David Rios Ferreira: And I Hear Your Words That I Made Up

June 22 - September 24, 2018

This exhibit and related programming are supported in part by the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Southwest Airlines, and the Surdna Foundation through a grant from the NALAC Fund for the Arts.

History is ever present throughout David Rios Ferreira’s work. Using source materials such as historical and botanical illustrations, comic books, and cartoon characters, Rios Ferreira’s dynamic mixed-media works conjure up a psychic landscape filled with conflicting emotions—grief and anger, but also longing and nostalgia. Colorful and chaotic hand-drawn interventions vie with appropriated images of slave ships and shackles, aiming to reconcile the bloody past with a complicated present and an unknown future.

In an attempt to both acknowledge the traumatic history of colonialism and imagine an alternate narrative, Rios Ferreira creates a world of mystical beings and bodies that cross barriers of gender, race, and time. Figures are bound, stretched, or densely layered; bits of collaged paper, acetate, and shards of color explode on the page. The work seems to be in perpetual motion—a hurricane casting debris everywhere. This visual turmoil echoes the experiences of cultures whose histories have been deliberately erased, but who refuse to be silent or still.

Rios Ferreira’s work allows space to consider issues of time, power, and representation. He asks us to meditate on the past and how it shapes identity, and also to consider possible futures in which the stories we hear, celebrate, and accept as truth are told by different voices.

— Sarah Freeman, Curator

The title of this exhibition quotes the lyrics of a popular love song with a complicated mix of emotions—self-realization and empowerment, but also denial and infatuation. A lot of my work is driven by the persistence of colonialist narratives in the mainstream imagination. The power dynamics that have informed these popular narratives are emotionally complex, and centuries later the thorny relationship between the colonized and the colonizer echoes in our daily lives through our connections with lovers, with “authority,” and with ourselves.

Author Junot Díaz recently wrote, “Trauma is a time traveler,” suggesting that trauma is carried through generations within our minds and our bodies. My layered drawings use historical etchings depicting slavery and the Middle Passage; political cartoons from the 1930s and ’40s commenting on America’s power over its territories; and illustrations from contemporary children’s pop culture. Through this imagery I create atemporal beings that honor the pain and suffering of colonized indigenous people and the inherited trauma of their descendants, while also rejecting the colonialist narrative in pursuit of a different future.

The new bodies that emerge in my work perform a kind of “temporal drag.” Queer theorist Elizabeth Freeman defines temporal drag as when the body is used as a translator for time—a way to understand the past, while at the same time attempting to grasp a definite hold on the future. The beings in my work are a way to reconcile, acknowledge, and communicate across time and space, and to furnish an in-between reality that signals how the body both bears and transforms historical memory.

— David Rios Ferreira



Photo Gallery


July 25, Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. – Art, Decolonization & Action for Puerto Rico