Teresita Fernández is a landscape artist—though the landscapes she makes are not the oil-painted canvases of European tradition, but monumental multi-media sculptures and installations which center the impacts of colonization. Caribbean Cosmos (2020) [pictured], for instance, is a swirling chiaroscuro of individual tesserae of glazed ceramic arranged in a vortex that recalls a weather system, suggesting that large systems are built up through the accretion of minute and individual phenomena. For Fernández, landscape is active, not passive—“place” being not only a noun, but also a verb—and landscapes are loci of histories of power, ownership, and conquest.
“Maelstrom” takes as its central landscape the Caribbean archipelago, the first point of European colonial contact in the Americas. Fernández draws on the history of the landscape not as a virgin wilderness prior to European settlement but rather a landscape tamed by indigenous populations through the application of traditional knowledge such as controlled burning. Because of this, Fernandez eschews store-bought media in favor of charcoal, wood, burlap: material haunted by place, fractured pieces of landscape itself. “Hurakán,” a twenty-piece mixed-media-on-wood series, connects the convention of giving Hurricanes female names to a history of destructive violence not by but on women, such as the extensive sterilization campaigns forced upon more than a third of Puerto Rican women between 1930 and 1970—as well as the recent revelations of continued forced sterilizations in ICE detention centers. Perhaps the centerpiece of the exhibition, the large-scale Rising (Lynched Land) (2020), consists of a giant palm hung from the double-height ceiling— un-rooted, suspended, but also uprising.
Teresita Fernández, Caribbean Cosmos, 2020. Glazed ceramic, 96 x 192 inches. Photo by Elisabeth Bernstein.