Born Tegucigalpa, Honduras (date unknown) / B.A. and MFA., Visual Arts, University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada / Lives in Beverly Hills, MI
To sit down with Cherry Wood is to notice his poise and calm, traits that serve the observational interdisciplinary artist well. His voluminous output spans photography, drawing, painting, and performance, and has recently evolved to include time-based media, such as film and experimental music, as well. Through this approach, he explores race, language, geographic borders, sexuality, and identity. The Honduran-born creative is also the founder and publisher of Barbed Magazine, which has spotlighted LGBTQ, Black, Asian, Latinx, and other underrepresented artists in Metro Detroit since 2014.
Favoring the term “body action” over “performance art” to describe his practice, Cherry admits that his work defies easy interpretation or category. He notes, however, that his intention is neither to destabilize nor to transgress ideas about gender, nationality, or sexuality, but simply to articulate his reality and invite audiences “to believe that I’m telling the truth.”
Working under a pseudonym derived from his wood phallic sculptures, Cherry Wood opens a dialogue about his multifaceted identity: Hispanic, gay, migrant, naturalized citizen. Viewers are invited to ponder who monitors the borders of identity and what are the traditions and public ceremonies by which those boundaries are delineated. As such, Cherry’s work is marked not only by the innocence of self-discovery within existing social norms, but it is also grounded in experiments with farce and deconstruction – that is, confronting constructed binaries (white/black; masculine/feminine; sacred/profane) that often inhibit full and accurate expressions of individuality that emerge from complex lived experience. For example, an untitled self-portrait in an eagle costume, captured in 2021, exemplifies a process that Cherry Wood describes as a form of experimentation merging his varied identities as he navigates the world as a gay, hyphenated person, as much a product of his own creation as of social, political, and historical forces.
Influenced in part by 20th-century Surrealism, his approach differs from that of his contemporaries such as artists Ron Athey and Peter Clough, who seemingly aim to provoke audiences with extreme displays of bondage and torture. However, where such artists have gored or bound themselves perhaps in the name of advancing sensory or liberatory practices, Cherry Wood instead creates surreal scenes from the mundane, for instance, in Serenatas in Berlin and I am still in Oaxaca (both 2022), enveloping himself or a model in a banana bag that can be easily escaped or perforated. Or he derides labor opportunities for minorities and migrants by staging The Cherry Pie Contest (2021) with a single contestant, artist Josué Fierro.
In 2021, Cherry incorporated an unusual new tool to investigate authority and authenticity when he received a commission as a notary public, giving him the juridico-political legitimacy to affirm the veracity of another individual’s identity. The inquiry developed following his graduation from a Canadian university and naturalization as a US citizen. Accordingly, he recognizes that, as inherently social creatures, humans “seek to be redeemed by each other and desire to be authenticated by others,” while in tandem we also authenticate ourselves. For Cherry, embracing his distinct identities results not in a fragmented union, but rather in a fully reconciled hybridization. As if to memorialize his rebirth as an amalgam of these identities in the self-portrait Cherry Wood (2022), he showcases his chosen notary uniform: a black shirt, blue folkloric skirt, straw hat, full-face visor, and dried maize necklace — an ensemble whose elements not only consolidate his past, present, and future, but also suggest an ability to traverse both psychic states and geographic territories.
In his willingness to adopt new narratives, Cherry Wood reveals the porosity of borders and states of belonging that persist despite appearances and even formal acknowledgment. As such, his creative sensibilities share fraternity with the work of filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, pioneer of Spanish destape cinema who, for 50 years, has woven together visually compelling, gender-bending stories of gay culture and coming of age.
Cherry Wood often works with performance artists like Balitrónica Gómez and Aquarius Funkk and has undertaken progressively challenging residencies with organizations such as the experimental troupe La Pocha Nostra founded by artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña. These have presented an opportunity to allow others to perform with his skirt, for example, in portraits La Historia de la Madera De Cereza and Untitled taken in Oaxaca in 2022. The images document how the artists translate and alter his mannerisms, then co-create a moment and persona belonging to them all.
As his practice develops through collaborations, Cherry continues carving out a space that exists beyond dualistic paradigms. Instead, he embraces multitudinous, borderless personal identities, shaped by his lived experiences and personal evolution through constant self-discovery.
Precious Johnson-Arabitg. December 2022