On Exhibit: Rethink Tropical Art Pixel-by-Pixel in Miller Theatre’s Lobby

October 09, 2018

The Dominican American artist Joiri Minaya has transformed the lobby of Miller Theatre with a new site-specific installation from her series Tropical Surfaces, in which she deconstructs and reimagines tropical design, pointing to it as an invention of the Global North.

For Miller’s installation, Redecode II: La Dorada, Minaya re-envisions El Dorado, a monumental 24-panel scenic wallpaper held by the Cooper Hewitt museum. Designed in 1848 for Zuber et Cie, the oldest continuously operating wallpaper company in France, El Dorado depicts the idealized natural and manmade riches of Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas from a European, colonial perspective. The transformation of this vision into elaborate wallpaper was only for those who could afford it: production required the hand-printing of 1,554 distinct woodblocks in 210 various colors over the entire 42-foot-long span.

In Minaya’s work at Miller, she subverts the original wallpaper by pixilating its images while flattening and mixing the foreground and background planes equally. She also reorganizes the continents and embeds interactive QR codes in the design, camouflaging them among the pixels.

These codes, which can be scanned with a smartphone, contain links that reveal found text, images and videos, as well as content uploaded by Minaya—all carefully curated and placed within the wallpaper as part of the piece’s commentary.

“Minaya’s Redecode wallpapers disturb any easy, decorative assimilations of our shared colonial burdens,” said Deborah Cullen, former director and chief curator of the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, which has collaborated with Miller Theatre on the installation. “The artist’s pointed appropriations, redeployed with inserts and glitches, tease out a rich web of implications, reminding us of the complex legacy of history.”

Redecode II: La Dorada is the sixth such collaboration between Miller and Wallach, and will remain on view until June 28, 2019.

—By Eve Glasberg