Joel Gaitan, Nicoya, 2023; Signed and Numbered Limited Edition Print
While celebrating life, death, and the afterlife, Joel Gaitan’s anthropomorphic vessels delve into matters of self-identity, sexuality, and ancestral lineage. Born and currently based in Miami, the self-taught artist immerses himself in traditional hand-building clay techniques, as a way of keeping Nicaraguan and Central American traditions alive within a colonized world. His practice references Mesoamerican art history, while utilizing ceramics as a primary medium to pay homage to those who have been encountered, and those who have not. Gaitan’s work has been featured in a solo exhibition commissioned by Art Production Fund at Rockefeller Center in New York, in addition to group presentations at venues such as Pace Gallery, Palm Beach, FL; Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles, CA; and El Museo del Barrio, New York, NY.
Nicoya, Pobre Diabla, and Besos de Sueño feature close-up views of vessels, each imbued with a distinct personality. For these works, Gaitan began by hand-building the terracotta forms, onto which gold elements were emblazoned to draw emphasis towards certain adornments and body parts. These sculptures were then photographed and superimposed onto vibrant backgrounds that not only evoke Nicaragua’s colorful architecture and tropical climate, but also lend a celebratory nature to the resulting images. In Nicoya, the figure is even duplicated, in a gesture that highlights the artist's playful approach. While Gaitan’s practice is rooted in Pre-Columbian aesthetic culture, it is also equally inspired by his own Pentecostal upbringing. He directs a devotional prayer to each work, in an expression of his personal longing to find a place in the world.
Of this series benefitting El Museo del Barrio—where he was included in the exhibition DOMESTICANX (2022)—Gaitan notes, “Ever since I had my first museum exhibition at El Museo del Barrio, I have had the opportunity to learn about its history and mission, which I strongly relate to. These types of spaces and resources were very limited for me growing up, so I am more than proud to be a part of this initiative, for our youth and our communities.”
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