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Beatriz Santiago Muñoz: A Universe of Fragile Mirrors

Published on
April 27

I visited El Museo del Barrio on an overcast Friday morning with the single purpose of experiencing Beatriz Santiago Muñoz’s work. In A Universe of Fragile Mirrors, her first exhibition in a U.S. museum, I saw an extraordinary display of film and storytelling.

Enmeshing cultural and universal themes of familiarity and foreignness, destruction and healing, and vastness and individuality, Muñoz captures an intimate and contemporary version of the Caribbean that is often left unseen. In subtle ways Muñoz contributes to a larger conversation on race, capitalism, the military, cosmology, and culture. Although these facets of her work are all interesting and worthy of analysis, Muñoz’s films also seem to encourage an effortless acceptance of what the artist presents to us. I get the impression that even though she wants her viewers to understand the undercurrents of her work, Muñoz wants her audience to fully experience it at its most basic level as well.

As a viewer I indulged most deeply in the sensory aspect of Muñoz’s work, especially the intense coloring of her shots. Besides being incredibly vivid and textured, the emeralds and maroons of the Muñoz’ forests felt hyperreal. I could see individual grooves in leaves that looked so lush and alive they could have been right next to me. In a film about two boys exploring rural Puerto Rico, the life of the forest - the coiling vines, the incredibly moist dirt, the slick -- felt just as important as their own lives.

Image: Beatriz Santiago Muñoz, La Cueva Negra, 2013, HD color video with sound, 20 min. Courtesy the artist and Galería Agustina ​Ferreyra

In a piece titled Marché Solomon that follows a seemingly out-of-place philosophical conversation between two teens, the intensity of color captured my attention once again. The  camera follows a 13- or 14-year-old boy as he walks/dances/shuffles through a marketplace in Port-au-Prince. As he side-steps and nods to the music from his coral-colored hand radio, the collar of his cobalt polo shirt flops along with his movement. All the while he passes stalls full of fruit, vegetables, meat, and color. Although this shot probably lasted less than 2 minutes, just like the leaves, it felt hyperreal and very important.

I couldn’t help myself from focusing on these details; they completely drew me in. Maybe their magnetism was a quirk of my personal art-viewing habits, but upon reflection, I think it’s by design. Through her films Muñoz redefines the Caribbean as one example of the variability of life and in doing so she signals that people are made up of more than an inferred narrative. I find myself wondering at my equivalent of a coral colored hand-radio or of a cobalt blue polo shirt. These little quirks of humanity bring people together through points of commonality. At the risk of being a bit of a cliché, A Universe of Fragile Mirrors stresses that it’s the little things that count. It was an incredibly relevant and valuable exhibit to engage with.