The family portrait has long been a conservative genre, often focused on the nuclear family ideal: a father, a mother, and two kids of opposite genders. Yet today, the genre is being transformed by queer, nonbinary, and BIPOC artists who are reframing the concept of family and focusing on social bonds rather than biological ones.
Family portraiture has historically been homogenous when it comes to representation. The genre has served to forge generational legacies, often through facial likenesses. The exhibition “The Nature of Family Portrait,” at Wave Hill Public Garden and Cultural Center in the Bronx, wrestles the genre away from relatives who resemble one another and towards individuals who share affinities, including friendships, communities, and ancestral traditions.
“The Nature of Family Portrait” includes works by Devin Osorio, Destiny Belgrave ,Maia Cruz Palileo, and Sean-Kierre Lyons “The exhibition expands the family for those who feel alienated or erased in the genre of the family portrait,” said curator Jesse Firestone, who mentored Belgrave and Palileo when they were in residence. The exhibition is located inside one of the former living quarters at Wave Hill. For Firestone, this was an opportunity to interrogate the genre in a space where actual family portraits of the previous owners reside as displays of power and generational wealth.
In a trio of bright acrylic paintings, Osorio interrogates the notion of the “familial” through hybrid creatures inspired by their Dominican heritage and the history of colonization in the Caribbean. Their family portraits are not of immediate family members, but rather portraits of archetypes, like the mother and father. In La Vaca Hecho Florero (2021), Osorio paints the mother, though her body is merged with a Brahman cow. The artist uses hybridity to reflect upon the exploitation of mothers as caregivers—in that they use both their body and labor to provide sustenance to their families—that mirror the exploitation of cows.