Art Basel OVR: Portals
June 16 – 19, 2021
David Castillo presents Unsettled Bodies on the occasion of Art Basel OVR: Portals, a two-person exhibition with paintings by artists Maria de los Angeles Rodríguez Jiménez and Yesiyu Zhao. The artists each created entirely new work for Art Basel OVR: Portals.
Unsettled Bodies considers the expanded, and often contested, territories of the body as an instrument that readily wears its circumstance and its difference. The exhibition brings together two artists whose cultural histories, and personal identities as immigrants in the United States, have come to shape the anatomies of their painting practices; the structures and subjects of their works fragment, extend, and swell beyond the limitations of the well-understood body, disobedient in their lack of desire to fit within the norms of the places they inhabit. The artists frame their practices in terms of embodying a self that is resolutely adaptable, precarious, and that does not belong to any one place; a body caught between two memories of itself there and here, as it once was and as it is now.
In her distinct approach to abstraction, Rodríguez Jiménez imbues her sculptural paintings with material contrasts and subjectivities that render them fleshy and human. These works are comprised of structures made of steel, rebar, fencing materials, or two-by-fours—sheathed in textile skins of silk, satin, suede, or canvas. These skins stretch and extend beyond their structures, appearing to lean, teeter, or bend in gestures that move beyond an understanding of painting as a two-dimensional form. The works present a body unable to contain itself. Rodríguez Jiménez’s story of migration as a Cuban exile, of leaving the island and settling in the United States, is central to this work. Her paintings, titled in Spanish with references to idiomatic expressions and Afro-Cuban religious practices, are quasi-autobiographical, serving as metaphors for her own body and identity; one with undefined borders that cannot be easily defined, understood, or categorized as either Cuban or American.
The surreal and symbolic language of Zhao’s paintings relay the artist’s experiences of living as a Chinese-born resident of the United States, contending with the artist’s immigrant status and feelings of never being fully accepted within a chosen home. In these works, caged bodies convey anxieties around societal expectations—that are enforced and imposed upon those who might be framed as Other—that can feel constraining and limiting; while bodies split between dry shelter and exposure to the elements communicate the sometimes unwelcoming nature of a place that has opened itself to those from outside its borders. The figures of Zhao’s paintings are humanized in intimate gestures that, in turn, give a deeper and more nuanced understanding of them as people who love, feel, and live as anyone does.
In their respective practices, Rodríguez Jiménez and Zhao effect the means through which bodies wear their displacement to communicate both individual circumstance—in the case of the artists’ personal narratives—as well as collective experience. These works each enter into broad dialogues with our current cultural and political time, echoing the rhetoric that has accompanied contemporary stories of moving beyond and between national borders. In many ways, Unsettled Bodies looks to universal threads shared between different migratory experiences, broaching the anxieties of living between two worlds, of existing in a culture that can be resistant to those from outside, and of inhabiting a body—and an identity—that cannot be easily settled.
Maria de los Angeles Rodríguez Jiménez (b. 1992, Holguín, Cuba) lives and works in New Haven, CT. She earned her MFA in Painting and Printmaking from Yale University (2020) and her BFA from Cooper Union (2015).
Yesiyu Zhao (b. 1991, Suichang, Zhejian Province, China) lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. The artist received a BFA from the School of Visual Arts (2018) and an MFA from SUNY Purchase College (2020).