Sunday, September 30, 2018

Contemporary Art Essay- Firelei Baez and "Bloodlines"

Contemporary Art reflects different aspects of society and its people today. While trying to find an artist to analyze, I hoped to concentrate on an artist that incorporated a societal message behind his/her work. A contemporary artist that does an exceptional job of visualizing this reality is Firelei Baez, a Dominican artist who makes intricate works on paper and canvas as well as large scale sculptures. Her mixture of different types of media and metaphorical messages creates interesting compositions that reflect contemporary trends. 

As seen in the images below, Baez had a very unique style of rendering figures and patterns. I greatly appreciate her technique of having a central, detailed figure and a plain background in many of her art pieces. I hope to take inspiration from this type of composition because I very often try to fill up the full paper with immense detail, sometimes leading to busy compositions. Experimenting with this contrast would be an interesting way to bring attention to the central element of the artwork. A similar thematic element I have found within Baez's work is the concentration on female figures. I especially like how Baez uses saturated colors and detail to express emotion and movement within these figures and hope to draw inspiration from this going forward. Additionally, I am drawn to how Baez experiments with several different types of media and styles, but at the same time has a continuous thematic message that can be easily identified. After doing some research, I found that Baez tries to evoke conversation regarding culture and identity through her artwork, which is present in the pieces below. I appreciate how each individual art piece by Baez has its own significance yet her collection comes together as a cohesive set and hope to develop some of my own similar ideas for my artwork in the coming future.  

                 Examples of Firelei Baez's Art
    Image result for firelei baezImage result for firelei baezImage result for firelei baez 

I believe that one of Baez's most interesting artworks is “Bloodlines”. This drawing does a fantastic job of incorporating different types of media and ideas about race and culture and resonates with my interest in mixing different art styles to create a unified art piece.                                                             
                 Related image 

What I find particularly compelling is the juxtaposition of style within the art piece. The figure is painted in a modern, abstract style with non-conventional colors. I find the dripping painting technique particularly attractive as it emphasizes details within the figure. It is obvious that Baez layered different colors of paint within the figure to get the desired effect. This figure contrasts with the drawing element of the art piece. The majority of the paper is covered with an intricate design where the figure would traditionally have hair. This same is reflected in the piercing eyes that are very detailed and drawn in a similar style. I find it extremely interesting how Baez is able to express so much emotion in this artwork which such few details in the face.

Through its unique style and composition, “Bloodlines” reveals its message of racial stereotypes and pressures. Baez does an incredible job creating the figure’s elements without providing an obvious illustration. For example, when rendering the skin tone, she resorts to unconventional colors to create a dark tone. Even though it is not obvious at first, it is a very effective form of portrayal. A similar result is achieved through the intricate drawing present as the headdress. After some research, I found that Baez showed women in her artwork wearing tignons, an 18th century headdress imposed by law for women of color in New Orleans. Even though this headdress was seen as a form of oppression at first, it soon turned into a form of expression. This expressiveness is successfully shown with the drawing through the complexity of the design. I appreciate how Baez activated the space for the headdress and didn’t rely on a single pattern, adding to the movement of the art. Additionally, the use of a non-white paper base was a great way to increase the contrast present within the headdress. Because of this artistic decision. Baez was able to use both white and black charcoal to highlight the small details visible in the headdress. Another element of the art piece that I enjoy is the layering present in the watercolor. This is shown with the green tones present on the left of the figure. I would like to take inspiration from this art piece and add elements of it to my own artwork. For example, I really like the complexity of design present and will apply this to my future projects. Additionally, I think the contrast of using color as well as black and white within the same art piece is interesting will try to experiment with this style to create interesting compositions.

While Firelei Baez's artistic style is quite different than mine, I find her work to be expressive and unique. I appreciate her bold artistic choices with both media and color. Like Baez, I have found that most contemporary artists do an excellent job of developing a personal voice through their art. Going forward this semester, I hope to create a clearer artistic vision that expresses my interests and aspirations. 



“Home.” Firelei Báez,
Guillén, Valeria. “Guillén WARP.” PAMM: Firelei Báez "Bloodlines", 1 Jan. 1970,
“Firelei Báez.” Gallery Wendi Norris | San Francisco,
“Firelei Baez.” Morgan Lehman Gallery,


“Firelei Báez: Bloodlines.” The Andy Warhol Museum,
“Firelei Báez: Bloodlines.” Piss Discus | PAMM | Pérez Art Museum Miami,

Njideka Akunyili and “Afropolitanism”

Njideka Akunyili and “Afropolitanism” 
The work of Nigerian born artist, Njideka Akunyili captured my attention as I scrolled through images of contemporary artwork. Not only because her colorful and textured pieces made my eyes travel throughout the entirety of the pieces, but also the culturally charged messages portrayed by her works as well as their titles left me thinking long after I had scrolled on to the next image. Her artwork belongs to a contemporary trend of “Afropolitanism” and explores identity and nationalism of African immigrants as they move out of their cultures into other cities and urban environments across the world.

Akunyili’s works are most often large mural style pieces made up of a variety of media. She uses colored pencil, charcoal, and fabric as well as newspaper cutouts, text, and photographs to create a collage styled piece. She uses detailed patters and contrasting bright and dark colors to entice the observers eye throughout the entirety of the piece. The majority of the pieces are set in the intimacy of an apartment living room or kitchen with furniture and picture frames filled with African individuals in tradition clothing or in familial groups.

What catches my eye most often in her works is not the individual or individuals that are the focal point in her pieces, but the faces of individuals collaged into the wall paper, the clothing, the floor tiles; and even more clearly, the individuals within the picture frames or television screens who’s faces are clearly visible and often looking directly outward. Often objects or clothing have similar patters as the background causing them to blend into the background and drawing more attention to the faces which are constantly peering from the background. The longer I spend looking at the piece, the more the faces appear.

What I like most about her pieces is the scale of the work, the African patterns and textures, and the unexpectedness of the messages and themes of the pieces. One of these themes has reoccurred throughout many of Akynyili’s pieces. It is the situation of a black woman in an intimate position or gaze with a white man either alone or in a small group setting. One piece in particular, Akunyili’s “I Still Face You”, appears to show some sort of familial setting with four African individuals in traditional African clothing gathered around a small dining room table closely looking at a young white man who is also seated at the table. This man is dressed in very western attire looking up at a black woman in a western styled dress. To me, this image encompasses the intersection of western and African culture as it seems to show an African woman introducing her white significant other to her family. The wall paper and the floor contain a collage of images seem to represent a deep cultural history and expansive African ancestry.  There is no hostility emitted by the various sides in the piece, but there is a sense of seriousness of the image representing the tension of cultural mixing.


Editorial, Artsy. “The 20 Most Influential Artists of 2017.” 11 Artworks, Bio & Shows on Artsy, Artsy, 15 Dec. 2017,

Akunyili, Njideka. Njideka Akunyili Crosby,

Akunyili Crosby, Njideka. I Still Face You. 2015.