By reappropriating the stereotypes thrust upon herself, artist Joiri Minaya explores — and upends — what it means to be Caribbean, but more specifically what it means to be a Dominican woman.
“My work is a reassertion of Self, an exercise of unlearning, decolonizing and exorcizing imposed histories, cultures and ideas,” Minaya declares.
Joiri Minaya, who was born in New York and grew up in the Dominican Republic, explores matters of identity through collages, installations, performances and photographs. Aware of the gaps between what is real and what is perceived, Minaya attempts to fill them in with a dose of reality and playfulness.
Interested in art from a very young age, Minaya attended afterschool painting classes before studying at the Escuela Nacional de Artes Visuales of Santo Domingo and the Altos de Chavón School of Design, and later graduated from Parsons the New School for Design.
Although she now lives and works in the United States, Minaya has been involved in several projects in the Dominican Republic, with some of her works becoming part of the collection of the Museo de Arte Moderno.
One of her first pieces is titled Siboney. Both a painting and a performance, Siboney was inspired by a piece of fabric with a so-called tropical pattern. Recorded in video, the first part of the performance documents the process of painting the pattern onto a museum wall — which took about a month — with subtitles that discuss the ideas behind the work.
“Particularly thinking of the archetype of the mulata within the Caribbean and the stereotypes and ideas that are projected onto this brown body and how it’s paired with representations of landscapes, which is a theme that I go back to a lot,” Minaya explains, calling attention to her interest in Gender Equality, one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
The second part of the video features Minaya, drenched, dancing against the painting while the song “Siboney” by Connie Francis plays in the background — emanating an almost private sensuality that serves no other purpose but her own enjoyment.
While working on Siboney, Minaya had the idea of searching for images of Dominican women on Google. “I was thinking of like, how do we present ourselves to the outside world?” she remarked.
Creating collages out of the found pictures, mixing body parts, blending bodies with landscapes or covering the bodies with tropical patterns, Minaya printed out actual postcards that she would leave in gift shops when she traveled to the Dominican Republic.
This experiment led to a project titled #dominicanwomengooglesearch which features about 80 cut-out images of body parts hanging from the ceiling. “Thinking of the idea of recombining these body parts but not in a static way, but in a way where they are freely moving, creating new bodies and deconstructing them,” Minaya explains.
The postcards also inspired another body of work titled Containers. Instead of digitally altering pictures, Minaya recreated the poses in these postcards while wearing bodysuits she sewed herself, modeling in natural-looking landscapes at parks or hotels.
Both a performance and a set of photographs, Minaya reflected on the performativity of the tropical identity and the idea of a constructed landscape imitating nature — the artificialness and discomfort of the recreations echoing those in the original pictures.
In Siboney, while painting, the artist lays on her side and turns to look at us. The quote “I’ve seen the way you look at me, but I’m not here for you” appears on the screen. The works of Joiri Minaya remind us not to believe the expectations — those based on looks, on origins, on gender, which not only limit the way others see us, but the way we see ourselves.