Siboney (2014) is an artwork where painting, video and performance document the movement and transformation of pigment, body, labor, desire, projection, representation. I spent a month hand-painting a design from a found piece of fabric onto a museum wall. I then poured water on myself and scrubbed my body against the wall, while dancing to the beat of the song “Siboney” by Connie Francis. The painting washes off, partially, and is then transposed onto my body, absorbed by my once white masseuse uniform, cleaning lady uniform, or—how the museum staff liked to think about it during the month I had a nine to five at their galleries—a nurse uniform. The white bikini I had been wearing underneath for that month as part of the uniform is also colored. Other parts of the painting are rearranged on the wall: detailed brushstrokes once organized to reflect representational depictions of an imagined tropical flora, neatly arranged in a repeated pattern, become muddled into larger, blurry strokes smeared by my breast, my shoulders, my ass, my hair, my face. Returning to fluid matter.
I think about the translation of Ernesto Lecuona’s 1929 bolero “Siboney,” a nostalgic melody composed while homesick away from Cuba, reinterpreted by Francis in the sixties in a dramatic, drum-heavy, highly eroticized cry to what, in her version, sounds like a lover. I think about the Siboney (or Ciboney), one of various originary Taíno tribes of Cuba, and the Kalinago, Ciguayo, Macorix, Guanahatabey, and others across the Caribbean whose artistic expressions are more abundant these days as amalgamated reproductions in tiki-style gift shops than in school books or museums in the region. I think of the monstera leaves that are colored red in the pattern I was copying, pretending to be the flowers they’re not. I think of my shift from ordinary to exotic along with my, then at age twenty-three, fresh understanding of what a “Dominican accent” meant in this new land of NYC, the US, the Global North… particularly when articulated by men.
Like reflux, these transformations burst out at random, but if consuming these projections was a way to internalize them to then bring them back out, re-performed, re-arranged, deconstructed, self-evident, then I was happy to regurgitate.
Video link: Siboney