Document hears from the artists and activists who are engaging with the history and ideologies of the island to define the new cultural zeitgeist
Island nations are often stereotyped as insular and homogeneous, yet the Dominican Republic has cemented its cultural legacy in breaking from old-world assumptions about what art represents, of how it’s made and who gets a voice within it.
As we evolve past a uniform approach to fashion and art, audiences are increasingly expecting an amalgamation of cultures, styles and beliefs. The Dominican Republic, rich with a dense, multicultural history, embodies this shift. In recent years, the island has seen renewed interest from the larger art community, formed from both an influx of Dominicans born abroad and immigrants returning to the island to claim their cultural inheritance.
For Document, photographer Mitch Zachary sat down with Edgar and Stephanie from Tiempo de Zafra, Acentoh, Heidy Brathiny, and Carolin Willams Morales to discuss the changing perception of art on the island and explore how they are each exporting and engaging with the history and ideologies of the island to define the cultural zeitgeist.
Tiempo De Zafra; Art and design collective
How does nurturing other local talent play into your studio?
To be honest, it’s a hard balance. Having a small practice brings a lot of challenges. We often speak about our responsibility here. For example, we work with a young artist named Nicole, and she really nurtures us. A lot of the people that come into our studio are younger than us and look up to us, and we have to show up for them. When you pave the space for them to be and do their thing alongside while you’re doing yours, it creates room for growth. Having these conversations is part of us showing up for ourselves too, because it’s hard to know who we’re impacting. It [feels] good to be able to do what we love and encourage others to do the same.
Tell me about how you started this project.
When our families first arrived in New York, fashion was their way of assimilating [to] the culture. Fashion has always been part of our personal dialogue and how we move in life. For [me and] Stephanie, it was something that automatically connected us to where we were living, the group of kids we were hanging out with, and the music we were listening to.
What does the name ‘Tiempo de Zafra’ mean?
It means abundance. We thought about how foreign brands may have super hard to pronounce names, but if people subscribed to it, they [learned to] pronounce it [correctly]. So we thought, What if we have a name that’s from here? It was our way to bring focus to where we’re from and what we’re doing.
The literal translation is ‘time of harvest,’ and working with your hands is something our ancestors did and is such a part of our history. Our hope is that someone in New York or Paris can see our name and associate it with our work, but also the deeper history of this island.
What are your influences?
Definitely Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne from Public School. I used to be their intern back in New York. They influenced my understanding of what a fashion business could be. For me, [Stephanie] Margiela and Yohji Yamamoto, [who are] two people I ended up working for later down the line, [influenced my work]. They were setting the trends and guiding what you should be wearing. I really miss that aspect of fashion.
What kind of statement are you making by saying you’re independent?
We like to think the fashion pieces are the vehicles [through which we can] tell stories: To be able to document our environment, to give our friends our platform. Traditionally, our main cultural export has been music. It’s rare to see a designer from here and is based here going elsewhere. We run our own atelier, we shoot our own stuff, and cast young people who others may overlook. Having it all rooted in the Dominican Republic is very important to us. We live in a place where kids feel defeated as they see there aren’t many opportunities. Encouraging them to color outside the lines is something we feel very proud about.
Carolin Williams Morales; Costume designer, artist, and environmental activist
What does your relationship with art look like?
My love for art, which I share with my family, is in [my] DNA. I think the presence of fashion as a form of expression in my life is not an accident. I feel like fashion chose me. It connects me with my ancestors and several generations of my family. My mother had a sensitivity for painting, poetry and since I was a little girl I have been guided by those influences. My grandfather was a tailor and my father learned the trade from my grandfather. And although my dad is not in the fashion business anymore, he’s still passionate about upcycling, and we constantly connect on his design projects. Being Dominican is very picturesque. Our art [has] contrast, [it’s] colorful and textured with the charisma and warmth that represents someone from this country.
Heidy Brathiny; Hairstylist and environmental activist
How would you define Dominican art?
Each part of this island is art—the colors, the accent of each province— [it has] a wealth of complexity that only its people can provide because of our history. It’s [driven by a desire] to express ourselves in a unique way that is identified wherever we are—our way of walking, talking and dressing. We have a rich language, we add our own twist everytime we refer to something, from the typography of a bank to the design of a delivery bike.
Acentoh; Actor and musician
What do you think about the current influence the Dominican Republic is having on music world wide?
From my perspective, our art seeks first to rebel, then to impose itself, and break through in industries as difficult [to break into] as entertainment and art. I recently premiered a musical movie in which we push the boundaries on what talent in the Dominican Republic [looks like]. Dominican music is flourishing. It is at its zenith of growth, and very susceptible to change and innovation.
Models Darwin Martinez and Jendri Pimentel at Perkins; Ashanty De la Cruz at Luis Menieur; Stephanie Rodrigues, Edgar Garrido, Rey Peña, Daniel Messina Dietsch, Heidy Brathiny, Carolin Williams Morales, Ruth Aquino, Acentoh, Daniela Minyetty. Lucas Isaac de óleo Rodríguez. Hair Heidy Brathiny. Make-up Alexa Rivera. Photo Assistant Mia Vasquez. Stylist Assistant Jasmine James. Producer Billy Kiessling at Modem Creative Projects. Casting Stephanie Rodrigues. Production Assistants Milvia Yanely Sánchez Ogando, Felix Gabriel Montero Sánchez.