Born in Haiti and raised in New York City, Fabiola Jean-Louis is the first artist-in-residence of Lux Art Institute’s 13th season, initiating a new era at Lux with her haunting photographs of costumed black women in “Rewriting History: A Black Ancestral Narrative.”
The costumes are her own creations—authentic-looking gowns sculpted from paper, primarily in the styles worn by 18th century noblewomen like Marie Antoinette. And each of her portraits tells a story, using beautiful women—some of them in much less noble costumes—to reveal some ugly historical truths.
It’s hard to believe Fabiola is completely self-taught and only committed to being a serious artist five years ago. Living in New York, she developed an interest in art and fashion, but then she married young, became a single mom and a pre-med student, and finally, on the cusp of graduation, fell into what she called “a bad situation.” Deciding that she needed art to heal herself, she set up her cell-phone camera and took a self-portrait. “That was it,” she said. “I was hooked.”
So in 2014, she left school and began using photography as a vehicle for storytelling, envisioning black women in scenarios they hadn’t been seen in before. She wanted to make costumes for her models, and fabric was too expensive, so she started working with paper. She liked the idea of using paper as a medium, “like the U.S. Constitution, like the money used to buy and sell people” during centuries of slavery.
Each model, corseted in a gorgeous gown, represents what Fabiola calls “the vessel inside the corset, the inner trauma passed on through generations. She’s the heart and the spirit, speaking about what we carry inside us.”
Trauma is at the heart of Fabiola’s work, most obviously in poignant Polaroids of slavery-era women, and her Haitian identity is there too, referencing the Haitian Revolution. Viewers are encouraged to look closely, ask questions, and think about what they see.
“I see myself as a time-traveler as well as a storyteller, trying to weave all these things together, find myself, and hopefully educate others,” said the artist. “My work is a reminder that we are all connected.”
Now happily re-married, Fabiola lives with her husband and children in the Bronx, near The Andrew Freedman Home, a historical landmark that has become a center for art and culture, where she’s in her second year as a resident artist. Before that, she had a residency at the Museum of Art and Design in Manhattan, and began having her work shown in other parts of the country. This is her first major exhibition on the West Coast.
At the opening reception Sept. 6, attendees seemed to seek out close encounters with the artworks, and when dancer/choreographer Alyssa Junious performed a moving conversation with the portraits, accompanied by singer Erin Vanderhyck, the evening took on an added dimension.
Don’t miss seeing Fabiola Jean-Louis while she’s here at Lux, working on a new series of small sculptures, surrounded by her work of the past few years. You’ll discover a whole new way of looking at history.
Fabiola Jean-Louis on “Rewriting History: A Black Ancestral Narrative”
“The materials used for the paper gown sculptures are transformed in a way that allows me to represent layers of time and the events of the past as they intrude upon the present. Through the materials, I suggest that although we cannot change the past, with its shocking treatment of black people, we can act to change the present, as we activate the memories, visions, and legacies of our ancestors.”
IF YOU GO:
Fabiola Jean-Louis “Rewriting History: A Black Ancestral Narrative.”
Lux Art Institute
1550 South El Camino Real, Encinitas
Meet the artist in studio through Nov. 2.
Hours: Thurs/Fri, 1-5 p.m.; Sat 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Cost: Pay as you wish.
Sept. 20, 7 p.m. Art and Stories, with Fabiola and storyteller Sarah Saulter, a partnership with Storytellers of San Diego. (Reception 6-9 p.m. Cost: Free-$10)
Oct. 4, 7 p.m. Artist Talk (Reception 6-9 p.m. Cost: Free-$10)
More information: luxartinstitute.org, 760-436-6611, firstname.lastname@example.org