Without clothing or other identifying features, Báez amplifies the symbolic meanings of the women’s tignons, or wrapped head coverings. The tignon exemplifies the often-clashing expectations for women around the world, and Báez frequently calls on the history of fashion to elucidate acts of resistance by women of the African diaspora.
In 18th-century New Orleans, women of color were legally required to wear these headscarves, an anemic measure to diminish their natural sexuality. The same rule applied to enslaved women in the nearby Dominican Republic and Haiti. The limitation—at first restrictive and degrading—became a method for these women, who created evermore elaborate and stylized versions, to subvert their subjugation and express themselves as individuals. Like much of diasporic culture, the restrictive measure was later appropriated in European fashions.
At the far end of the tent, another flap leads to a small back room featuring three paintings and one work on paper that elaborate on contradictory feminine ideals across cultures, particularly as they relate to race. In one of the largest works, An open horizon (or the stillness of a wound) (2019), an archival blueprint of a WPA-era bridge project in New Orleans is the backdrop to two wrestling female figures, who are covered in a Colonial floral pattern. A painted blue wave—a reference to Hurricane Katrina—rushes over the entire composition.