Scherezade Garcia: Navigating Histories

Las Meninas and War, from the series Tales of Freedom,1997,Acrylic, charcoal, and ink on camouflage fabric, 58 x 39 inches.

For New York based artist Scherezade Garcia drawing gives rise to visual codes, which lead her to spontaneous compositions and meanings at the same time. Scherezade Garcia loves stories. The books she grew up with still provoke her imagination, words inspire a continuous production of images – “from The Arabian Nights to Greek Mythology, to Hans Christian Andersen to Crusade tragedies, to El Cid, Don Quijote, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Balzac, to Alejo Carpentier, Allan Poe, Garcia Marquez to so many others, I cannot imagine life without it,” she says. Through a variety of media, Scherezade Garcia evokes in her artworks the physicality of art making while alluding to layered narratives of history.

You say that your work inhabits a baroque universe that coalesces different aesthetics. Tell me a bit about this universe and where do you think it’s coming from? 

Through my artworks, I become a storyteller. To tell stories, I embarked on reading, researching, observing, interviewing people, witnessing, experiencing until I have all the ingredients that I need to go from wonder to invent, to fabulate. I build a visual dictionary. Everything starts formally with drawings and grows wings from there through painting, installations, sculpture, animation. This inclusive, multimedia, multi-platform practice informs my voice. My voice belongs to this side of the Atlantic- its new values, new aesthetics. When I work everything goes, there is a concept/narrative behind that needs to be told, and there is not limitations to the possibilities and there is not loyalty to any medium.

Red Angel, from series Tales of Freedom, 1997, Acrylic, charcoal, ink on tapestry fabric, 38 x 64 inches.

Edward J. Sullivan, in his text on your work, From Here to Eternity, says that your art incorporates “kitsch and tragedy.” What is your take on that, and can we take a closer look in your work at the Havana biennial in that context?

I come from the island of La Hispaniola, wherein 1492 Spaniards founded the first European city in the New World. Here on La Hispaniola, a priest performed the New World’s first baptisms, a significant step in the agenda to Christianize the New World, and the New World’s first Catholic cathedral was built. The island also received the first cargoes of black slaves from Africa. We experienced the first genocide of the natives, Los Tainos. We experienced the first protest in complain of the treatment of the Tainos by the Spanish Crown. The new city of Santo Domingo was a victim many times of attacks by English pirates, notoriously the attacks led by Francis Drake. The French occupied the west side of the island, which today is the Republic of Haiti. As I experience and study the results of the mix and match of different people, united by historical events, many scenarios play in my imagination. I am constantly navigating between beauty and tragedy.

To create pieces that communicate this vision, I play with a variety of conceptual and formal strategies. I appropriate cultural forms and products, thereby transforming their historical and geographical references. I enjoy the duality of things, the different angles to any story or situation that create poignancy. This enjoyment has led me to incorporate contradictory elements in my pieces, for example, celebration and struggle, decoration, and desolation. I want these contradictions to create a tension that will fire up the imagination and take the viewer into my universe. The Baroque, as I perceive our America. An inclusive brew that combines the beautiful, the strange, the sacred, the cursed, all mixed to create a new and over-the-top conception of harmony.

In La Habana Biennial (2000), I presented a version of the mattresses’ installation, titled Sleep my little child from the series Paradise. Mixed media installation, each crib mattress; 63 x 41×6 inches. A total of nine beds and video. Pink child mattresses covered with plastic. Paradise/Paraíso deals with the designed conception of good and evil (from the same cradle). Their similarities in the sales of merchandise make it sound as important as perfect toys, turning many of its symbols into pieces of the puzzle of an old and, at the same time, contemporary industry. And in this state of circular, and studied confusion, almost a new version of dogma is returned. It is a constant reminder that what it seems is not necessarily what is.

The cinnamon figure is a constant in my work since 1996. Mixing all the colors in a palette is an inclusive action, the outcome of such activity is cinnamon color. The new race, represented by my ever-present cinnamon figure states the creation of a new aesthetic with new rules originated by the lush landscape, the transplantation, appropriation, and transformation of traditions. Also, the catholic iconography with my mixed- race warrior/angels is my way of colonizing the colonizers – by appropriating, transforming creating new icons. The Atlantic, this blue liquid road and profound obstacle provokes my imagination. The blue sea represents the way out and the frontier. It maps stories about freedom, slavery, and survival, it carries our DNA, and it’s an endless source of stories, evolving continuously, reminding us the fluidity of our identity, our collective memory. Resistance through beauty and joy.

Sleep my little Child, from series Paradise/Paraiso 1999-2000, mixed media installation, crib size 63 x 41×6 inches

Looking at Theories of Freedom, I am curious to learn more about the characters that inhabit the paintings. Are they specific people, historical figures, or icons? What are typically your resources in this series and how did you incorporate them in your process?

I was listening to a priest being interviewed on television about important monuments in the Caribbean. One of the places featured was The Cathedral of The Immaculate Conception in La Vega, Dominican Republic. The Cathedral was built in that location due to the discovery of gold in that area; interesting enough, it is believed to be the site for the first rites of baptism in the New World. The crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, the unplanned discovery of the American continent, the expectation of riches, the gold, and the presence of religion started to compose scenarios in my mind.

Based on these ideas, I developed a collection of “Objects of Freedom” to place within my floating paradise. I created a soft sculpture by stacking inner tubes dipped in gold (actually spray painted), resembling a floating altar and evoking universal migration stories. The inner tubes are tied together by electrical ties, sometimes very tightly, alluding to the pain and suffering of immigrants. The piece is pregnant with “Milagros” or prayers in different languages, alluding to the diversity of origins of those who are seeking out the journey toward paradise. The making of these pieces has taken me to my series, Theories on Freedom, which is based on my thoughts on the contemporary experience and understanding of freedom. I took my inspiration from the media and the ocean.

We are bombarded every day by news with specific political-philosophical agendas to a point that there is nothing to believe. Even inspiring stories become suspicious by the way they are marketed and then I let myself be enchanted, once again, by the sea. This blue liquid road and deep obstacle provokes my imagination. It represents the way out and the frontier, and maps stories about freedom and slavery. The color and the wonders hidden below the ocean’s surface are the sources of my stories. I wonder about what the ocean brings and what it takes, in the back and forth of the waves reaching the shore. I wonder about the sinking ships of different empires, about the lives lost at sea, about the reason for the journey, all those treasures. The finding of ocean routes that defined the world we live in, that gave life to the empire of our times. That is the past that informs our present.

For example, in the soft sculpture In my Floating World, Landscape of Paradise, I collected inner tubes in different sizes and in various shades of blue and bandaged the surface of some of these inner tubes with photographic images of the sea. I have drawn on them a variety of symbols from my visual repertoire that refer to the memory of the sea and then composed a floating landscape with these inner tubes, creating a randomly organic form connected by electrical ties, sometimes tied very tightly, suggesting the struggles hidden within the deep blue beauty. Also, each of the inner tubes carries an airport baggage tag that identifies the intended destination of the waves as New York, the contemporary promised land of the free.

View of the exhibition It’s so Sunny that is Dark @ Colgate University, 2017

Your colors are vibrant, and your shapes are bold and flowing, your drawing marks are energetic and expressive. You have a recognizable “hand” in painting. That creates a sense of intimacy with your work, rather than a sense of a more removed social criticism. Is this sense of intimacy important for you and how do you think it plays with your themes?

There is a physicality to drawing and painting; there is a performance element to it as well. The ideas always in flux, in transit, and on the verge of transformation. Every topic that fascinates me is embedded in fluidity — how I applied the painting, the energy of every brushstroke, the marks created on any surfaces in cohesion with the spirit and idea behind — the layers of thoughts in conversation with the medium, the materiality, the dimensions, the compositions.

What are you working on in your studio these days?

Currently, I am painting on paper a lot, preparing and giving shape to a new body of work. In my new series Reframing American, I seek to reveal forgotten histories that are essential to the understanding of America and the American experience today, informed by the past through storytelling, artifacts, artworks, and writings. I am interested to render how America has been visually depicted and understood by engaging ethnic, racial, and historical narratives and cultural encounters that continuously shape and reshape how we view, perceive, and color America. My new body of work on contemporary portraits and landscapes will include large scale paintings and drawings, sound, animation, installation, and performance/theater. My multidisciplinary artistic approach is in tune with the complex, multilayered, fluid, and mobile history of our America.

Liquid Highway, Roots of Civilization, 2015-18. Acrylic, Ink, Inflatable innertubes, suitcase tags, archival inkjet prints and plexiglass. Commissioned by BRIC @ 80 Dekalb

All Photography by William Vazquez.

Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email:

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