How can art help BIPOC women recover from — as Maya Angelou put it — “being caught in tripartite crossfire of masculine prejudice, white illogical hate, and black lack of power?” Angelou and many others have grappled with this question. The artist Coralina Rodriguez Meyer invigorates this conversation with a novel perspective. Her current show, Mother Mold Project & Mama Spa Botánica, at the Bronx River Art Center, shares a balm from her indigenous Incan-Muisca traditions.
When entering through the gallery door on Tremont Avenue, the viewer first encounters “Yemaya (Broken Water)” (2020). Rodriguez Meyer portrays a pregnant woman in a healing pool. The title invokes the divine name of Yemaya, an oceanic fertility deity that originates in the Yoruba religion of Nigeria and became syncretized in Caribbean Santeria during the moral breech of the transatlantic slave trade. Rodriguez Meyer invites BIPOC women to reconnect with the indigenous and syncretic spiritualities of their ancestors to find new power.
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Pregnancy may not trend on social media but it threatens the lives of many BIPOC women. Thus, it is upon the pregnant Black and Brown body that Coralina Rodriguez Meyer gazes in this show of mixed media sculptures and photographs.
The statistics are dire. When Black women in the United States give birth, their babies are twice as likely to die as White women’s offspring. During or immediately after labor, Black women are three times more likely to die than White women. Anecdotally, according to Rodriguez Meyer, Latinx mothers report similar disparities. Alas, many experts question the veracity of official Latin infant mortality statistics, because morally bankrupt immigration laws incentivize underreporting. As Doula Nicki Dawkins recently observed: “Hospitals do to Black and Brown women on the birthing bed what cops do to our men on the street.”
Coralina Rodriguez Meyer probes the pain of these disparities by creating sculptural casts of pregnant BIPOC women and embellishing them with mixed media elements. The casts are on display throughout the gallery. She juxtaposes these busts with photographs of her pregnant subjects in which they reach towards definitions of the divine outside of White, Christian patriarchal symbology.
The majority of the sculptures are casts created from Katherine Ortiz, a friend of the artist. The two women formed an intimate collaboration during Katherine’s pregnancy. She is photographed pregnant and veiled in “Madrugada Nacimiento (Corona Santa triptych)” (2020). In addition, Katherine collaborated with Carolina to create casts of her pregnant body, which are now on display in the gallery. (First names are used by the artist to convey the intimacy of this enterprise.)
A series of nine photographs in the back of the show, “Fissure Photographs (Linea Negra series)” (2018-2019), offers a glimpse into Rodriguez Meyer’s unique process of creating casts of her pregnant subjects’ bodies.
The artist refers to these casts as “mother molds,” which she constructs from environmental waste, intimate ephemera, and domestic construction materials such as latex paint and floor resin. She then layers on braided palm fronds, paints, funerary flowers, egg shells, hair, seeds, coffee grounds and animal ashes. The resulting dynamism of colors and textures intimates how BIPOC women might be empowered to create a beautiful mosaic out of their complexities of their pregnancy journeys. For the pregnant woman who collaborate with the artist to cast them, this process facilities an emotional shift that leads towards reclaiming their value and beauty. For the rest of us as witnesses, we are invited to contemplate images of BIPOC woman that defy the hegemony.
“I really draw on art therapy methodology to bridge the stigma, that divide … I grew up with the stigma of the welfare queen” the artist explained to Hyperallergic. The artist’s process is about allowing BIPOC pregnant women to take up space, to feel worthy of artistic portrayal. For the pregnant women that collaborated with Coralina Rodriguez Meyer, it was a transformative and soulful experience.
The artist describes her art practice using the indigenous term “Quipucamayoc.” As the artist explained to Hyperallergic, it would be wrong to compare this interdisciplinary role to the role of the tribal shaman. “We are still dealing with the spiritual world, but we are looking at directly engaging with community members.” Equal parts mystic, scribe, record keeper and astrologer, the Quipucamayoc bears no Western equivalent. In Rodriguez Meyer’s process, there is a similar merging of the spiritual realm of her ancestors and the concrete processes of counting, planning, and strategizing to achieve healing.
In the display at the Bronx River Art Center, viewers are invited to behold the sculptures and the photographs side by side, empowering BIPOC women to reclaim the divine feminine of indigenous fertility deities, for which there is no corollary in Western iconography.
“I created this mola flag that reads: ‘Shame is useful for oppressions,’” the artist explained. The motivation behind all the art objects in this show is dislodging shame. Ultimately the exhibition poses the questions: How can we be allies to BIPOC women? How can we help BIPOC women reclaim their bodies and their dignity from past brutalization?
Coralina Rodriguez Meyer’s Mother Mold Project & Mama Spa Botánica will be on view at the Bronx River Art Center Gallery (1087 E. Tremont Avenue, the Bronx) until December 12th. The exhibition is curated by Taylor Bradley.