I source Afro-syncretic religious traditions found in the Dominican and Haitian African diasporic communities, such as Vodou and Santeria, to conceptualize wearable art and costume pieces. These are activated when worn by people whom I imagine to possess the characteristics of specific deities. My artistic practice is a commentary on the existence of a new Black culture generated from the New World, focusing on orishas and loas.
My work is concerned with the social and political tactics of identity formation and the dispute of women’s roles in historical references. I am encouraged by the endurance to thrive as an Afro-Latinx individual raised within the Caribbean and the United States Black experiences. I create in response to my Afro-Dominican roots and circumstances, unearthing the unknown, the women in my family, the connection between the people and the land, African and native rituals, Afro-syncretic religions, feminine and masculine roles. I am engaged in active debate with history and the inequity within the archives.
Bronx-born, curator and interdisciplinary artist Yelaine Rodriguez received a BFA from The New School (2013), and her Masters from NYU (2021). Rodriguez's curatorial portfolio includes Afro Syncretic at NYU (2019), Resistance, Roots, and Truth at the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (2018) and (under)REPRESENT(ed) (2017) at The New School. Rodriguez participated in the Bronx Museum of the Art's AIM Fellowship Program (2020), The Latinx Project Curatorial Fellowship (2019), Wave Hill Van Lier Fellowship (2018), and ICA Fellowship from the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (2017). She has exhibited at the American Museum of Natural History, Rush Art Gallery, El Centro Cultural de España, and Centro León Biennial.
Images courtesy the artist.
Interview questions developed by 2020 Curatorial Intern Niu Niu Zhang.
Shango: We were here because you were there
Costume and Concept: Yelaine Rodriguez
Photography: Melanie Gonzalez
Q&A with Yelaine Rodriguez
In your opinion, what role does art play in 2020 amidst the events of the past year?
Art has always been a revolutionary, rebellious, and healing ritual in my life. Utilizing my platform to address social and political issues, cultural inequity, and representation within African diasporic communities is fundamental in my artistic practice. In 2020 those same sentiments are heightened and strengthened as we, as content creators, witness and experience injustice blatantly put forth by the current administration and police violence against our communities.
Afro-syncretism and tradition appear to inform your artistic practices, and it is wonderful that these concepts are developed through fashion and costume. What do you think are the unique opportunities of working in fashion and costume as opposed to other mediums?
Coco Chanel said, 'look for the woman in the dress. If there is no woman, there is no dress.' I took that quote and re-applied within my art practice. I create wearable art with a specific wearer in mind, who elevates and brings to life each costume. It is a collaboration between artists. Working with fashion allows for the opportunity of interpretation by the wearer, which I believe enriches the work. It is about the woman as much as it is about the dress. And I love creating an environment that makes Black womxn feel seen and beautiful. Black womxn are historically erased from high couture even though they are often the source of inspiration.
What are the distinctions between your work as a curator versus your practice as an artist? What questions are you asking yourself as you approach each one?
I do not see distinctions between my work as a curator versus my art practice. What informs my curatorial and artistic practice are one and the same. I want to create work that empowers African diasporic communities as much as I want to create exhibitions that mirrors that sentiment. The themes I explore of Afro-Latinidad, rituals, social and political struggles in my art practice are the same themes I want to address when I curate art.
When I am working towards an artistic or curatorial project I ask myself how can I bring the African diaspora together? How can I create an experience that celebrates our collective histories and cultures? And how can I educate the public that has been miss informed about my people because of racist and prejudice agendas? I take both my artistic and curatorial practices as an opportunity to educate the public. And in that sense, there isn't a distinction between my different practices.