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<i>Fire (United States of the Americas)</i>, 2017/2020, by Teresita Fernández

Fire (United States of the Americas), 2017/2020, by Teresita Fernández (American, born 1968) (Promised gift of Mitchell L. and Hilarie L. Morgan)


Teresita Fernández: Fire (United States of the Americas)

May 7, 2021–January 2, 2023

Teresita Fernández unearths and exposes hidden histories embedded in landscape. In this striking installation, she renders the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, and all the US territories as scorched earth. Through the use of charcoal and hand-drawn smoky shadows, she invokes fire as a symbol of both destruction and regeneration. By questioning perceptions about nation, borders, and land, Fernández invites us to radically reimagine what the future of America means when we become active participants in forging new histories.

What is America?

The plural “Americas” in the title of Fernández’s artwork reminds us that the United States is only one part of America, which is collectively made up of the Caribbean and North, Central, and South America. She challenges viewers to question the biased narratives about the formation of the United States and its iconic map, which often omits the US territories, commonwealths, and free states—from American Samoa to Puerto Rico, the oldest colony in the world.

Forming a ghost-like image that seems to hover on the wall, Fernández’s abstracted map refers to the violent legacies of settler colonialism, Indigenous genocide, and slavery. The material of charcoal—itself made from burned trees—also refers to the traditional “slash-and-burn” agricultural method used by Indigenous people. Through this sustainable practice, their burning of select forested areas significantly shaped the American landscape for thousands of years before European contact.

Main Building

About the Artist

Teresita Fernández (born Miami, 1968; lives in Brooklyn, New York) creates work that is characterized by self-reflection and conceptual wayfinding. Her immersive, monumental works are inspired by a radical rethinking of landscape informed by diverse historical and cultural references. Often using images from the natural world, Fernández’s work emphasizes what she refers to as “stacked landscapes,” or the overlapping and often omitted connections between places and people. Transforming materials such as charcoal, gold, graphite, and iron ore, she is interested in revealing loaded ties to colonization and the inherent history of violence that is embedded in the landscape. Her practice engages in a subtle unraveling of land, power, visibility, and erasure.

Fernández is a 2005 MacArthur Foundation Fellow and the recipient of numerous awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship, an NEA Artist’s Grant, and a Louis Comfort Tiffany Biennial Award. Appointed by President Barack Obama, she is the first Latina to serve on the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, a 100-year-old federal panel that advises the President and Congress on national matters of design and aesthetics. Fernández’s works have been exhibited both nationally and internationally at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Smithsonian Museum of American Art; MASS MoCA; and Castello di Rivoli, Turin, Italy, among others. Her mid-career retrospective, Elemental, was recently on view at the Pérez Art Museum, Miami (2019), and Phoenix Art Museum (2020).

Fernández’s work is included in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Pérez Art Museum, Miami; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. She has created public art commissions for the Brooklyn Academy of Music (2021); the New Orleans Museum of Art (2019); the Ford Foundation (2019); and Madison Square Park (2015). Fernández received a BFA from Florida International University, Miami, in 1990, and an MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, in 1992.

Teresita Fernández, 2019, portrait by Natalia Mantini

Teresita Fernández, 2019, portrait by Natalia Mantini. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London


Erica Battle, John Alchin and Hal Marryatt Associate Curator of Contemporary Art, with support from Lara Demori, PhD, Marcello Rumma Fellow in Contemporary Italian Art

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