“I am fascinated by the social human experience since the first European settlements in the Americas. Its multifarious results are an endless source of inspiration and an essential part of my discourse. This fascination has led me to such themes as the causes and consequences of migration, the mestizo, hybridity, ethnic fluidity, and the consequences of colonization.”
Q&A Intro: Scherezade Garcia is based in Brooklyn and is known for her mixed-media paintings that are informed by her Caribbean heritage. Garcia describes her work as being centered on the politics of inclusion. History, especially the colonial history of her native Dominican Republic, plays a central role in her work while she decodes visual narratives of power to bring forth suppressed voices. I checked in with her while she was at work on installation in Green-Wood Cemetery’s chapel celebrating Día de Los Muertos. On a pew bench and with feeble Internet service, Garcia goes on to talk about the relationship of her work with history, the diversity of the Brown body, and how she translates that through her color palette, the ritual of long walks, and winning the Colene Brown Art Prize.
Chenée Daley: You once said: “If artists are the voice of our times, we have the responsibility to provoke thought, engage in conversation and inspire action”. What are your thoughts right now as it relates to the pandemic and the political upheaval in the US, and how are you interpreting it artistically?
Scherezade Garcia: My work is always embedded in history. The moment you tackle history, it gets complicated because you can take many thoughts. So this day, everything that is connected with what's happening right now, it is exactly that the lack of knowledge of who we are. You know, the lack of understanding what our history is. So my work is always going to be connected to this idea that we rewrite the narrative of how history has been taught. That's why my work is so concerned with social inequality, the stories that they tell us, and the orchestrated agenda of this information. Lack of information or information that is completely twisted is meant to keep people at bay. This pandemic is an example of what happens to anybody, to us as people, when we have a severe case of lack of leadership, and this is what has been happening for a long time. How do I translate all these worries? By creating these pieces that allow people to think further, and to not stay comfortable, to use technology to twist the concept of tradition around.
My father likes to say sometimes we have to take our blazer off while we learn. We have to control and set up the realities. If you want the truth, and we know what we're talking about, things are going to be better and we can be, and heal. I see everything like something that is fluid, that you can evolve to the times.
CD: Having come from the Caribbean, the beginning of the Americas, how would you say your work translates materially to represent that?
SG: A constant in my work is the figure. I always see them in color. I am fascinated by the mixing of who we are. With this diversity in the Caribbean and then further in the Americas, you see that it's hard to be homogeneous. And that is exactly the beauty of it. Of course the whiteness imposed by the Spanish 500 years ago and by Anglos 300 years is something that is completely against my Caribbean-ness. I have all these colors that I never know they're going to go -- black, yellow, red -- and that's the power of the Caribbean.
People have to be seen. If I mix all the colors in a palette, if I mix them, the outcome is cinnamon brown. I see that mixing of all these colors as a metaphor of race. And the outcome is brown. Which means that it is a color of inclusivity. If I want to talk about the search for truth, I have to make sure I include everybody. Why would we want to separate Africanness from Caribbeanness? There’s so much richness when we eat, when we dance. The beauty comes from all this merging.
CD: Are there any specific things you're thinking about throughout this pandemic? Any ideas you have for your work? Any new things you're making you've not been making before?
SG: My new body of work is large-scale installations. Many of them inside, in a tube, and are going to be bridges between the islands of the Caribbean. This is something I've been trying to do for a while. Since getting this award and money from grants, I’m trying to follow up on those projects that have been there for a long time and I haven't been able to do. Bridges are very important for me, as it relates to this idea of connecting.
CD: And do you have any new, personal rituals as an artist right now? Are there ways in which you're trying to find connection in yourself or find home in yourself as well? Like thinking of how divided or separated or isolated we all feel?
SG: Well, you know, I basically have done the same thing I always do to stay sane. I walk a lot. I need solitude. You have to embrace whatever. Instead of complaining so much about Zoom or Google hangout, I've been talking to people like that I haven't talked to in ages. I’m just going to embrace this. I am healthy. I am trying to be a force of positivity.
CD: What does the Colene Brown Art Prize mean for you?
SG: I love BRIC. I live like blocks away. I am very connected to the community. I feel that I've been taken into account and that is important. And also the fact that money allows me to further the development of my work, because it's definitely something that all artists struggle with. To have an award like this from the community that I really respect and I love. It is beyond the money. Definitely.
Listen to the full interview:
Interviews have been edited for conciseness and clarity.
Interviews were conducted by Chenée Daley; a Jamaican-born, New York-based multi-genre writer, whose work encompasses poetry, prose, and song. Grounded in the tender narratives of personal histories where place and memory connect, her work has won the first place writing prize from the University of the West Indies, the Caribbean Small Axe writing prize, the Denis Diderot [A-I-R] fellowship from Chateau Orquevaux in Ardenne, France and was recently shortlisted for the Eddie Baugh poet laureate of Jamaica prize. Her work appears in The Wall Street Journal, The Jamaica Observer, Small Axe Journal, The Cordite Review, American Chordata, and BOMB magazine. She has an MFA in writing from Columbia University.