The works of six contemporary Dominican women artists are now displayed at what is one of the few Black-owned galleries in the city: the Jenkins Johnson Gallery in Prospect Lefferts Gardens. The show, titled De Lo Mío (an affectionate phrase among Dominicans that one might use for a good friend) explores Blackness throughout the diaspora using naked women, domestic spaces, religious iconography, and blends of painted memories.
Curator Tiffany Alfonseca said she started the project because she felt that Dominican Afro-Latino and Black people are all but ignored — “Everyone in the art world is pretty much white, and some of them don’t even want to hear about your different culture. They are like, ‘I don’t care; they are all the same to me,’” she said.
Alfonseca is also an artist, and her work appears in the show. She uses Pop art hues of greens, pinks and blues to create everyday, comforting backdrops: there might be Mickey Mouse stickers stuck on the pantry in the kitchen, mismatched flower curtains, or a clothesline hung with tourist t-shirts that somehow wound up in the hands of people who live in the DR. It’s a visual language that speaks to a wide swath of Latino culture.
But Alfonseca’s paintings also celebrate the dark-skinned individuals at the center of her work. Black hair texture on her canvases is made with paint mixed with glitter; a young girl is adorned with little sparkly gold hoops; and the women she depicts cooking or doing laundry alone are placed in front of light-catching blues and yellows, giving them an aura of solitary wisdom.
She says that because she’s a light-skinned Afro-Dominican, focusing on darker-skinned Afro-Dominicans is a political choice -- one that vibrantly declares “Latinidad is not a monolith. It includes Black people.”
Alfonseca’s work is sometimes categorized as African-American art, and she says, that’s the problem — “Just putting everyone in one category is super problematic, and it is also really lazy.”
Her approach is to offset that by including in this show artists who began in the same place culturally, but ended with a wide variety of viewpoints. They include Bianca Nemelc, Monica Hernandez, Uzumaki Cepeda, and Veronica Fernandez.
Another is Joiri Minaya, a multimedia artist who also focuses on black bodies but situates them in a historical context. She uses images of women from postcards she's found from around the Caribbean and then blends them with ethnographic photos from the late 1800s.
One work is a postcard portrait of a woman with a giant red flower over her ear. But her skin and eyes have been cut out and her body is filled in by a black and white photo of Black sugarcane workers. She said it’s “more about the historic conditions of the Black laboring body . . . here is a continuity there that people are not thinking about.”
Minaya’s work is meant to challenge the perceptions of white audiences, or those outside of their culture. For example, she contextualizes the tourism industry by spotlighting the Black human cost of vacationing at resorts in the Dominican Republic.
“A lot of the ways the global north thinks about the Caribbean has to do with leisure and entertainment and relaxing and having a good time..but all of these things are maintained by these bodies,” said Minaya.
Alfonseca hopes that all these works juxtaposed together will lead to a deeper conversation about race in the Dominican diaspora -- which gets more complicated if audiences take into consideration the Dominican Republic’s relationship with Haiti.
“It’s not that everything is about race, but at this point, it kinda has to be sometimes,” said Alfonseca.