Firelei Baez Named as 2020 ICA/Boston Watershed Artist

Following another successful season that wrapped up this month, the Institute of Contemporary Art’s (ICA) Watershed at the Boston Shipyard and Marinas in East Boston is already gearing up for next year.

This week the ICA announced that it has picked its resident artist for the Watershed’s 2020 season.

Firelei Baez was named as the 2020 Watershed artist and her largest sculpture to date will open the 2020 season in East Boston.

The ICA will open the 2020 season of the Watershed with a newly commissioned, monumental sculpture by acclaimed artist Firelei Baez, announced ICA Director Jill Medvedow.

Medvedow said Baez’s work is the artist’s largest sculptural installation to date. Baez’s work re-imagines ancient ruins as though the sea had receded from the Watershed floor to reveal the archeology of human history in the Caribbean.

“The Watershed’s location—in a working shipyard and as a trade site and point of entry and home for immigrants over decades—provides a pivotal point of reference for the work. Her installation will invite visitors to walk through passageways, travel through time, and experience the many streams of influence and interconnectedness that the artist conjures,” said Medvedow.

Báez was born in 1981 in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic, to a Dominican mother and a father of Haitian descent. Her upbringing between Hispaniola’s two countries, which have a longstanding history of tension predicated on ethnic differences, informs her concerns with the politics of place and heritage. She currently lives and works in New York City.

“Báez’s visual references draw from a wide variety of sources in the past, and are reconfigured to explore new possibilities in the present,” said Eva Respini who is organizing the installation. “Her site-specific installation at the Watershed combines her interests in various diasporic narratives—African, European, Caribbean—to cast cultural and regional histories into an imaginative realm,”

According to Respini, Báez’s architectural sculpture is adapted from the Sans-Souci Palace in Milot, Haiti, built between 1810 and 1813 for the revolutionary leader and first King of Haiti, Henri Christophe I. The Haitian Revolution, led by self-liberated enslaved people against the French colonial government, was an early precursor to the abolition movements of the United States. Once a space of militant splendor, since an 1842 earthquake, the castle has been an archeological ruin.

 At the Watershed, Báez reimagines these ruins emerging from Boston Harbor’s sea floor. She embeds Sans-Souci within the geological layers of Boston, where histories of revolution and independence are integral, including often overlooked related narratives from non-European locations.

“Báez’s intricately painted architectural surfaces include symbols of healing and resistance, as well as sea growths native to Caribbean waters,” said Medvedow. “The patterning of the sculpture’s surface is drawn largely from West African indigo printing appropriated from enslaved people in the 17th-century American South. American indigo was a driving force in the early national economy, and one of the primary trade goods shipped from colonial-era Boston.”

The sculpture will be on view May 24–Sept. 7, 2020 and is organized by Respini, Barbara Curator Lee Chief and Curatorial Project Manager Cara Kuball.

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