Bee Kagel, University of St. Francis Museum Studies Intern
Immigration stories are highlighted in the media more and more these days. We all react differently to these stories, given our own personal experiences. Aside from Native Americans, everyone in this country is an immigrant; however, those who aren’t first generation (myself included) have a tendency to forget this. Artist Scherezade Garcia, also known as Scherezade Garcia-Vazquez, originally from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, often reflects on her experience immigrating to the United States. Her interest in immigration, however, has grown far beyond her own personal history. Garcia’s paintings, prints, video animations, and installation works stem from her life-long fascination with what she refers to in her artist statement as “the causes and consequences of migration” throughout human history(1). The primary question her work seeks to answer is how colonization and migration affect the identity of the mestizos (people with mixed indigenous Latin American and European heritage). Garcia focuses primarily on how this influences both traditional and religious beliefs.
The Fort Wayne Museum of Art’s permanent collection holds three Scherezade Garcia screenprints. One of these works, Chameleon 1492, depicts a young mestizo person floating in a sea of swirling symbols. I briefly saw this piece while working with Lauren Wolfer, the Associate Curator of Special Collections & Archives, organizing the print collection. That day, I looked at many gorgeous prints in the collection, but this one jumped out at me. There is the faintest indication of a smile on the mystical figure’s face as their eyes softly look up at a symbol emanating from their forehead. After stumbling onto this piece again months later, I find myself even more in love. As someone who loves research, I enjoyed unearthing the historical messages hidden in plain sight.
The title, Chameleon 1492, sets the stage for the story this artwork is telling. Chameleons are known for their ability to blend in with their surroundings when a predator is present, their coloring changes to match the environment. Let’s keep this in mind as we consider the significance of the year 1492. Do you remember learning that little rhyme in elementary school? In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue! This is the year that Christopher Columbus came to the Americas. Much like the chameleon, the survival of indigenous people depended on their, often forced, assimilation to the European culture of the predatory colonizers, even indigenous religions and traditions began to alter under the influence of missionaries. Note the Christian symbol of a glowing cross with a circle in the center, indicating the influence of the colonizing missionaries. The subtle Disney characters, such as the stylized Bambi’s to both sides of the figure’s head, allude to stories of tragedy and innocence. Water and wave symbols take us back to the ocean voyages of the colonizers. Putting everything together imparts the narrative of the continual cultural blending spanning from colonization to present day.
Chameleon 1492 originates from the Serie Project—an organization that works to promote Latino artists by providing them with professional connections and resources to create affordable fine art prints. To date, the FWMoA collection holds over three hundred works of art from the Serie Project. Their mission parallels Garcia’s career motivations, both inside and outside of her studio. She is a co-founder of the Dominican York Proyecto GRAFICA, an NYC artist collective producing work expressing the Dominican identity. Oftentimes, this work integrates Dominican symbols, such as the mythic figure found in Chameleon 1492. As an educator at Parsons, she prioritizes promoting, expanding, and providing resources for diverse students in the arts with a focus on teaching artists to integrate research into their artworks. Recently, these ideals landed her a seat on the 2020 College Arts Association Board of Directors. Receiving her AAS at Altos de Chavon School of Design, she later moved to the United States to earn her BFA on a full merit scholarship from Parsons – The New School in New York City. She went on to receive her MFA from the City College of New York City. Throughout her career, Garcia’s artworks promote the visibility of immigrants and Mestizos, aligning herself with her shared namesake who told 1,001 tales to stay alive.
Organizations around the world hold her works in their collection; notably, the list includes the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, El Museo del Barrio, the National Palace of the Dominican Republic, and the Santo Domingo Museum of Modern Art, among others.
- Scherezade Garcia biography and artist statement on her website: https://www.scherezade.net/about
- Serie Project product description of Chameleon 1492 https://serieproject.org/product/scherezade-garcia/
- Serie Project mission statement https://serieproject.org/about/mission-statement/
- Scherezade Garcia 2008 interview by Shani Peters https://www.scherezade.net/essays#/shani-peters-interview/
- College Art Association Scherezade Garcia Board Member campaign statement http://www.collegeart.org/news/2019/12/03/scherezade-garcia-vazquez/
- 2014 “Dominican York Proyecto GRAFICA” by Leony Paulino based on the no longer accessible DYP GRAFICA website and artist bios from several members https://dominicancult.blogspot.com/2014/10/biographies-dominican-york-proyecto-grafica.html
- Scherezade Garcia – Vazquez Parsons Faculty profile https://www.newschool.edu/parsons/faculty/scherezade-garcia-vazquez/