Firelei Báez. Paper Is Corporeal

“Firelei Báez: Bloodlines at The Andy Warhol Museum,” The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, posted April 14, 2017, video, 5:18 minutes. Courtesy of the Pérez Art Museum Miami.

Firelei Báez has a visceral connection to paper. When beginning a new work, she pours water on paper and allows it to respond. Depending on the climate of the work’s creation, the paper’s character varies; its reaction to humidity or dryness causes it to expand or contract, much the way skin does. For the artist, the relationship between the body and paper is part of her material practice. For her self-portrait series “Can I Pass?” (2011–13), she began each day creating a silhouette, the color of which she matched to her forearm and the shape of which varied with her hair, depending on its style and environmental factors, like humidity. This daily practice confronted historical colorism enacted through racial hierarchy tests—such as the brown paper bag and fan tests—used predominantly by African American and Dominican communities to determine and rank identity based on physical traits.1

  1. María Elena Ortiz, “A Future Yet to Be Unfolded,” in Firelei Báez: Bloodlines, ed. María Elena Ortiz (Miami: Pérez Art Museum, 2015), 14–15. ↩︎