© Jacoub Reyes. All rights reserved.
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POINT OF REFERENCE, shinnecock indian reservation
“Every conversation of oppression, the intersection of religion and activism, how politics have corrupted and yet propelled countries forward in development are all conversations that have echoed throughout time as culture has shifted, albeit sometimes like a pendulum,” Reyes said.
“Point of Reference” features woodblock prints on paper alongside photographs of natural elements found throughout the Shinnecock Territory, as well as the mural installation.
“Preservation of the native and the indigenous are essential to understanding our ancestral past and our perceived future. The resilience the Shinnecock Nation has displayed to thrive under the pressing colonization, and the effects thereof is a testament that BIPOC individuals must take action or we will all soon erode back into the sea,” Reyes said.
The mural installation is a tribute to six multi-generational Indigenous women who have created the Shinnecock Kelp Farmers. The women are addressing the climate crisis by operating a kelp hatchery, which is essential in combating the erosion experienced along the nation’s shorelines. The realized human and natural symbiotic relationship moved Reyes to create the work.
“With nature as the only tangible thing to grasp, it’s our only point of reference,” he said. “The earth holds all of our fates, but the spirit survives long past our bodies’ expiration date. I dive into my Taino ancestry; I recognize the shared connection points. There is intentionality directed to honoring the natural and mysticism [spirituality] that surrounds us.
“Being here as a guest on this land had ripple effects I couldn’t have imagined. I feel kindred.”
Reyes shared that from his first walk around Ma’s House, there was an inherent need for the native organisms and life found to become anthropomorphic. As he studied and researched more through the library offered at the residency, he found that the pull toward intertwining spirit and tangible organism came together.
“I’ve been interested in creating my history. I find natural things useful, usable, and essential to ecosystems,” he said. “I depict these plants as spirits that rise from the natural world and into the spiritual realm. With this, I allow myself to put a face to the plant. It’s a way for me to understand a bit more about the plant and its uses through interaction, research, and discovery.”
la sagrada botánica
Palms, straw and brush drape over an opening in a bohio, or hut, of native Tainos. An orange glow radiates from the spaces in between the fronds and casts beads of light onto the asphalt. The concrete jungle looms above and the electrical hum radiates around the hut like a dark wind. Sounds and dances emanate from the interior, drawing others into a communal and sacred space. This space, on top of ground that was revered as important, is now being reclaimed. The images hanging on the sides depict native plants fighting for their lives as invasive one’s choke or cover anything in their path.
"La sagrada botánica" was an installation and performance that took place October 2021 at Immersefest in Downtown Orlando.
las cosas que llevamos
My newest ongoing series, "Las cosas que llevamos (The things we carry)," explores native life pre- and post-colonization with a focus on nature, relationships, and spirituality. I'm inspired by ancient petroglyphs of the Taino peoples and their beliefs.
Symbolically, butterflies represent life, endurance, change, and hope and are often associated with souls. The Christian belief considers them a symbol of resurrection. These two meanings resonate with me because it represents a growing diverse, equitable and inclusive future for people of color.
Frente al amor y la muerte no sirve de nada ser fuerte
"Frente al amor y la muerte no sirve de nada ser fuerte (Face love head on and death has no strength)" is an ongoing series that explores the relationship between native and invasive species of plants. The first piece, “carne de mi carne” translates to flesh of my flesh. Showcased in this piece are wild coffee, a native plant in the Caribbean and Florida and Coral Ardisia, planted by settlers. The former is edible and medicinal while the latter is poisonous. I want to explore the relationship between these plants to determine the parallel themes of colonialism in our own human ecosystem. I began with the following questions; how is dividing and conquering a part of nature, how can we reclaim the past and make it part of our current history, is it possible to return to a state before invasive species? By asking these questions and finding answers through nature, we see a very unforgiving look at the world today. The native plants are continuously at war with the invasive species, trying to keep its land, struggling to grow deep roots, survive the changing composition of the soil, fighting against the strangling vines that choke out life while they dwindle down to nothing due to lack of sunlight from invasive plants with overgrown leaves soaking it all in, leaving whatever lives below it to die.
“If you look far enough beyond your adversities you will always find something to believe in; something to be proud of.” -Taino Proverb
The New Silk Road
Columbus set out to find valuable silks and spices to bring back to Europe. What he found instead was something far more valuable- an unadulterated culture that exploited for labor and resources. Silk turns to sugar and becomes the luxury of the rich in Europe and the fodder for the poor in the New World. These woodblock prints: Columbus' ship, "Santa Maria: Dios nos bendiga", a chicken fight "Pelea de gallos", and the shroud of Turin "Shroud", are all printed on found silk. These three images represent conquest, culture clash and religious influence that was integrated in the new found colonies.
Each of these images depicts common Biblical themes and their relation to individual experience. My upbringing as a person of color in a house split between Catholicism and Islam had a profound affect on how I viewed and interacted with belief systems. Most Christian imagery seemed disconnected from the central story and meaning. On the other hand, Islam art in the mosques centered around mostly geometric design which creates an open interpretation. These two religions both rarely showed black and brown figures as the center of the story.
In this series, I merged these religious and cultural ideas found in my heritage together to create a narrative that evokes inclusion. The first image, "Two Figures (after Dürer)" is a two meter long woodcut that takes inspiration from the story of Adam & Eve. This image depicts two native figures segmented by a snake coiled around a bone and pomegranate. The snake in this images represents not only evil, but also good.
"Pietà (after Michelangelo)" depicts a mother holding her dying baby, a similar scene to Mary holding her son, Jesus. The shadow around the infant is that of a slain lamb. The angels below her are mourning the death of her son as she stands on a crescent moon. In this image, the figures were modeled by women that have lost their children in war-ridden areas.
"Road to Damascus (after Géricault)" depicts a raft of people fighting for their lives in the midst of a tumultuous ocean. They have sewed their clothes together to create a sail as pieces of cloth are carried away with the wind. The vain hope of surviving long enough to reach land.
Human life abandoned to its fate.
"Flagellation (after Gregorio Fernández)" shows a black figure tied to a tree. Much like Jesus, most of the Caribbean and black population were subject to harsh conditions and death. Here, his somber gaze is directed to a single falling fig leaf, representative of the fall of the global economy that has been created from exploitation and offering a chance for repentance and forgiveness of these wrong-doings. Faith that the tree would bear fruit also resonates in this piece as a sign of hope.
"Rebuilt Temple" is the final piece in this series. It depicts the entrance and minarets of a mosque with a Catholic church in between. The designs found on the outside are icons that overlap both beliefs such as eyes, suns, dots, moons, stars, and other various lines.
For this exhibition, I constructed a boat out of found materials. The sail is made of used undergarments and clothing. The rest of the boat is made of found pallets and aluminum canisters that held oil on top of a tarp. I wanted to create a piece that viewers could walk around and interact with. On the boat, I had placed burlap sacks that held Caribbean staples such as yucca and boniato along with lace handkerchiefs, twine, rope and plastic bottles with messages in them. Viewers were able to read the notes and pick up items on the boat to see how it made connections with the surrounding works.
This installation is my response to The Raft of the Medusa by Théodore Géricault. I created this makeshift raft in response to the stories that my grandfather would tell me about his voyage from Cuba to America. People would have to create sails and anything else they needed out of materials that were readily available to them.
the plant we found turn into a flower but shortly died thereafter.
This installation was based on a series of interviews I conducted with people of color that had immigrated to the United States. The prompts not only covered logistical aspects of their move but also the emotional responses and effects that it had on them. They carry these experiences with them everyday and it continues to shape them into the people they are becoming. Viewers were able to hear their first-hand experiences and connect with them through their own words.
As I was transcribing these interviews, I began to draw images that connected me to the interviewee. I created two images; hands interlocked with one another and dried roses floating on water. These images represented something beautiful yet tragic that was found throughout each of their stories: the prospect of a new life and the absence of their previous one.
Audio clips and transcripts of the interviews can be found above.
New World Strange Land
Repetition, ritual and disease- these elements have the ability to spread from person to person through physical and spiritual environments, some a choice and some more intrusive and involuntary much like the pandemic we see today.
I chose to print these woodblocks onto hand-printed floral cloth. The abstracted images of the altar to Elegua and the child experiencing small pox become ornamental and commonplace when placed in an external area. This parallels the idea about how our past informs the present and future. Many are still focused on forgetting as a way of acceptance and moving forward.
dar y recibir
Dar y recibir (to give and receive) is a print installation that incorporates Voodoo, Santeria and Christian imagery to describe how colonialism has altered the life and religion of Caribbean people. Cloth was a major carrier of disease and aided in the transference of small pox and other illnesses from European settlers to indigenous populations. This simple act of commerce ended in the almost complete destruction of native peoples. This piece is located diagonally from a Catholic church and offers a counterpoint for conversation of life before colonization.
The center scene with three crosses highlights how the Christian religion was used, in addition to other tactical ways of gaining power and influence. Here, a child takes his last breath as an angel flies out of his mouth, symbolizing the soul leaving his body. Three crucifixes show bodies in a transcending motion as they levitate above the little boy. Their bodies are riddled with several dots, which represent areas affected by small pox. Many passersby also describe the figures as shooting range targets- an interestingly simple and profound connection.
The pyramid segment depicts an alter dedicated to the deity of the crossroads, Elegua. This Orisha, commonly found in Santeria, is derived from Voodoo. I chose Elegua for this installation because the building is on one of four corners, that being a crossroads. He also holds the keys to the past, present, and future which is the perfect descriptor for the installation as a whole.
The 3-dimensional cloth element segment highlights the transference of diseases from Europeans to Native peoples. The cloth is printed with a woodblock design commonly found on Victorian wallpapers. The use of multiple art styles that span from the Renaissance to today is a representation of how prevalent colonialism is entwined in our everyday lives.
The segment of various square prints highlights the work of students that attended my woodblock pattern workshop in Tlaquepaque, Mexico. I wanted to incorporate their designs into the final installation because they have personally faced colonialism from Spain and the United States. Including their stories and images fostered local community involvement and translated the meaning of the installation even deeper. Their shared history and trials of experiencing colonialism, similar religions and personal trials show how cyclical the experience of the native person is and how often our patterns connect.
Shadow Play: Veiled Truths
"Shadow Play" explores the influence of European colonialism on Caribbean islands. The shadows are created by lights that shine through hand cut paper. These small stencil-like images are suspended in the space and create large shadows on the wall. The "demons" depicted throughout this interactive installation were how the natives were viewed by European colonizers. The natives were considered uneducated savages that needed the European structure to achieve the graces of God and the fortune of future industrialization. The tension between these opposing themes creates a narrative that the audience can follow and apply to their own stories.
Garden of Gethsemane
Chicken feet and chicken feet pearls dangle from the rafters of the gallery. These elements have layered meanings based in religion and geography. A "salt of the earth" spiral can be found on the floor. As the humidity in Florida dissolved the salt, the audience tracked ghostly footprints around the gallery. This exhibition showcased the woodcuts and accompanying prints so that viewers could see the process behind the image.
Arabesque at the Albin Polasek Museum