The Women of April
The Women of April is a visual arts exhibition which opens in April 2020 at CUNY's Dominican Studies Institute at City College. The research base project showcases large format works on paper to commemorate the 55th anniversary of the April 1965 revolution and US invasion of Dominican Republic. The art celebrates the role of The Women of April who were untrained civilian resistance fighters that fought against the 42,000 US marines ordered by LBJ to invade the small Caribbean nation. In 2017 a few months after attending the DC Women's March, I was inspired to explore my family's migration journey from Dominican Republic. It was through this research that I discovered "Las Mujeres de Abril" , "The Women of April". I think that today women’s activism continues to be a catalyst for global transformation, very much like it was in April 1965.
The mission of "The Women of April", Las Mujeres de Abril exhibition is threefold. First, it offers the audience an inspiring example of heroic women from all walks of life and highlights their key role in Dominican self-determination. Second, it reveals how the lessons of the Dominican April 1965 revolution are universal and relevant today. In their fight for freedom and sovereignty, the women organized within their communities as commandos that united across ethnicity, nationality, class, and economic differences. Third, the exhibition offers a comprehensive visual narrative about the impact of US foreign policy, particularly how military engagements become a push factor for displacement and mass migration.
This research based art is about remembrance and reclaims stories I did not know I carried. Memories offer us a basis for meaning and integration. Remembrance is a path to discovery and I learned that the aftershock of the US invasion is still with us in the form of the Dominican diaspora, now the 4th largest Latino community in the US. I began the first phase of this project by creating a visual archive of this history as a "family album" and drew directly in an old family album on pages yellowed with time. I restricted the palette using sumi ink and grey washes to emphasize the shadows and to reinforce the darkness of this history. The light in the Caribbean is so bright that the shadows are very sharp, intensely dark, and are as weighty as the forms casting them. Drawing allowed me reinforce the sharp contrast between light and dark as a metaphor for this history.
Drawing also allowed me to capture the energy and life force and the immediacy of the Women of April's response to an invading army. In this second phase of the project the black ink palette is abandonned for vibrant color to celebrate the thousands of women who fought. They were attorneys, journalists, artists, educators, academics, sex-workers, housewives, and students. This excavated history re-imagines their stories to convey a heroic struggle for freedom while inspiring us with their courage.
"Mujeres de Abril depicts the contribution of Dominican women with genuine sympathy and understanding, so that they do not appear in the artwork as mere victims or passive figures; instead they are ordinary human beings empowered by their own desire of protest, and as such, we can easily make a connection to them. This project presents a penetrating view of the situation lived in the Dominican Republic at that crucial moment." -Professor Sarah Aponte, DSI
The Dominican Studies Institute is the nation's first university-based research institute devoted to the study of people of Dominican descent in the United States and other parts of the world. This exhibit is in keeping with DSI's mission to "produce and disseminate research and scholarship about Dominicans, and about Dominican Republic". Along with exhibiting "The Women of April/ Las Mujeres de Abril", the DSI is particularly interested in organizing special guided tours for schoolchildren, students, scholars, and the community to view and discuss the art pieces. In addition, the DSI is developing curriculum materials to tackle the related cultural, historical, and social issues and ideas raised by this exhibition of "innovative and pioneering art works" . The CUNY DSI Library has established a very successful relationship with schools and can attest to the importance of having this exhibit available for schoolchildren as well as for the public.
A great big Thank You to the Yaddo Corporation for supporting this project. Several images of The Women of April were created in Saratoga Springs last May as the 2019 recipient of The Maurice Sendak/Glynn Narrative Illustration Residency at Yaddo.
Images from left to right: 1) "La Tregua de Los Mamiferos"/ "The Truce of the Mammals", 2) La Nueva Sabor/ The New Flavor, 3) La Bata / Housecoat 4) Gala en La Casa Blanca/ Gala in the White House