A constellation of material offering insight into the artist’s creative practice
On the occasion of her exhibition Maelstrom, Teresita Fernández offers us a glimpse into the preparation and research behind her most recent body of work in the form of a visual essay. Extensive research has always been central to Fernández’s creative practice, however, its scope and complexity is rarely made overt. What is included here comprises a fragment of Fernández’s conceptual inquiries related to this body of work, and provides an important window into the underlying element of social practice throughout her decades-long career.
Gathering together scholars, philosophers, and resources that include films, interviews, critical essays, and poems, Fernández shares insightful histories of the Caribbean, its people, and the colonial legacy it continues to endure. Organized thematically around the works featured in the exhibition―Rising(Lynched Land), Caribbean Cosmos, Black Beach(Unpolished Diamond), Hurakán, and Archipelago(Cervix)―this compendium seeks to offer resources for anyone who wishes to cultivate a richer understanding of the artworks in Maelstrom and/or learn more about the often overlooked histories of the Caribbean and its diaspora.
“The first thing I do when I start a new work is I ask this very simple question, ‘Where am I?’ I take that question very seriously. So, in a way, I start excavating and researching where I am historically, economically, socially, racially, geographically, visually, emotionally, physically—where exactly is this site located? Not just physically, but in people’s imaginations and in history and in the entire context of place. And I use the word ‘place’ as both a noun and a verb, in the sense that we ‘place’ ourselves within places as a deliberate and critical gesture towards decolonizing our minds.” — Teresita Fernández
Fernández’s exhibition features a series of monumental sculptures and installations that visualize the enduring violence and devastation ignited by colonization. Focusing on the Caribbean, the first point of colonial contact in the Americas, the artist challenges us to consider a more nuanced reading of people and place, one that looks beyond dominant, continental narratives and instead considers the region as emblematic of an expansive and decentralized state of mind.
“The legacies of slavery, imperialism, and historical responses to it are, in the Caribbean, immediately evident in all the ‘weightier’ concepts we associate with modernity: notions of citizenship, individual freedom, collective liberation, and nation. Caribbean history is not merely about the ‘colonial origins of poverty’; it addresses the most fundamental questions of who we are, what we believe, and how we got that way.”
— Lillian Guerra, “Why Caribbean History Matters,” March 2014, Perspectives on History
LEARN MORE ABOUT CARIBBEAN HISTORY AND COLONIALISM
Why Caribbean History Matters
In this essay for Perspectives on History, the newsmagazine of the American Historical Association, scholar and author Lillian Guerra, Ph.D. emphasizes the importance of Caribbean history and its essential role in understanding the legacies of slavery and imperialism, as well as modern notions of citizenship, individual freedom, collective liberation, and nationhood.
Notebook of a Return to Native Land
Martinican poet Aimé Césaire’s critically acclaimed essay-length poem marks the beginning of his quest for Négritude. Through his unique emphasis on rhythm, unusual juxtapositions of object and metaphor, and manipulation of language into puns and neologisms, Césaire poetically articulates the powerful and overlooked aspects of Black culture.
Tessa McWatt Reads Metaphors of Underdevelopment: A Proem for Hernan Cortez
Novelist and writer Tessa McWatt reads poet Kamau Brathwaite’s Metaphors of Underdevelopment: A Proem for Hernan Cortez (1985) on the occasion of Brathwaite’s 90th birthday.
Asmarina: Discussion with Angela Davis, Medhin Paolos, and Lorgia García Peña
In this video, Angela Davis, Medhin Paolos, and Lorgia Garcia discuss Asmarina, a documentary film that focuses on the relationship between colonialism and diaspora by bringing to light Italian postcolonial heritage and its effects on the present-day place of Italians of color, immigrants, and refugees.
By evoking the generative forces of nature, Fernández implements a redemptive quality that counters reductive and exoticized clichés of a region often vulgarly associated with tropical paradise and leisure. Rising(Lynched Land) embodies the gravitas of violence and aftermath of destruction while also evoking a dignified, metaphorical rising. Composed of scorched wood and weathered patinated copper, Rising(Lynched Land) anthropomorphizes the landscape by transforming the natural resources of vegetation and minerals into a suspended body that ascends, uprooted from the ground.
An important aspect of Fernández’s research has focused on the exploitation of communities (particularly in the Caribbean) immediately following natural disasters. There has been significant scholarship around what is commonly known as disaster capitalism, the leveraging of a national crisis or natural disaster to push controversial and questionable policies on citizens and local governments too distracted to resist effectively. Disaster capitalism has been common practice in areas like the Caribbean that suffer yearly devastation due to hurricanes and flooding.
This film by Cuban filmmaker Santiago Álvarez features documentary footage of the destruction, rescue, and restoration efforts in a rural community in Cuba due to the devastation of hurricane Flora in October 1963.
LEARN MORE ABOUT DISASTER CAPITALISM
There’s Nothing Natural About Puerto Rico’s Disaster
In this article for The Intercept, journalist, author, and activist Naomi Klein honors the victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico by exposing the corruption and violence of disaster capitalism in the region.
Aftershocks of Disaster
In this documentary film, directed by Juan Carlos Dávila and Yarimar Bonilla (co-editor of the book Aftershocks of Disaster: Puerto Rico Before and After the Storm), Bonilla travels through Puerto Rico to interview several of the book’s contributors to explore the ongoing "aftershocks" experienced by Puerto Ricans in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which include state failure, social abandonment, and disaster capitalism, as well as the rise of new political imaginaries.
The Coloniality of Power and Metaphysical Catastrophe
In this final interview for the Antirasistiska Akademin (ARA) series, Adrián Groglopo and philosopher and educator Nelson Maldonado-Torres discuss what makes modern Western colonialism incomparable to earlier forms of domination and imperial expansion, what consequences colonialism has today, and how decoloniality can reconstitute human relationships. This video offers a rich account of the links between Western modernity and coloniality, as well as a generative view of decoloniality as an attitude and as an unfinished project.
In Caribbean Cosmos, a 16-foot-long glazed ceramic panel composed of hundreds of thousands of tiny, richly saturated tesserae, Fernández creates what looks like a distorted aerial view of stirring vortexes over the Caribbean. The image can be read as both nature/landscape and infinite cosmos, inviting a comprehensive look at the connection between catastrophic weather events and our own biological rhythms, intrinsically tied to the flow of the universe.
“Place is an entirely social construction, almost always attached to narratives of power and dominance. It’s why people with no claim to land are usually thought of as also being without history. We are often complicit in making concealment happen just as much as we are able to reveal hidden narratives when we scratch the surface. Erasure is always a deliberate act.”
— Teresita Fernández, Elemental, 2019
BLACK BEACH(UNPOLISHED DIAMOND)
This series consists of three large panels composed of meticulously elaborated charcoal and wood reliefs on a reflective mirrored surface, built into complex, intertwining layers of material and linear networks. The composition of each panel seems to unravel in chaos reminiscent of natural formations, entangled palm trees, and beach debris, all presented in a baroque mélange of churning forms.
In Black Beach(Unpolished Diamond), Fernández invites us to consider our relationship to the landscape and to become critical witnesses to the chaos of history, the present, and the systems of violence that often render the land and its people both mute and invisible.
The title of this series is inspired by Caribbean writer, poet, philosopher, and literary critic Édouard Glissant’s essay “The Black Beach” (from his iconic book Poetics of Relation), in which Glissant describes Le Diamant, a beach in southern Martinique, as having a “subterranean, cyclical life.” In his analysis of “The Black Beach,” AbdouMaliq Simone characterizes Le Diamant as “ever-swirling landscape of volcanic sediment and colored sands, indiscernible winds, falling rock and trees, and seemingly interminable backwash—a volatile, heaving place part of neither sea nor land.” Through his depiction of Le Diamant, Simone suggests that Glissant asks us to imagine a space “between subjugation and its refusal,” one that is as ambiguous as the black beach, existing between island and ocean—between “here and there.”
“As the viewer walks in front of the piece, it’s a mutable, reflective surface that changes in front of your eyes, and it shifts in response to your presence moving in front of it. Even though I don’t represent any figures in the work there is always that sense of the viewer participating in the work, much like a figure in the landscape in traditional painting, where you’re constantly looking for yourself and finding your own reflection superimposed on the image of the artwork.”
— Teresita Fernández
Hurakán is an immersive installation that references the systemic exploitation of women and their bodies particular to the Caribbean region. The title of the series, Hurakán, is an indigenous Taíno word for “god of the storm,” a term that was adopted by Spanish colonizers to refer to the seasonal storms specific to the region. In 1953, the United States began using female names to identify storms. In this series, each work bears the name of a historic hurricane as its subtitle, e.g. Hurakán(Maria), Hurakán(Paloma), Hurakán (Nana), and Hurakán(Flora).
Fernández makes pointed reference to both the use of women’s names for catastrophic weather events and the history of violence against Puerto Rican women, who were unknowingly used to test and develop the birth control pill under the support of Margaret Sanger. Paradoxically, Margaret Sanger is celebrated in the United States as a feminist who helped liberate American women to take control of their reproductive rights, even while being connected to the practice of eugenics.
Since the 1950s, Puerto Rico (the oldest existing colony) has been used as an island laboratory for the U.S. eugenics movement, which was developed to control the growth of “unwanted” populations and fast track FDA approval for human testing of experimental drugs, including many forms of contraception. Tests and procedures (including sterilization) were performed on victims who were often unaware, uninformed, and powerless against the physicians who were charged with “treating” them. Between 1930–1970, one third of Puerto Rican women were sterilized.
This 1982 documentary film, La Operación by Ana María García, exposes the widespread sterilization operation led by the United States during the 1950s and 60s in Puerto Rico. Produced by the Latin American Film Project.
By conflating the early practice of naming destructive hurricanes after women with invasive and traumatic experimental involuntary medical procedures, Fernández poetically draws a connection between the unspoken abuse inflicted on both the land and on women’s bodies. Archipelago(Cervix), a wall sculpture made of solid charcoal composed from the shapes of the Caribbean archipelago, resembles a portal, or cervix. This work directly alludes to the female body and the reproductive violence women of the region have endured at the hands of imperial power—a legacy that continues to this day in U.S. immigration detention centers.
LEARN MORE ABOUT EUGENICS IN PUERTO RICO
In Puerto Rico, A History of Colonization Led to an Atrocious Lack of Reproductive Freedom
This article by journalist and editor Racquel Reichard offers an analysis of how colonization led to the practice of eugenics-based sterilization in Puerto Rico.
Annotated Bibliography on Sterilization of Puerto Rican Women
This bibliography by Florita Z. Louis de Malave features a brief overview and extensive bibliography on the history of sterilization of women in Puerto Rico.
In an effort to counter the common erasure of diverse voices, Fernández shares visibility here by acknowledging the people whose scholarship, counsel, and contributions in their respective fields provided vital resources for the creation of this site.
FERNÁNDEZ STUDIO TEAM
Chelsea Ramirez, Studio Manager, is a visual artist based in Brooklyn, New York. Instagram: @chelsearamire.z
Maya Ortiz Saucedo is a visual artist, curator, and researcher based in Brooklyn, New York. Instagram: @mayaortizsau
SCHOLARS AND AUTHORS
Linda Martín Alcoff, Ph.D. is a philosopher, theorist, and educator specializing in the philosophy of race and decolonial theory. She is the president of the Board of Directors of Hypatia, Inc., and has published several books including Visible Identities: Race, Gender of the Self (Oxford University Press, 2006) and Rape and Resistance (Polity, 2018). She is currently a professor of Philosophy at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
Santiago Álvarez (1919-1998) was a Cuban filmmaker, known for his documentation of Cuban and American culture throughout the 1950s and 60s. He was a founding member of the Cuban Film Institute. Some of his best-known works include Ciclón (1963), Now (1964), and Mi Hermano Fidel (1977).
Dr. Yarimar Bonilla is a political anthropologist, columnist, and author specializing in Caribbean and Latinx Politics. She is a columnist for the Puerto Rican newspaper, El Nuevo Día and the co-editor of the recently released book Aftershocks of Disaster: Puerto Rico Before and After the Storm (Haymarket Books, 2019). She is the director of the Puerto Rican Syllabus Project and currently a professor in the Department of Africana, Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at Hunter College, New York and in Anthropology at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York.
Kamau Brathwaite, Ph.D. (1930-2020) was a Barbadian poet, scholar, and educator who co-founded the Caribbean Artists Movement. He authored several prominent writings in the Caribbean literary canon, including, The Arrivants: A New World Trilogy (Oxford University Press, 1973), Our Ancestral Heritage: A Bibliography of the Roots of Culture in the English-speaking Caribbean (Kingston Carifesta Literary Committee, 1976), and Barbados Poetry: A Checklist: Slavery to the Present (Savacou Publications, 1979).
Ginetta Candelario, Ph.D. is a sociologist, author, and educator whose work includes research on Dominican history and Caribbean and Latina feminisms. She has published several articles and is the author of the book Black behind the Ears: Dominican Racial Identity from Museums to Beauty Shops (Duke University Press, 2007). She is a professor of Sociology and Latin American and Latino/a Studies at Smith College.
Aimé Césaire (1913-2008) was a Martinican poet, playwright, and politician who co-founded the Négritude movement. He remains one of the most influential authors working in Caribbean Literature and is best known for “Discours sur le colonialisme (Discourse of Colonialism),” (1955) and Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (Notebook of a Return to My Native Land) (1939).
Arlene Dávila, Ph.D. is an anthropologist, educator, and author whose work studies the local, national, and global dynamics of U.S. Latinx and Latin American cultural politics. She is the founder of The Latinx Project at NYU and author of Latinx Art: Artists, Markets and Politics (Duke University Press, 2020). She is currently a professor of Anthropology and American Studies at New York University.
Juan Carlos Dávila is a documentary filmmaker and multimedia journalist. He is currently a correspondent for Democracy Now! and an Artist-in-Residence at Agitarte. He has pursued numerous creative projects, including the book Aftershocks of Disaster (Haymarket Books, 2019), co-authored with Yarimar Bonilla, and the film Vieques: una batalla inconclusa (2016), which he directed.
Angela Davis, Ph.D. is a renowned political activist, philosopher, and author. She is the founder of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and co-founder of Critical Resistance. She has authored several influential writings, including, If They Come in the Morning: Voices of Resistance (Third Press, 1971); Are Prisons Obsolete? (Seven Stories Press, 2003); and Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of Movement (Haymarket Books, 2015).
Ana María Dopico, Ph.D. is a scholar, author, and educator, specializing in topics including Comparative Literature of the Americas, Cuban and Caribbean Culture, and U.S. Latino Studies. She is currently the director of the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics and an associate professor at New York University.
Sherina Feliciano-Santos, Ph.D. is an anthropologist and educator, researching topics including linguistic anthropology, social activism, and correlations between language and race. She has published articles such as How do you speak Taíno? Indigenous activism and linguistic practices in Puerto Rico (Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 2017) and Negotiating Ethnoracial Configurations among Puerto Rican Taíno Activists (Ethnic and Racial Studies, 2019). She is currently a professor of Anthropology at the University of South Carolina with affiliations with the Linguistics Program, the Rule of Law Collaborative, and the Latin American Studies Program.
Fernando Ortiz Fernández (1881-1969) was a Cuban essayist, anthropologist, and scholar. He was the co-founder of the Cuban Academy of Language and founder of the Sociedad de Estudios Afrocubanos (Society of Afro-Cuban Studies) and the journal Estudios Afrocubanos (Afro-Cuban Studies). He wrote several novels and essay collections, including, El huracán, su mitología y sus símbolos (The Hurricane: Mythology and Symbolism), (México, Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1947), Historia de una pelea contra los demonios (History of a Cuban Struggle Against Demons) (University of Santa Clara city: Universidad Central de Las Villas, 1959), and El engaño de la raza (The Deceit of Races) (Editorial Páginas [Arrow Press, Inc.], 1945).
Yomaira Figueroa, Ph.D. is an author, scholar, and educator whose work focuses on 20th century Latinx, Caribbean, and Afro-Latinx culture and literature. She has published several articles including Reparation as transformation: Radical literary (re)imaginings of futurities through decolonial love (Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society Vol. 4, No. 1) and is the author of the recent book Decolonizing Diasporas: Radical Mappings of Afro-Atlantic Literature (Northwestern University Press, 2020). She is a professor in the Department of English at Michigan State University, where she co-founded the Women of Color Initiatives Project.
Ana María García is a filmmaker, producer, and writer. She is best known for directing the short documentary film, La Operación (1981) as well as the documentaries Corales para siempre (1991) and Cocolos y Rockeros (1992).
Paul Gilroy is a historian, writer, and theorist whose work explores theories of race and racism. He is the author of several influential books, including The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (Harvard University Press, 1993), Postcolonial Melancholia (Columbia University Press, 2005) and co-author of The Empire Strikes Back: Race and Racism in 1970s Britain (Routledge, 1982). He is a professor of Humanities at University College London, where he is also the founding director of the Sarah Parker Remond Center for the Study of Racism and Racialisation.
Édouard Glissant, Ph.D. (1928-2011) was a Martinican poet, novelist, and philosopher. One of the most influential voices in Caribbean literature, philosophy, and discourse, his most well-known writings include Poétique de la relation (Poetics of Relation) (University of Michigan Press,1997), Le discours antillais (Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays) (University Press of Virginia, 1989), and Les Indes (The Indies) (Falaize, 1956).
Juan González is a broadcast journalist, author, and investigative reporter focusing on several critical topics including Latino communities in the United States, Puerto Rico-US relations, and federal mass communications policy. He is the co-host of Democracy Now! and is one of the founders of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. González is also the author of Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America (Penguin, 2012) and is currently a professor of Communications and Public Policy and professor of Professional Practice, Journalism and Media Studies at the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University.
Lillian Guerra, Ph.D. is a scholar and author whose work focuses on Caribbean history and culture. She is the author of several books and creative writings, including Popular Expression and National Identity in Puerto Rico (University Press of Florida, 1988) and Visions of Power in Cuba: Revolution, Redemption and Resistance, 1959–1971 (University of North Carolina Press, 2012). She is currently a professor of Cuban and Caribbean History at the University of Florida.
Naomi Klein is a journalist, author, and activist focusing on analysis and criticism of globalization and capitalism. She is a senior correspondent at The Intercept and the author of several well-known books, including The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (Random House, 2007) and The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes on The Disaster Capitalists (Random House, 2018). She is currently the Gloria Steinem Endowed Chair in Media, Culture and Feminist Studies at Rutgers University.
Marisol LeBron, Ph.D. is an interdisciplinary scholar, author, and educator whose work focuses on social inequality, policing, violence, and protest. She is the co-editor of the book Aftershocks of Disaster: Puerto Rico Before and After the Storm (Haymarket Books, 2019) with Yarimar Bonilla, and author of Policing Life and Death: Race, Violence, and Resistance in Puerto Rico (University of California Press, 2019). She is also the co-creator of the Puerto Rican Syllabus Project. LeBron is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.
Natasha Lightfoot, Ph.D. is a historian, author, and educator specializing in Caribbean, Atlantic World and African Diaspora history. She is an executive board member of the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora and has published several articles including A Transnational Sense of Home: Twentieth Century West Indian Immigration and Institution Building in the Bronx (Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, Vol. 33, Issue 2) and is the author of the book Troubling Freedom: Antigua and the Aftermath of British Emancipation (Duke University Press, 2015). She is an associate professor in the Department of History at Columbia University.
Becky Little is a journalist based in Washington, D.C. She has written for several notable publications including The Washington Post, National Public Radio, and National Geographic.
Dr. Iris Lopez is a sociologist, author, and educator, specializing in the research of the Puerto Rican diaspora and sterilization abuse. She is the author of several books, includings Matters of Choice: Puerto Rican Women’s Struggle of Reproductive Freedom (Rutgers University Press, 2008) and co-author of Telling To Live: Latina Feminist Testimonios (Duke University Press, 2001). She is a professor of Sociology and the Director of the Program in Latin American and Latin@ Studies at The City College of New York.
Nelson Maldonado-Torres, Ph.D. is a philosopher and educator whose work focuses on decolonial theory and philosophy. He is the author of “Thinking Through the Decolonial Turn: Post-continental Interventions in Theory, Philosophy, and Critique” (Transmodernity: Journal of Peripheral Cultural Production of the Luso-Hispanic World. Vol. 1, Issue, 2; Vol. 1, Issue 3) and is currently an associate professor in the Department of Latino Caribbean Studies and the Program of Comparative Studies at Rutgers University.
Mariana Ortega, Ph.D. is a philosopher, author, and educator specializing in Latina feminisms and the philosophy of race. She is the author of In-Between: Latina Feminist Phenomenology, Multiplicity and the Self (SELF, 2016) and co-editor of Theories of the Flesh, Latinx and Latin American Femenisms, Transformation and Resistance (Oxford University Press, 2019). Ortega is the founder and director of the Latina/x Feminisms Roundtable, and is currently an associate professor of Philosophy and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at the Penn State College of Liberal Arts.
Medhin Paolos is a filmmaker, photographer, musician, and activist. She is a former member of the music group Fiamma Fumana and co-founder of the Milano chapter of Rete G2 (Second Generation Network). She is best known for her debut film Asmarina (2015), co-directed with Alan Maglio.
Lorgia García Peña, Ph.D. is a scholar and educator specializing in Hispanic and Caribbean literatures, focusing on Latinx studies and Dominican and Dominican diaspora studies. She is the author of The Borders of Dominicanidad: Race, Nations and Archives of Contradictions (Duke University Press, 2016) and is currently an associate professor of Romance Language and Literature and History of Literature at Harvard University.
Raquel Reichard is a journalist, editor, and digital media consultant focusing on the topics of Latinx culture, politics, and identity. Her work has appeared in several prominent publications, including The New York Times, The Independent, and Remezcla. In 2019 she was awarded a grant to report on the state of reproductive health care and abortion access in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria in 2017.
Gina Athena Ulysse Ph.D. is an interdisciplinary artist, anthropologist, educator, and activist whose research centers around the intersections of geopolitics, historical representations, and the Black diaspora. She is the author of works including Downtown Ladies: Informal Commercial Importers, A Hatian Anthropologist, and Self-Making in Jamaica (University of Chicago Press, 2007) and Why Haiti Needs New Narratives: A Post-Quake Chronicle (Wesleyan University Press, 2015). Ulysse is a professor of Feminist Studies at the University of California-Santa Cruz.
Rocío Zambrana, Ph.D. is a philosopher, educator, and author specializing in decolonial thought and Latinx and Caribbean feminism. She is the author of Hegel’s Theory of Intelligibility (The University of Chicago Press, 2015) and an upcoming project titled Colonial Debts: The Case of Puerto Rico (Duke University Press, 2021). She is an associate professor in the Department of Philosophy at the Emory College of Arts and Sciences.
Teresita Fernández (b. 1968, Miami; lives in New York) is a conceptual artist best known for her immersive, sensuous sculptures and monumental public art. Her work is characterized by an interest in perception and the psychology of looking, and her large-scale works are often inspired by a rethinking of landscape and place, as well as by diverse historical and cultural references. Often referencing the natural world, Fernández’s conceptual practice emphasizes the connection between place and material; using gold, graphite, iron-ore and other minerals that have loaded historical ties to colonization and the violence embedded in landscape. Her work is characterized by a quiet unraveling of place, power, visibility, and erasure that prompts an intimate experience for individual viewers.
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