Firelei Baez courtesy of the Momentary

SATURDAY 11/19-SUNDAY 3/26. THE Momentary, Bentonville. Free. 

Raised near the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic in Loma de Cabrera, Firelei Báez grew up in an area of intersecting cultures and complex notions of identity. The artist’s immersive work, “To breathe full and free: a declaration, a re-visioning, a correction (19º36’16.9”N 72º13’07.0’’W, 42º21’48.762’’N 71º1’59.628’’W, 36° 22’ 0.1848” N94° 12’ 8.64” W),” constructs her imagined version of the Sans-Souci Palace in Haiti, a site where Henri Christophe — a former slave turned general — reconfigured his place in history and declared himself sovereign. Sans-Souci, which could be translated colloquially as “no worries,” was destroyed by an earthquake in 1842, and Haiti, the first Black republic, suffered as its economy was pummeled by French taxation. Báez’s artistic practice is rooted in errant histories, or the understanding that historiography — the writing of historical narratives — is a process rife with its own fictions, biases and erasures. Among the immersive architectural sculptures are reproduced maps; a cerulean canopy evoking constellations and underwater reflections; illustrations referencing 18th century botanist Carl Linneaus’ depictions of the New World — in which the Indigenous inhabitants were categorized as bestial; and images from Dominican folklore, such as the wandering ciguapas, libidinous female tricksters with backward legs, whom the artist renders with fur and flora. Báez has described the ciguapas as functioning like receptacles for the abject, or unaccepted, values of the culture and how, upon deeper reading, they represent female agency. Of her painterly and vivid works, the artist has said she doesn’t want to create “narratives of victimhood,” but rather flip the script to include beautifully subversive images of freedom.