RVP: Let’s talk about the references to landscapes. There’s a lot of symbols in your work that recall nature. Why do you feel like the urge of addressing nature in your work?
JM: I’ve always been interested in nature. When I was a child, I dreamt of becoming a biologist or marine biologist when I grew up. I think that the experience of living in a big metropolis in the US has made these ideas resurface in my work. Also, living outside of Dominican Republic and realizing that many times our identity is interpreted through the prism of what has been dubbed as “tropical” nature, makes me want to reflect upon what this means. I investigate the history of the representation of tropical nature through the lens of colonialism and how some of these ideas have survived and how they spilled onto the bodies. This relationship between the body and nature is very present in my work because both are exercised and consumed and exploited in ways that are related to each other. Although more recently, I’m starting to approach these topics from a different angle that the postcolonial discourses, thinking about how we can relate to these issues in a more enjoyable way, and not only through all the trauma of colonialism.
RVP: Can you expand on the idea of “tropical identity”, and how the Caribbean appears in the imagination of the outside world, but also of the Caribbean people?
JM: In the last couple of years, I focused on how this notion of “tropical” is representative for outsiders as well as for the Caribbean people. Having grown up there, I find there are parallels in how spaces are pictured.
I have noticed that in recent years the “Hawaiian shirt” for example, this type of shirt with “tropical” prints, has become very popular in Western countries. Then I go to the Dominican Republic, and there are middle-class, young, hip people wearing them. I find this very interesting, because when I was younger, these visual codes were restricted to the construction of tropical spaces through resorts; it was more of the uniform of a resort or some sort of service that had to do with tourism. Now it has become this cool, trendy thing. This seems a worldwide phenomenon, and I am interested in the parallels and how both directions communicate or overlap.
In terms of constructions of tropical space, I think how this space was visualized during colonialism has had a lot of impact into the imagery that still prevails today. There is literature that have helped me understand this, one is Krista Thompson’s An Eye for the Tropics and Picturing Tropical Nature by Nancy Stepan. Although the two authors draw their analysis in the English-speaking Caribbean, I see a lot of parallels with what is understood of Dominican Republic.