The journeying lines that dominate David Rios Ferreira’s two-dimensional assemblage works, like an EKG reading or the longitudinal and latitudinal lines in a map, are enchanted with the force of their potential. Each vector loops, and builds, like a vine; they fall into one another’s paths, creating rich dimensions in each drawing. Forged together with cartoony shapes in vibrant colors, they create top heavy, fantastical bodies of a creature akin to the vejigante: the Caribbean Carnival entity/mask/garb, specific to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, that entangles in its form West African and Indigenous influences.
The artist’s hand drafts with the intricacy of lacework: the lines seem to go on forever, burrowing deep in and amongst themselves. Ferreira describes the resulting entities as “Creatures that look like us.” Far from implying that his body proper has the same characteristics as his figures, what Ferreira decodes are transnational and trans-temporal experiences that are lived across landscapes and cultures. He describes the ability of Caribbean people and existences to thrive and undermine colonial linguistic, political, and cultural zones pressed upon their landscapes, bodies, and experiences.
Running wild with sentiments I cannot hold, 2016, Non-photo blue, ink, collage, screen printing ink and gouache on Mylar, 53.5 x 40 inches
The body of an individual is bound—but also stretched—by the lines of multiple narratives that often begin long before them and will continue into the future. The creatures, as well as people in this matrix of contexts, are made up of time, flesh, and innovation. Ferreira’s images perform Temporal Drag, as theorized by Elizabeth Freeman. Temporal Drag is when the body is used as a translator for time—as a way to understand the past, while at the same time attempting to ascertain a definite hold on the future. The blue cartoon ropes which bind and release the creatures in Ferreira’s drawings have gathered over time, like the tornado circling the Tasmanian Devil. The ropes engulf everything placed in their reach by history.
“Reconciliation” is one word Ferreira uses. His vejigantes are a way to reconcile, acknowledge, and communicate across time and space. They are a way to acknowledge the colonial violence that pushes silence upon the African Diasporan and queered histories that inform the bedrock of Caribbean identity. He uses the visual form as a translation tool for mapping experiences that exist without language. He describes this process in terms of echolalia: the repetition of speech by a child learning to talk. Ferreira lovingly explains the way in which his nephews on the autism spectrum repurpose language from popular cartoons and anime as a way to express themselves. The reference to echolalia does not conflate infantilism, autism, and African Diasporan and queered histories. Rather, Ferreira is referring to the use of acquired language and how repetition can help it gain or lose meaning.
Transmitting under the guise of hallucination , 2017, Non-photo blue, ink, collage, screen printing ink and gouache on Mylar, 55 x 40 inches
Ferreira’s works are composites of craftsman-drafted historical line drawings, which he binds together with warped and reinterpreted animated figures like Pinocchio, characters from anime such as Dragon Ball-Z, and protagonists like Max from Where the Wild Things Are. In a tangle of hibiscus blooms and tropical foliage, the figures explode and unravel. They are atemporal bodies carrying memories, spiritual practices, and ancestries that during migrations and immigrations lose their words. Ferreira’s echolalia addresses the histories of colonization, transatlantic slavery, design, popular culture, and assimilationist education via symbols that become redefined through his work.
Some of the artists who inspire Ferreira are Julie Mehretu, Wifredo Lam, Wangechi Mutu, Trenton Doyle Hancock, and Arturo Herrera. Literary and theoretical influences include Toni Morrison (Beloved, specifically), bell hooks, Jose Piedra’s essay “Nationalizing Sissies,” and Joel Spring. Spring, a Native American scholar of oppressive education tactics used in Native American, Caribbean, and Black communities, is of particular importance to Ferreira. The suppression of dialectical expression and colloquial language in education systems inspires Ferreira to question how one grasps who they are through things that become unnamed. Ferreira is performing acts of restoration, recovery, and reconciliation. Of particular interest is his desire to recover lineages from denial: lineages of Blackness, lineages of violence, lineages of conquest, but also lineages of joy and ancestral communication.
Bodies burn with longing can only be the work of some greater force (detail), 2015, Screen printing ink, water color and gouache on Mylar, 36 x 76 inches
Ferreira is an agent of care in his work, for he is aware of the circumambulating narratives and histories he is illustrating, recovering, through his hands. His work is a practice of accumulation. Ferreira’s process begins with researching and archiving images. Over time, he creates a cache of illustrations appropriated from cartoons, media, and history, which he transfers into transparencies and plastic cells. These materials allow him to alchemize the two-dimensional space of the translucent mylar on which his final work rests. While a student at The Cooper Union, Ferreira engaged almost solely in video work. His experience with moving image is still visible in the way he infuses his works with a different kind of time, and movement.
Open our minds as we castaway, 2017, Overhead transparencies mounted on acetate and plexi approximately 48 L x 20 W x 38 H inches
Recently, Ferreira began experimenting with sculpture. Open our minds as we cast away is a pirate/slave/merchant ship that seems to emerge out of curls of smoke. Upon closer inspection one finds the imagery of ropes, children, cages, hibiscus, and cartoon guns—the things once carried by these ships—return from the ether to reconstitute the vessel’s body. For Ferreira, history is as fantastical and as much a product of the imagination as illustration, but it nevertheless has real repercussions for organic bodies: the fantasy of history creates contemporary conditions that define and form the other. Ferreira’s work gives the viewer a deep taste, still just a taste, of what it is like to be bound by a history one is forced to live over and over again in the present.
Ferreira’s drawings are opulent in their accomplishments, passionate in their aims, and personal in their gestures and performances. They bear a generosity of skill, talent, and thought that conjures imagery of constant crossroads: a carnivalesque body that is flagrant and joyous in its symbolism and associations. They are a performance of the full acceptance of the ropes of history, culture, and politics that bind, but from which the vejigante might teach viewers how to become free.
Inter-arising in the inter-isness, 2017, Non-photo blue, ink, collage, screen printing ink and gouache on Mylar, 55 x 40 inches
Jessica Lanay is a poet and short story writer from the Florida Keys living in Pittsburgh. Her work can be found in Salt Hill Journal, Tahoma Literary Review, and is forthcoming in Fugue and The Common.
 Freeman, Elizabeth. Time binds: Queer temporalities, queer histories. North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2011.
(Image at top: Carnal Knowing, 2018, Gouache, screen printing ink, and collage on Mylar approx. 56 x 82 inches. All images: Courtesy of the artist)
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