Joiri Minaya: I’m here to entertain you, but only during my shift

[Many thanks to Veerle Poupeye for bringing this item to our attention via Critical.Caribbean.Art.] Art historian Rachel Remick (Brooklyn Rail) reviews Dominican artist Joiri Minaya’s exhibition “I’m here to entertain you, but only during my shift,” which was on view at the Baxter St. Camera Club of New York (and is still available in its online viewing room). Here are excerpts from the Brooklyn Rail:

“I’m not the motherland. I’m not a landscape. I’m framing this conversation. I’m not a flower. I’m only here to work,” declares a woman whose monologue acts as the soundtrack to video documentation of performances from 2017 by artist Joiri Minaya. In these succinct phrases, the female narrator demarcates herself from landscape or nature, her speech layered over footage of women in tropical print bodysuits. The woman’s refusal of identities which connect the feminine to the landscape is emblematic of Minaya’s exploration of the female subject, in particular the construction of the tropical woman.

Minaya’s new exhibition, curated by Corinne Y. Gordon, features recent additions to the artist’s ongoing “Containers” series that began in 2015. In striking, large-format digital prints, female models, or the artist herself, pose in custom-made bodysuits created with fabrics featuring bright tropical patterns. These patterns absorb each model’s entire figure with the exception of her eyes, which gaze out directly at the viewer; the pattern acts as a container for the model’s body. Minaya’s bodysuits clash with the surrounding manicured landscapes as in Container #4 (2020). This contrast is amplified in the case of several prints which themselves are mounted onto large blocks of patterned fabric. Container #6 (2020) depicts a feminine figure seated at the beach. Her arms and legs are encased in a wavy turquoise-and-brown pattern while a blue-gray wave washes around the lower half of her body. This photograph hangs in front of cerulean fabric overlaid with repeating icons: islands, pink flowers, palm trees, and volcanos.

Minaya’s “Containers” prompt contemplation of the pattern as a visual and conceptual device. The repeating islands behind Container #6 stand out to the viewer in part because of their contrast with the photographic print. However, as one lingers in front of the work, the islands recede into the background, lost in their interminable repetition. In this way, Minaya’s work reminds us of the ways in which patterns become ways of sorting and categorizing subconsciously, only made visible through contrast or disruption. We might draw parallels between the structure of patterns and that of the stereotypes Minaya challenges in her work. A stereotype acts as a pattern: it is a repeated, reductive mode of cultural understanding. For example, the “tropical,” to people in the global North, could include blooming flowers, palm trees, sandy beaches, and beautiful women. Through stereotypical patterns of understanding, social subjects can be sorted and pigeonholed, often in the service of racial and gender hierarchies. Minaya began the series after searching online for “Dominican women” and finding repetitious images of women in tropical settings. [. . .]

[Above: Joiri Minaya, Tropical transparencies, 2020. Archival Pigment Print on Canson Baryta Photographique Paper, 8 x 10 inches.]

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