Quisqueya Henríquez Mara Sartore interviews the artist

by Mara Sartore
February 3, 2015
Mara Sartore

The artist was born in 1966 in Havana, Cuba; lives and works between Miami and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Mara Sartore: Could you tell us about the works you have shown in Miami in December 2014 at the Davidoff Lounge?

Quisqueya Henríquez: These works were made in two different moments: the big ones belong to a series I developed in North Carolina when I was an Artist in Residence at McColl Center for Visual Arts. These works are based on images found on the Internet, must of them in photo shearing platforms or blogs. There are also images of works by famous artists like the one of the Whitney Museum lobby which also has a story behind it: I don’t remember the year, but I read this in a wall sign at MOMA, that Louise Bourgeois was not included once to be part of the Whitney Biennial because she was French, for this reason she did a Series of works with red writings on paper saying “Burn the Whitney” or “Murder the Whitney” to express her rage and disappointment for not being able to be there. So my idea of using the Whitney’s lobby image and sort of breaking it, was meant to connect my experience as a Latin American artist with Bourgeois’ experience. But at the same time I was seizing someone else’s work in my collage, and taking pictures of pictures with a kind of Richard Prince gesture, well known for rephotographing magazines ads during the 70s and 80’s. In the small works next to the McColl Series, which are more recent, I mix all the borrowings of different artists. In one, the pattern is designed based on a work by Lygia Clark and also I mix images from works of art belonging to Art History with the theme of “los Peloteros” which is also a Series I have been working on for many years since 2006.

MS: What is “El Pelotero”?

QH: The Series “Fragmentos Criollos” based on “Los Peloteros” is a Series of collages made with images taken from the newspaper of the baseball players sport news. My work revolves around the idea of what it means to be an artist in the Caribbean and Latin America as well. With this work I try to connect this sport, which everybody relate to countries from this part of the world, with how different is seen an artist that lives and works from countries like Dominican Republic.
Even if some Caribbean and Latin American artists are able to access the global word of art, the work of a lot more has a poor access to art institutions, curators or to important international exhibitions and other things usually accessible for those artists living in cultural centers.
Like we are in the map as a baseball players juicy factory, I have also heard so many times the “Derivative” characteristics of the art produced in Latin America in relation to the art produced in Europe and North America. When at this point you still have this kind of vision I think the only way out is to make fun of it, and parody as much as you can. So the idea of the “copy” of being like a shadow, in a humorous way obviously, is that there in no certain use of originality. This idea has to do with the element of modernity of whom the artists of the 21st Century made fun of already. Aside from that, I play with Art History, appropriating images from the work of the artists I admire, like or even hate. The work I’m showing at the Davidoff Collectors Lounge, include images of the work of Lucio Fontana, Irving Penn, Gordon Matta-Clark, among others. In the process of appropriating images, in the case of the McColl Series, rephotographing the computer screen, I always leave traces that reveal I am making mine images found in the internet, but at the
same time I am doing a parody with a hint of humor as I am not interested on victimizing myself about what is to be an artist in the Caribbean or in Latin American. What I care about it mocking all this, obviously I prefer humor than drama. For this reason I introduced the theme of the baseball player: when people think about the Dominican Republic, one of the first things that come to their mind is the fact that the DR has baseball players playing for the biggest teams in the United States, and, not only its heaven-like beaches so this is too a way of being in the map. In the Dominican small art community we are about to canonize a phrase from a famous international curator who said once to a Dominican curator “There is not issues (referring to social and political) in the Dominican Republic”. Of course we make fun of this all the time.
I also worked as well with elements like “reason” and ” passion”: opposites that are usually associated to the Latin culture as more passionate that rational. I like to play with the geographical
determinism and make fun of it and with it.

MS: We’ve been talking about your artistic approach in theory, but what is your personal approach to creation?

QH: My personal approach is not separate from the theory as I see it in complete connection. But while you ask me this I think how I have brought intimacy to my work. For instance in “Ropa Congelada” (Frozen Clothes), 2001, I bring out all of my most intimate elements to play a key roll in the idea.

MS: Can you tell me a bit more about this work?

QH: It’s not about the moment when you take off your clothes, but at some point it is implied. I frozen the stuff I used to wear in that particular period and took pictures of it. The resulting work is 35 images of blouses, pants, bras, socks, or panties. The interesting fact is that photography freezes an instant creating a conceptual relation between the frozen clothes and the frozen moment, the frozen stuff and the object that freezes moment (the camera). And then after I took pictures of the clothes they melted down, but in the image they will remain frozen forever.

MS: Why do you consider your piece “Ropa Congelada” your most intimate work?

QH: Because I used something belonging to my private life, my everyday life. In this Series of works I also used a pint of blood that I photographed after been frozen, maybe this is the most intimate piece, something that comes from the inside of the body. But the idea was to parody a classic binary relation between cold blood as a rational way of thinking and the “sangre caliente” as a more emotional approach to life, bringing to a question cultural stereotypes and preconceived notions of a culture. Maybe the less rational piece from this Series is the ice cream I made with water from the Caribbean Sea. It was salty and it came as a surprise being ice cream usually
sweet, creating a play with stereotypes and expectations. I was interested in working with a domestic element like ice cream (eatable) to talk in a different way from artists from other generations about being insular. The funny part is that I was fully inspired by a fragment from a Virgilio Piñera famous poem “La Isla En Peso: “La maldita circunstancia del agua por todas partes 
me obliga a sentarme en la mesa del café”. For sure his sense of humor over his personal drama have inspired me always.

MS: Have you been travelling and living abroad?

QH: I have always been travelling and living in different countries. Mexico, the US, Cuba and Dominican Republic… but I came back. Actually my journey to Santo Domingo was a journey back. When I came back I realized must of the people had not idea about Contemporary Art, the art community was not as big and strong as is today, and must of all, I didn’t find conceptual artists. I reencounter with artist of my generation and I meet some others in 1998, when I decided to stay and work from there. I oxygenate myself with the rediscovery of old friends, my father roots and a very strong personal project. I realized Dominican Republic was a point of start, but it was imperative to keep traveling in and out at all moments. I have this repetitive image that islands can be sea monsters in place of mainland.

MS: How has being a woman in this small community of artists in the Dominican Republic affected your work?

QH: In the Dominican Republic, unlike some other countries in the world, being a woman artist does not affect your work but actually opens doors if you are a valuable artists. It was a natural thing for me. The Dominican society is kind of closed, fearful, but you can penetrate different niches where people will get to know you and understand the person and the work little by little: like what it happens with collectors, and the public as well.

MS: What are your plans for the future?

QH: An exhibition with my NY gallery, Lynch Tham, in February 2015; In March I will be in Volta NY with the same gallery. 2016 a solo show at David Castillo Gallery in Miami, and a solo show with Lucy García Contemporary Art in Santo Domingo.

MS: Can you tell us more about the new themes you are going to explore in the next shows?

QH: I like to follow my idea of collecting images of existing works and juxtapose them in my works using magazines pages and books. I’m also very exited about how the patterns I have been working on since 2008 are getting more complex. I’m not talking about the form or the colors, but about the sources and where I get inspiration from. I guess I’m obsessed with the Hard Edge Painting movements during the 50s and 60s from the West Cost. My next exhibition will include works that belongs to this research.

MS: How do you choose the works and images you are going to use in your works?

QH: I always look for female artists. It looks like I have an attraction for female artists and for geometric abstraction. But I don’t have a single criteria, I have work with images from Jeff Koons work, but also from Piero Manzoni, or Brancusi. Probably chance at first is what rules this part of the process, because most of the time I work with books and magazines that other people throw away. In some cases I don’t know who the artist is, but I like the image.

MS: Is there someone in particular you are thinking about?

QH: Lygia Clark, Carmen Herrera, Lyubov Popova, Ana Mendieta, Georgia O’keeffe, I mention these ones because they are part of my most recent work. But I was thrilled by the idea of connecting Lyubov Popova with Carmen Herrera, both women, both lived or where marked by a communist country, both abstract painters. There is a strong call for feminine matters through all my work from the very beginning. I can see it in the use of the materials and in the materials itself. I’m thinking back in the Baseball Players Series, where in a lot of moments I feminized the male figure of “Los Peloteros”. Or pieces like “Playing with Adversity” (2001) that is about my experience of coming back to Dominican Republic, but if you look close, you see that every single manipulation of the sport balls have a very strong feminine sense.

MS: Why did you decide to go back home?

QH: For personal and family reasons, love partner and my parents.

MS: How are you coping now with your return to Santo Domingo?

QH: I already processed that and my work absorbed it. I have a studio, loved ones and family. I travel as much as I can, but I like to be there and work there. I also work a lot in NY and Miami, I print in both places, I star in DR and I finish the work in the States. This gets me sometimes a feeling of been nomad, but I’m confortable with it.

MS: What did being part of the Davidoff Art Iniatitve mean to you?

QH:The Davidoff Art Initiative is about making the international art scene go to Dominican Republic and make Dominican Artists participate to the international art scene. For the first time an international institution guarantees a continuity between the two things. Before that happened, there was only us, writing, calling people, doing exhibitions, doing it all. Jorge Pineda, Fernando Varela and I did a show in 2001 called “Curador Curado” (Curated Curator) because we curated the show, created the artworks, found the money to put up the show together, all the work behind the show had been done by us, the artists. This is the importance of the Davidoff Program: not just the chance to do a residency but also having a structure behind us, as the Dominican State does not guarantee this kind of support to artists. And even if you have the resources, you are not guaranteed a platform of visibility.

MS: Do you thinks this situation is only a limit or can it be like a positive test bench? I mean, do this difficulties act as a refiner, letting only the best artists go ahead?

QH: I think difficulties can originate works that can be interesting, like what happens for instance during a dictatorship. When there’s censorship the artist is forced to create new languages to mislead the censorship, to give the censor a hard time. I can mention artist like Carlos Saura in Spain, or Juan Dávila in Chile. The same can happen with difficulty and adversity. Artist try to elude it by leaving the country, making fun of it, going to the art fairs, you create ways of letting people know what you are doing, so they don’t forget about you when you are not there. You want to be seen as an artist, not just as a Caribbean artist. You want to interest the audience in your art itself, not for your origins, so you have to break the filter of difficulty.There are curators who do not want to work with Latin American artists, who don’t understand their works or simply just don’t take Latin American art into consideration. You need to break this thin wall all the time by yourself, so if you have beside you an institution supporting you, well it’s easier. It is very important to have an institution backing you up, an institution you can collaborate with, and transform with your cultural contribution. It’s a great chance. 

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