LIZANIA CRUZ: INFLUENTIAL SITES
Lizania Cruz often invites her audiences to reassess the rules. Whether assembling oral histories or orchestrating participatory happenings, the artist and designer uses her work to pry apart the glue of historical record, revealing the violent histories and willful erasures buried underneath.
With Influential Sites, Cruz extends her ongoing research into the ways in which Caribbean history has been written. Elements of her multi-pronged project, Investigation of the Dominican Racial Imaginary (2019–), fill the gallery with “evidence” of the whitewashing efforts of the Dominican state, which has long employed anti-Black and anti-Haitian rhetoric to erase centuries of multi-racial and working-class resistance to its pattern of authoritarianism and US-intervention.
Here, photographic and video documentation portrays Cruz in her role as lead investigator of this manipulated history, intent on teasing out the nuances of race and belonging within and beyond the country’s borders.
In Documentación Acción en Sevilla (2022), she visits the Spanish city to conduct research at the Archivo General de Indias, one of the world’s most significant repositories of Spanish colonial history. Standing in a plaza, Cruz queries passersby about remains of Christopher Columbus—the exact location of which remain a source of dispute between the former imperial power and DR, its old Caribbean colony.
She sports a uniform red, white, and blue office attire, parroting the nationalism of the Dominican flag. And with a clipboard in hand, Cruz invites audiences to join her interrogation of national myths via paper surveys, each replete with a government-esque seal of her own making (versions of which are available in the gallery).
This appropriation of the aesthetics and linguistic codes of the state courses through the exhibition. Take for example Cruz’s Cajas de Evidencia (2023), a mountainous stack of blue legal boxes that fills the gallery’s entryway, each labeled according to the sites of her research.
Like Warhol’s Brillo Boxes (1964), Cruz’s cajas employ the visual language of standard packaging—in this case, the design conventions associated with court systems—to invite viewers to reexamine just what makes something “official,” and thus, able to exert control over our lives and actions. They tower haphazardly, alluding to the overwhelming nature of bureaucracy.
In Testimonio: Franklin Wilmore (2023) and Evidencia 012: El Bamboulá (2022), Cruz brings history back down to eye-level, sitting with Dominican elders to trace the personal and communal implications of migration in Samaná. Examining one man’s family legacy and the rhythms of the titular Afro-Caribbean dance form, respectively, the videos highlight a key example of the intertwined histories of DR, Haiti, and the US: Samaná, the northeastern peninsula now considered part of DR, was once a beacon of freedom for enslaved African Americans, where they were invited to seek refuge during the years when the island was unified under Haiti’s abolitionist rule (1822–1844).
Likewise, Cruz’s renderings of historical figures such as Doña Bertilla, once dubbed the “queen” of El Bamboulá, and Richard Allen (founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first independent Black denomination in the US, which played a major role in steering African Americans to the island), attest to the voices long silenced by dominant historical narratives.
Here, and throughout Influential Sites, Cruz draws our attention to the false neutrality of “history,” by pointing to the gaps in its main source of proof: the archive. Yet like the banner that beckons viewers into the gallery, Cruz does us one better by urging us to fill in the gaps of history ourselves.
LIZANIA CRUZ: INFLUENTIAL SITES
PROXYCO Gallery, 121 Orchard Street, New York, NY
May 12th – July 8th, 2023
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