(b. 1981, Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic; lives and works in New York)

Ciguapa Pantera (to all the goods and pleasures of this world), 2015
Acrylic and ink on paper, 241.3 x 165.1 cm
Courtesy Tiroche DeLeon Collection and Art Vantage PCC Ltd.

The Ciguapa is a mythological creature from the folklore of the Dominican Republic, where Firelei Báez was born. It is portrayed (and remembered by those who saw it) as a woman of dazzling beauty with long hair. The Ciguapa lives in the forest and only comes out to lure a new victim into its impenetrable lair and devour them. Báez, who has lived in New York since childhood, uses the Ciguapa’s image to trigger memories of the country she left and a dialogue with her ancestors. For Dominicans and other people from the Caribbean, emigration to the USA poses the question of their place in the melting pot of cultures. In America, they are by default perceived as black, although they do not consider themselves as such: the Dominican Republic recognizes many shades of identity that go beyond the segregation convenient for the dominant race. In Báez’s painting, the Ciguapa is an ancient deity, whose strength is determined by its proximity to the chthonic power of nature rather than its skin color or hair type. With her anthropomorphic silhouette, this hybrid of fauna and flora combines everything that the ordinary mind sees as symbols of irrationality with a hint of threat: the thickness of the earth where dead bodies and treasures are buried, tropical plants (which hide poisonous snakes and predators), and overt female sexuality (Báez’s Ciguapa wears high heels).

Valentin Diaconov