BROOKLINE, Mass. — Aloe plants hang from the large front window of Praise Shadows Art Gallery. They are an apt introduction to New York-based artist Joiri Minaya’s solo show, The Great Camouflage; the plants are everywhere in Minaya’s work, patterning the bodysuits she slips out of in her three new photo collages, spotlit in delicate gouache paintings, or protecting the artist’s hair in the video “Sábila / Leche” (2015).
Used in purifying customs in her native Dominican Republic, the plants also represent their part in centuries of transatlantic displacement — healing, killing, perpetuating corrupt commerce. The pink-veined leaves so exquisitely rendered in the painting “Enfolding Castor Leaves” (2021) decorate the cloth used to cloak an imperialist monument in 2021, the same fabric Minaya has captured herself shedding in the photo collage “Shield” (2022).
Breaking through the camouflage in this piece is a slice of tender belly, and — with her brown flesh undisguised — the strength of her next act. For years she reflected society’s warped perceptions of Indigenous and diasporic peoples by positioning individuals in the reductive imagery of the mass-produced textiles used to exploit entire cultures and market them as vacation paradises. Now, she is beginning to reveal the people behind the patterns.
While these new works liberate the body from stifling stereotypes, earlier pieces point to its erasure. A 16-foot expanse of the towels provided at all-inclusive resorts hangs from the ceiling like a shroud, its bottom blackened from a past performance in which Minaya whipped her ink-soaked braids backwards in a mockery of island-getaway vacation photos, while “Body Imprint II/Body Smudge II” (2019), one of two diptychs on view, collapses the artist’s form into tropical scenery; the latter image exposes a palm-emblazoned thigh, and the former shapes the curve of her haunch into a swell of paradise.
By inserting and concealing the body, The Great Camouflage exposes how Eurocentric narratives exoticize real people while denying the reckoning owed them. It’s an unflinching reproach of a repressive perspective, yet it also offers — like a botanical remedy or a proffered rib — an invitation to envision a new way forward.
Joiri Minaya: The Great Camouflage continues at Praise Shadows Art Gallery (313A Harvard Street, Brookline, Massachusetts) through November 13. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.