislation perpetuate negative gender attitudes.
These suits were tailor-made to each woman and with a certain sense of humor or irony, they tried to embody the vulnerability and frustration that they experience in different circumstances and stages of their lives, underlining the absurdity of this situation.
Indeed, Dunas (2014) tries to boost a sense of liberation. It was a performative action in a desert located in the middle of the tropical greenery right next to the sea; a geographically singular place. This piece documents the explorations of a group of people and their relationship with themselves, with their clan and with their environment while they have their upper bodies covered and many of their senses isolated by a large foam hood. At the same time, the lower part of their bodies remains totally naked, perhaps releasing their most instinctive side.
From a sensory narrative, this piece explores emotions such as love, solidarity, violence or fear, when they occur in our encounter with the unknown. It also approaches fundamental axes of our present such as migrations, plurality and the preservation of our environment.
Perceptual isolation suits and other pieces of clothing that link men and women remind me of prosthetics that Lygia Clark used to explore what she called “fantasmatic of the body”. I feel that there is something about this in your way of alluding what transcends the physical body but that starts from it, from the collective memory inscribed in it.
Yes, the costumes have always allowed me to talk about the body beyond its physical and psychological borders: its personal complexities, its social histories, its connections with the other and with space, etc.
That infinite zone beyond our own body territory interests me a lot. The use of objects and textiles to transform the body allows me not only to add reflection spaces around our perception of what we are but also to remove corporal spaces activating in this way the meaning of what remains.
Interviewed by Anna Adell
Raquel Paiewonsky. Soy mi propio paisaje
can be visited in CAAM, Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno,
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
until 17th June 2018