In her way, élan Cadiz has mastered the art of objectification. With “An American Family Album,” her engaging new series of multimedia works, the 40-year-old visual artist has reimagined her next of kin in an unlikely form: as pieces of furniture. “I’m not fond of traditional portraiture because I don’t like faces staring at me on my wall— it’s very upsetting,” Cadiz says. “So I started to think about objects, and chairs just stuck out to me.” With “Family Album” (which will be shown next month at Harlem Perspectives, an annual showcase for Harlem-based creatives), Cadiz reclaims old fabrics—dresses, tablecloths, curtains, scarves—to work up richly textured surfaces blurring the decorative and the narrative, the protagonist and mise en scène. Instead of being identified as property, each chair is called by the name of its human analogue: “Mom,” “Dad,” “Maternal Grandfather.”
It all makes a strange kind of sense. As Cadiz points out, the chair lends itself quite readily to anthropomorphization. “They have backs, they have legs, they have arms—and I thought it fascinating how they also hold us, and can represent us,” she says. “I remember my grandfather having a chair that he always sat in, and that was my grandfather’s chair. It’s aesthetic, and it carries this character.”
The world of interiors has long held a special fascination for the artist. Hers was a life spent in rooms—in Long Island City, and later, Harlem—with immediate family pressed closely around her. “As someone who grew up in New York City, you realize as you get older that there’s no real connection other than the community that you’ve either grown up in, or connected to,” Cadiz says. At her childhood home, standards and rules were forged in reaction to the city’s ever-transforming chaos outside.
With her chair portraits, Cadiz artfully upended those old internal structures, creating a space that existed on her terms. Beginning, as any furniture enthusiast might, with a Pinterest board, Cadiz asked her subjects to peruse it, and select the model that they responded to most. “I wanted to engage my family in a way where I was giving them an order,” she says. “For a very long time I would just do what they would ask of me.” From there, Cadiz’s own crafty imagination took hold; in Mom 2, for example, she works in an illustration made by her father, a fellow artist, as a sign of her parents’ incontrovertible closeness. “They argue, and they’re a hot mess sometimes, but it was very important that he be a part of her portrait too,” she says.
The fabrics, which were sometimes handed down, sometimes purchased second-hand, buttressed the project’s homey intimacy. “I love fabrics and textures and patterns,” Cadiz says—but she doesn’t go so much for the new stuff. Far preferred are the pieces that, over time, have developed some character of their own. “I have to have a connection to the material,” she explains, “and it has to have a time that it lived with me that makes it feel right.”
Would she consider training her artist’s eye on other home décor? Cadiz equivocates. “For a moment I considered my father’s teapot collection, because I like the shapes that exist in that,” she says, “but I’m still not sure how to connect with [them] in a way that makes sense for me.” She does, however, have a lot more chairs that she would like to play around with. “I have a photo collection with over 100 chairs that I’ve found outside,” she says, “and because I’ve made this annoying connection to people, I just think about what kind of person they would be.” She’s tried painting them, but the dimensionality afforded by collage was sorely missed, she says. “Now painting feels so flat to me.”