New York-based artist and curator Yelaine Rodriguez designs dresses and sculptures, visually exploring the relationship between the Dominican Republic and Haiti. She uses her sewing machine as a paint brush to emphasize the political struggles of her homeland. As the curator of La Lucha art series, Spanish for “the fight,” her exhibitions spark creative dialogue at the center of Washington Heights and Bronx to foster understanding between Haitian and Dominican communities living in New York City.
In 2013, hundreds of Haitians living in the Dominican Republic were deported and many currently face the threat of deportation in a culture where politicians have embraced anti-Haitian rhetoric. In the face of such upheaval, Rodriguez, born and raised in NYC, decided to start La Lucha, a yearly art series curated by the artist where history, identity, and frustrations could be shared in public. Rodriguez’s mission was to curate an exhibition located in Washington Heights and Bronx that brought the stories of Dominican and Haitian artists together, to educate the complexity of the island split between two countries in relation to race, nationalism, and politics.
In addition to selecting art, Rodriguez carefully curates panel discussions to flesh out the complexities of multiculturalism. Critically-acclaimed Haitian author Edwidge Danticat participated in a panel discussion funded by La Lucha where the thinker discussed how racial divisions and gender norms affect women today. Iconic Dominican writers Junot Diaz and Julia Alvarez support Rodriguez’s endeavors as a young creative.
As a graduate of Parsons School of Design, Rodriguez wants to push political dialogue through photographs, paintings, and fashion. She says, “I’m an artist who is also an educator, curator, who is also an activist, who is also a community organizer, who wants to continue learning from friends and people who want to continue being my friend. I like meeting artists and taking in their stories.”
Rodriguez wants to inform her community and have people from her culture engage with the pieces and space they occupy. She wants people who look and sound like her to absorb the themes being explored. “I want the man from the nearest bodega and the lady who sells empanadas down the block to come in the space and see the pieces within the exhibit. I want these pieces and artists to be available for people in our communities. That’s why I select places like Washington Heights and Bronx.”
As an artist, Rodriguez uses fabric and other materials. She sees herself as an artist who uses fashion to spread a message. Rodriguez says, ”Being Dominican is complicated. A lot of us don’t know about our African and Taino culture. We can’t go that deep within our history, because they washed us out. I use models of color to visually show us in a different light, and I always want to promote different shades of black beauty. I want to show the diversity within cultures that’ve been deeply affected by colonialism.”
She incorporates her handmade dresses as art in her La Lucha series. She created a dress with an embroidered back and hand-designed butterflies attached to the sleeves to pay homage to the Mirabal Sisters, four Dominican sisters who opposed a dictatorship that spanned more than 30 years. Three of the sisters were assassinated by officials from the regime, and many citizens fled to the streets to fight against the government’s corruption. The dress was stitched with a lining depicting Hispaniola, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic, reflected with barbed wires with flowers blossoming.
“I decided to use the silhouettes from images of protest and marches from Santo Domingo, and I pulled those inspirations and drew out symbols that I eventually embroidered into the garments. I wanted to go back to the Revolution and remember the strong men and women who fought and were willing to die for their freedom,” Rodriguez says.
To see more of Yelaine Rodriguez’s work and learn about upcoming exhibitions, please visit her website here.