Josephine Judas, GOAT
For the most part the imagery at Art Basel leaned abstract with color and shape overriding reality. It skewed towards the viewer’s interpretation instead of a concrete artistic message. Many pieces could be whatever suited the ethos and theme of the interpreter. One artist stood out for stating a definite point of view. Her pièce de resistance at the show emphasized her own journey as a woman and as a person of Haitian-Dominican heritage living in the United States. It stole my heart and was my favorite piece at Art Basel.
Set against a painted wall that looked both like damask and hand-blocked fabric, Firelei Báez’s Josephine Judas GOAT wooed and stunned fair-goers. In her own words Ms. Báez states in the title “it does not disturb me to accept that there are places where my identity is obscure to me, and the fact that it amazes you does not mean I relinquish it.” Here we see a tenacious woman refusing to allow society to dictate her behavior and point of view. She feels confident enough to admit that there are just some things she doesn’t understand about herself, and perhaps about life, and she’s okay with it.
The image has concrete elements like the headpiece made of beautiful fabric, peacock feathers, a snake, hair combs and a glove holding ointment. It also contains, in the swirling colors of the body, emotions of the heart and the psyche. The solid gaze of the eyes steady the heft of the portrait and emphasize the humanity of this being. She is living, breathing and holds her perspective amidst the cacophony of voices in her head.
Upon closer inspection, it becomes evident that the block print backdrop is stamped with hair combs and that chains encircle the floral damask pattern. These untraditional fabric elements reference the black freedom movement and the struggle that Firelei wages against stereotypes and prejudice both outside and within herself.
This painting, along with many of her other works, propel the viewer to consider the role of cultural pasts upon present identity. In the search for identity and belonging the artist has made peace with ambiguity knowing that the sum of herself is greater than its parts. The work is a conversation starter.
Firelei, thank you for creating such a gorgeous and moving painting.