In her new work, Larissa Bates creates an imaginary universe inspired by Gabriel García Márquez, Viennese flower plates, and Persian miniatures. Her paintings take us to tropical forests and gardens of calla lilies and introduce a new cast of characters who play out psychological dramas across the canvas. These dramas, centered around themes of family and power, deal with Bates’ own family history and the complicated relationship she has with it.
Chiquita Banana explores Bates’ Costa Rican heritage (her mother was tica) and her family’s position in United Fruit, a company notorious for abusive labor practices that exploited Costa Rican citizens and stripped them of their land rights. Through the characters of the Chiquita Banana Girl and the Yalie, Bates’ work problematizes her Yale-educated family’s role in these neo-imperialist policies calls forth issues of nepotism, complicity, and white privilege. However, Bates’ paintings also feature nurturing, motherly characters, reminding us that family history is never one-sided. These characters refer to the artist’s grandmother, who was known for bringing Montessori schools to Costa Rica and for her fight for women’s rights.
At the heart of these paintings, then, there is profound ambivalence. Ambivalence towards her family’s altruistic and destructive practices in Costa Rica and ambivalence towards a family who could be at times callous in business, but was tender to each other. The MotherMan character epitomizes this ambivalence. Depicted as a wrestler, this character is at once nurturing and warm, while at the same time athletic, heroic, and physically masculine. In their role as caregivers, struggling for pacifism, the MotherMen challenge gender stereotypes and reveal an interpretation of masculinity that has long been stifled by societal pressures.
Family history comes to us in fragments—from photographs, textbooks, and family stories. In Chiquita Banana, Bates reassembles those pieces into a fantastical universe, one that allows her to come to terms with her family’s history—both the good and the bad.
- Eliza Butler, 2012
Larissa Bates received a BA from Hampshire College, Massachusetts. This is her fifth solo exhibition at Monya Rowe Gallery. Her work has recently been exhibited in group exhibitions at Boston University, Boston, MA; Bakersfield Museum of Art, Bakersfield, CA; and Monya Rowe Gallery. Bates recently exhibited her work in a solo exhibition at Galería Espacio Mínimo, Madrid, Spain. Her work will be on view at Nassau County Museum of Art, Roslyn Harbor, New York in a group exhibition this Spring. Bates lives and works in Providence, Rhode Island.