FROM HERE TO ETERNITY:
and other recent works by Scherezade García
Edward J. Sullivan
The work of Scherezade Garcia oscillates between several poles and functions on a variety of aesthetic and political planes. She has progressed beyond painting into areas that include installation, book arts as well as video and computer generated images. When reviewing her career over the past ten years, this Dominican-born New York artist has emerged as someone intimately familiar with the complex variety of strategies employed by a wide swath of contemporary artists yet at the same time someone who appropriates from and transforms historical references and sources of inspiration. While all of this might sound quintessentially “post-modern” there is also something uniquely archaic about much of her art - and this is meant in the most positive possible way.
The art of Scherezade Garcia incorporates kitsch and tragedy, the painterly and the opaque, the decorative and the poignant. Her eye is constantly shifting focus, investigating different possibilities for expressing her continuously evolving visual language. New verbs, nouns and adjectives become added to her language of form and expression with each new experimental phase. Among the most pronounced aspects of much of her recent work is her engagement with a baroque vision. This protean and highly contested term may be used to describe a specific art historical movement in seventeenth and eighteenth century Europe and the Americas. On the other we may also define the baroque as representing a wider variety of aesthetic vision, one that involves an investigation into the expressive potential of complex form. Garcia’s definition of the baroque would involve a conflation of both of these notions. She has certainly looked closely at specific moments of the development of a baroque sensibility in western art and has even appropriated certain figures and compositions from the art of Diego Velazquez, the historical master to whose work she seems to have most gravitated. However, she also mines the rich veins of symbolic potential in visual forms whose complexity derives not from their specific associations with historical movements, but through more deep seated psychic resonances created by their connections with specific emotional intensities. Like other contemporary artists who are involved in the process of incorporating a baroque complexity into their work, Garcia rejects cultural or historical specificity as her work enters into a more transcendental dialogue with the emotional life of its spectators.
For her current show at the Havana biennial, Scherezade Garcia is exhibiting a series of which in their totality sum up the preoccupations and tensions that have been present in her art during the past ten years. Painting, drawing, installation and books are part of her repertory of form and each has a distinct resonance. Paraiso is one of the artist’s most complex pieces to date. This multi-faceted work resonates with utopian and personal meanings. It is a project that questions our own definitions of paradise or what we each expect from eternity. Its drawings compel us to contemplate our fragile dreams and expectations. This piece employs drawing on cloth. Garcia has often utilized cloth as a support for her drawings and paintings. Painting or drawing on a blanket, quilt or the type of cloth normally employed for making clothing reinforces a sense of handicraft or manual labor that has been a pervasive aspect of her art for a number of years. It evokes the quotidian activity of sewing, darning, dress-making and other tasks associated with domesticity, and specifically female domesticity. In this and many of her works Garcia problematizes notions of the domestic and puts into high relief the nature of those chores traditionally assigned to a woman. She subverts this engagement with craft to create works that speak a language of personal and moral assertiveness.
In some of her past installations Garcia has directly engaged political issues. Several of her recent pieces have been based on the forms of the rafts or inner tubes which have been used for decades by people of Cuba or the Dominican Republic to cross the Straits of Florida to the United States, creating poignant commentary to domination, neocolonialism and socio-political hegemony. In the books that she is showing in Havana (the one associated with the Paraiso project as well as the “Pinata” book) we find equally potent traces of her references to the darker side of her politicized artistic imagination. The book format she employs is, of course, an ancient one. The codex form may be associated with the writings of the indigenous peoples of the Americas - most of which were destroyed by the colonizing Spaniards. In her books Garcia creates complex and challenging allegories of history, domination, love, sexuality and politics. The first impression we have of these works is highly deceiving, however. With its intense colors and use of found objects and textures, we are almost tricked into thinking that this piece is about form alone. We are attracted to its tactile richness but then on closer examination, the book’s use of juxtapositions of elements, connoting a dialogue between pain and pleasure, compels us to delve deeper into its myriad sub-texts. In the Pinatabook’s imagery, for example, graffiti-like drawings vie with bits of decoration from clothing, or with cut-out dolls. Scraps of black cloth compete with pink feathers to create a series of satanic visual verses. This piece is both viscerally compelling as well as emotionally threatening. It possesses a bit of the feeling of a comic book, a volume of children's fairy tails and an recipe book for nihilism. Once we enter its pages, it is difficult to extricate ourselves from the hold that is has on us. Like most of the mature work of this artist, these pieces by Scherezade Garcia have the look of innocence but they seduce our eyes and emotions with their charges of dramatic, emotional force.