Joiri Minaya experiments with an empowering remedy for Dominican women subjected to the longue durée of the colonial gaze. To locate and instill agency, she mines disparate archives — Google image searches, ethnographic documentation, tourist postcards — uncovering and appropriating hyper-sexualized representations.
In digital collages such as “Continuum” (2020) — on view in her latest exhibition at Baxter Street at the Camera Club of New York — Minaya imposes Google image search results of Dominican women, often in highly eroticized poses, onto historic photographs taken by colonial ethnographers. Weaving historic and contemporary images, she remixes and collages snippets of postcards sold in tourist shops in Santo Domingo, then slips them back into shops throughout the city, covertly intervening into the circulation of images designed for consumption.
Placing her own body within the frame, Minaya creates and wears brightly patterned bodysuits sewn so as to force the wearer into a particular pose, transforming them into an odalisque or a siren. These loud and colorful suits are worn in self-portraits, captured in convincing yet artificial natural environments. Such picturesque tropical landscapes parallel the exoticization of Dominican women — a social fabrication that exists in tandem with the presentation of (un)natural tropical landscapes designed to uphold a colonial vision of Caribbean authenticity.
Tensions — of beauty, desire, fact and fantasy, agency, and stereotypes — are further exemplified in works such as “Ayoowiri / Girl with poinciana flowers” (2020). These beautiful orange flowers, native to the Caribbean, carry a historical legacy: once used as abortifacients by enslaved women, they offered resistance to a plantation economy that depended on their reproductive labor.
In Minaya’s creative practice, Dominican women refuse to be confined by a dominant gaze. With its provocative title, I’m here to entertain you, but only during my shift exerts Minaya’s demand for a visual politic that flirts with beauty, ecology, and the desire to be seen, without capitulating to the pull of exoticization.
I’m here to entertain you, but only during my shift continues through September 30 at Baxter Street at the Camera Club of New York (126 Baxter Street, Chinatown, Manhattan). The exhibition was curated by Corrine Y. Gordon.
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Author: Alexandra M. Thomas