Taking over Lehmann Maupin’s New York exhibition space, artist Teresita Fernández’s new show, Maelstrom, focuses on a new series of monumental sculptures and installations that unapologetically visualize the enduring violence and devastation ignited by colonization. Turning particular attention to the Caribbean archipelago, the first point of colonial contact in the Americas, Fernández challenges the viewer to consider nuanced readings of people and place, looking beyond dominant, continental narratives to instead consider the region as emblematic of an expansive and decentralized state of mind.
The show works in particular with themes familiar to discussions of the Americas, particular notions of genocide and slavery, cultural commingling, political exploitation and the interrelation of various commercial and capitalist structures within each of these frameworks. Placing emphasis on the New World as a generator of economic value on the backs of exploited peoples, and particularly on the genocide of its original residents, Fernández subverts the way these islands exist in the dominant collective imagination, proposing an immense and far-reaching diasporic matrix.
The centerpiece of the exhibition, Rising(Lynched Land), is a monumental, 16-foot high sculptural rendition of a palm tree suspended from the ceiling, hovering a few feet off the ground. This somber work embodies the gravitas of violence and aftermath of destruction while also evoking a redemptive and dignified metaphorical rising. Composed of scorched wood and weathered patinated copper, Rising(Lynched Land) anthropomorphizes the landscape by transforming the natural resources of vegetation and minerals into a suspended body that ascends, uprooted from the ground. Experienced from underneath, viewers are challenged to stand under the sprawling diameter of the tree’s copper crown and to gaze up in a gesture of reverence and reflection.
Alongside this piece, Caribbean Cosmos, a 16-foot-long glazed ceramic panel composed of hundreds of thousands of tiny, richly saturated tesserae, sees Fernández creating what looks like a distorted aerial view of stirring vortexes over the Caribbean. The abstracted image evades recognition, and can be read as both nature/landscape as well as whirling infinite cosmos, inviting a comprehensive look at the connection between catastrophic weather events and our own biological rhythms connected to the flow of the universe. The reflective, glazed surface of the piece insinuates the viewer as a figure in this vast landscape, as participant, creator, and human microcosm projected onto the panorama of the cosmos. Legible on both a micro and macro level, the scale in Caribbean Cosmos shifts between the intimate, exquisite details of each miniature tesserae and the immense cosmic field of the composition that can be read as planetary reference points.
In each of the artist’s works, the notion of politics and consciousness as intermingling exchanges is always at the forefront. In this year of cultural upheaval and social reckoning, the emphasis is a timely one.
The show closes January 23rd.
– D. Creahan
Teresita Fernández: Maelstrom [Exhibition Site]