For Firelei Báez, painting is a method of giving form to memory, evincing the idea that presence is not negated by passing. In her work, mark-making is an entry-point for personal, embodied engagement with Afro-diasporic cultural re-memory—a means of situating subjugated personal memory and experience in dialogue with narratives of the Western tradition.
In Muzidi Calabi Yau Space (or a matter of navigation), Báez continues her exploration of the Afro-futurist Drexciya myth. The myth, which was developed by the Detroit-based electronic music duo of the same name, conceives of the existence of an underwater nation populated by a new generation of water-breathing humans whose pregnant mothers were thrown off of slave ships during the Middle Passage.
As a means of protection for her figures as they travel through space or the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, as they appear to do in the present work – Báez endows her painting with a talismanic quality. Muzidi, which are also referenced in the title, are reliquary depictions of ancestral spirits. These fabricated spiritual containers provide a means for the dead to remain eternally active in the lives of their descendants, creating a link between the past and present.
In Muzidi Calabi Yau Space (or a matter of navigation), Báez re-imagines the horror of the Middle Passage with care and compassion. The presence of the ocean is tangible and impactful as the viewer becomes immersed and taken in by the tremendous scale of Báez's diptych. Areas of Báez's swirling, fantastical canvases are encrusted with salt crystals and barnacles, anemones, and bursts of seafoam cling to the bodies of sea-dwelling women and they glide. It is only a matter of navigation that leads them to safety and security in Báez’s mythos.
Currently on view at the 59th International Venice Biennale, The Milk of Dreams, curated by Cecilia Alemani, Muzidi Calabi Yau Space (or a matter of navigation) is accompanied by an ambient audio soundtrack composed by Tina Tallon and Rob Walker.