Quisqueya Henríquez
Helado de agua de mar Caribe
Santo Domingo, 2002

Eating Pieces of Sea

by Sara Hermann

Each man eating pieces of the island…
mist covering the scandal of the savannah with its icy disguise,
each palm proudly cascading in a green jet of water…
—The Whole Island. Virgilio Piñera

Quisqueya Henríquez is an artist with roots split between two islands. She was born in Havana and she grew up in Santo Domingo; she studied in Havana and she produced her work in Santo Domingo. Her production is extremely important to Caribbean art. Her pioneering work addresses critical issues that had largely gone unengaged in the local and regional scenes, among them the duality and bipolarity of islands and archipelagos; isolation and sound boxes; stereotypes and local types; migrant subjects and rooted subjects. Quisqueya uses a range of languages to discuss islandness. She reflects critically on the construction of fictions from spaces of power. She makes work that openly questions nationalisms. On the basis of the archetypical scenes she invents, she engages, and even questions, the ambiguity and antagonisms of current aesthetic logics. Her practice is rife with proposals that, from outlying territories, refer to discontinuity.

When she returned to the Dominican Republic at the end of the twentieth century, she worked on the Burlas series, a body of works that revolves around narratives of the tropics, mostly the Caribbean. The works address the stereotypes constructed in relation to the sea and islandness. But her art does not deal with just any sea. At the risk of seeming idealistic, I must clarify that the sea in her work—and the sea I am thinking of here—is exquisite and uncanny. Nor does Quisqueya refer to just any island. She addresses, rather, those emerging pieces of earth and their meaning as they bind and release her in turn. In the intimate relationship to islandness reintepreted in Burlas, then, strands of utopia exist alongside moments of violence. The utopianism lies in the formulation of impossible possibilities, not in resistance to the substratum of violence. The series is also highly autobiographical. It is a sort of logbook of her return, and everything it meant, the bitter and the sweet. In Ropa congelada [Frozen Clothes], a key piece in the Burla series, Quisqueya freezes every garment she owns in industrial freezers. Her daily life is frozen, subject to a radical thermic variation and anoxia that not only reshapes it in time, but also bares it of memory, scent, presences. The uncanny—that form of fright that affects things known and familiar—takes hold in pieces like Sangre congelada [Frozen Blood]. Blood, in all its scandal, undergoes sudden changes in temperature until it is solidified. In this bloodletting, consistency is the enigma. What does the blood tell us? What is in it?

Burlas recodifies and disassembles notions like temperature and the ephemeral. And that takes us to the story of the ice cream. Thanks to Quisqueya’s ability to alter established orders and throw off perceptive norms, ice cream—an ordinary object to be savored and desired—becomes, in her work, an instrument to question learned histories. Helado de agua de mar Caribe [Caribbean Seawater Ice Cream] asks questions personal and autobiographical, as well as historical and social, to name just a few. Key to making this ice cream a weapon is Cuban poet Virgilio Piñera’s The Whole Island and its “curse of being completely surrounded by water”—a phrase at the top of the artist’s mind when she was making the work. While it is true that that “curse” determines much about the ice cream’s configuration and poetics, both to its favor and its detriment, what Quisqueya is able to capture in her construction are incongruences and silences. This ice cream’s argument lies in the gaps between the Sargasso Sea and the Mona Passage. The act of conceiving, producing, and sharing the seawater ice cream is also the act of handing out—to those of us eager to take them—her doubts and certainties, and references to that fluid body. And among those eagerly shared notions is the understanding of the sea as source of histories. Its oft-cited characteristics—fluidity, endless movement, and changeability—are offset in this action by the idea of retreat, exclusion, and isolation.

I have lived with and tasted a number of versions of this ice cream. One of the photographs yielded by the action has been in the Centro León’s permanent collection since the work was awarded at the Concurso de Arte Eduardo León Jimenes. Thousands of people have walked before that image. Over the years, I have heard so many readings and accounts of it—and I have constructed my own, some of which have even earned Quisqueya’s approval. The one I have told here is only one of them.


Notes on Ice Cream Making

by Quisqueya Henríquez

It was just an idea jotted down in a notebook. Peter Doroshenko, the director of the Institute of Visual Arts (INOVA) at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee at the time, and I were looking through my notes on the projects I wanted to do in 2002, the year that had just started. We sat down on the carpeted floor of ArcoMadrid to discern which of all my ideas was best suited to his curatorial project. His choice was surprisingly bold for a show that would take place in the framework of an art fair. Back in the Dominican Republic, I couldn’t stop thinking about how difficult it would be to make saltwater ice cream, all the more so using Caribbean seawater.

The first version—and, as a result, all the others—was possible thanks to the vision of Claude Douyon and the chief chemical engineer at Helados Nevada. Claude Duyon was a gallerist and ice cream maker, a magical combination that conspired to produce the ice cream and, thus, the work. I didn’t have to mention the project to him twice. Fifteen days after I got back from Spain, his factory was making the first test batches. We marinated the seaweed to bring out the sea flavor, added whey and then stabilizers to get the right texture, and then did color tests. We made two batches, one that didn’t turn out because of bacteria and one fit for consumption. We reduced its fat content to 3% to meet FDA standards.

Shipping the ice cream from Santo Domingo to Chicago was a vexing problem. We soon embarked on the procedures and made the inquiries to ensure that the ice cream would each its final destination unmelted. Experts in the matter explained that the only way to do it was in a private plane that could hold an icebox that would, in turn, hold the four pints encased in dry ice. We had a stopover in New York on our way to Chicago. For the reasons described above, the icebox and its contents spent the night in the freezers of the kitchen at Hotel Carlyle—the owners of the plane also owned an apartment there. The ice cream was “set free” that night, just as it was "set free" at midday the next day when we reached Chicago; the Caribbean seawater ice cream did not melt.

The second version of Helado de agua de mar Caribe [Caribbean Seawater Ice Cream] was produced in 2007 for the exhibition The World Outside at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. This time, the manufacture and export strategies were different. I decided to ship only the water, instead of the finished ice cream. I put four gallons of water in a box and headed to Fedex. I paid the rate for next-day delivery, and the Caribbean seawater reached the museum one day later. Amy Rosenblum Martín, the show’s curator, received the package without incident. When I arrived one or two days later, the staff and the equipment of Delicioso Helado Coco, the company that had agree to make the ice cream, was ready to start mixing the ingredients. The Bronx version included coconut oil and rum, neither of which was in the original 2002 recipe.

Silvia Karman Cubiñá
Curator. She lives and works in Miami.

Since 2008, she has been the executive director and curator-in-chief of The Bass Museum in Miami Beach. For seven years before that, she was the director of The Moore Space. She was an adjunct curator at the Institute of Visual Arts (INOVA) at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She has given a great many lectures, participated in panels, and sat as a juror on selection committees for the Hugo Boss Prize, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Lyon Biennale.

Peter Doroshenko
Curator. He lives and works in Dallas.

He is currently the executive director of Dallas Contemporary. He has been the curator and director of a number of institutions, among them the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, England; SMAK - Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Belgium; and the Institute of Visual Arts (INOVA), Milwaukee, the United States.

Peter Doroshenko and Silvia Karman Cubiñá discuss the presentation of the ice cream in the context of Metropolis, a special project for the 2002 edition of Art Chicago, which Doroshenko curated. They underscore that Quisqueya Henríquez’s action was entirely in keeping with the diverse communities in the cities of Milwaukee and Chicago, largely due to the presence of Latino groups, and Doroshenko’s own interest in pursuing a spirit of diversity. They recall the project’s production difficulties as well as the artificial appearance of the ice cream, which they associate with the question raised in Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey: Why isn’t there more blue food in the world?

“We created commissions that allowed artists to reflect the community and their environment […], to create new art for new audiences, a younger set of audiences. Quisqueya was very much part of that, because of what her work meant for our community, where there is a large Caribbean and Latin American population that we definitely wanted to engage.”

Amy Rosenblum Martín
Curator. She lives and works in New York.

She is the MoMA PS1 guest assistant curator of the exhibition “Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration” (by Nicole Fleetwood). She has curated shows such as “Ana Mendieta: Thinking about Children’s Thinking” (Sugar Hill Children’s Museum, 2017-18), “Marisa Morán Jahn: Bibliobandido” (Sugar Hill, 2018), and “Quisqueya Henríquez: The World Outside” (Bronx Museum, then PAMM, 2007-08). She studied at Oberlin, the Universidad de Buenos Aires, and Columbia, where her thesis was entitled “Inverted Envy: Lucio Fontana and the Argentinean Avant-Garde of the 1940s” (2002).

Rosenblum-Martín recaps the various projects she and Quisqueya Henríquez worked on between 1996 and 2007, when she curated the Henríquez retrospective, The World Outside: A Survey Exhibition for the Bronx Museum. Rosenblum describes the production and the exhibition of the ice-cream work in that context, recalling that many people didn’t want to try it at first. She also explains the work’s subtle reflection on colonialism and migrations.

“The ice cream’s taste was complex—and that was important to conveying a number of ideas, among them a critique of the tourist notion of the Caribbean Sea, a notion in which colonialism resonates. The work also encompassed the dangers of migration through those waters.”

René Morales
Curator. He lives and works in Miami.

He is currently the director of curatorial affairs and the chief curator at Pérez Art Museum Miami, where he has organized over fifty exhibitions. His recent projects include Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Surrounded Islands, 1980–83 (2018), Dara Friedman: Perfect Stranger (2017), Sarah Oppenheimer: S-281913 (2016), Susan Hiller: Lost and Found (2016), Marjetica Potrc: The School of the Forest (2015), Amelia Peláez: The Craft of Modernity, and Monika Sosnowska: Market (2013–14).

René Morales argues that this work is tied to the “myth of insularity” that has hounded the Caribbean since the very beginnings of colonialism. He underscores the fundamental role Quisqueya Henríquez’s ice cream played in the conception of the show Island Nations held at the RISD Museum in 2004. Morales clearly recalls the taste of the ice cream, even though he is not sure he actually tried it; he had thought so hard about the piece that he had a precise idea of what it would taste like. Furthermore, he ties the work to the idea of the Caribbean as a jumble of contradictions that cannot be untangled.

“Insularity is less a geographic condition than a political, socioeconomic, and psychological one. It isn’t just the ocean that separates the region from the world beyond it, but also stereotypes, preconceptions, migrations policies, and the distortions of the tourism industry.”

Maggie Miqueo
Collector and Contemporary Art Connoisseur. She lives and works in Santo Domingo and Cosón, Samaná, the Dominican Republic.

A lawyer specialized in public finance, she graduated magna cum laude from Columbia University before receiving her law degree from New York University School of Law. Since 1999, she has managed family investments and sat on the board of directors of private companies and of NGOs working in the areas of women’s rights and international public health.

Maggie Miqueo remembers her involvement in the logistics of shipping Helado de agua de mar Caribe [Caribbean Seawater Ice Cream] to the United States for exhibition at the Bronx Museum. Miqueo recalls the difficulties the operation presented. She provides context for this piece and others by Quisqueya Henríquez, among them Lucha térmica[Thermal Struggle] and Ropa congelada [Frozen Clothes], both from 2001. At stake in them all, Miqueo points out, is the contrarian power of collisions (cold-hot, savory-sweet, reality-imagination).

“It is said that tasting begins with the eyes, continues with the nose, and then reaches the mouth. This ice cream unquestionably explodes in the mouth. It blows to bits all the ideas about the Caribbean that turn out either not to be true at all or to be true on very different terms, ideas that are invariably bound to suffocating stereotypes.”


Archive 1 >
The Ice Cream and its Circumstances

This section of the archive contains four clusters written by Quisqueya Henríquez entitled ideas, processes. exhibition, and publication, respectively. In “ideas,” the artist discusses the work’s original context. “Processes” includes color references and recounts the process of collecting the water and making the ice cream. “Exhibition” encompasses images of the artist’s first public action. “Publication” presents the essay Tasting the Caribbean: The Art of Quisqueya Henríquez that Gabriela Rangel commissioned Isabela Villanueva to write in 2007along with critical texts by Rachel Somerstein and Amy Rosenblum Martín.


While making the test batches and adjusting the formula, I took photographs that would later become works in their own right.

Image: Helado de agua de mar Caribe [Caribbean Seawater Ice Cream], from the Burlas series, 2002. Digital photograph. 101 x 101 cm. Awarded at the XIX Concurso de Arte Eduardo León Jimenes. Eduardo León Jimenes de Artes Visuales Collection. Centro León.


These images were taken during a helicopter trip over the waters of La Caleta in Santo Domingo province, the Dominican Republic, a place of reference for endless exoticizing descriptions of the sulfur-blue shallow Caribbean waters. Located near the Las Américas International Airport, this coastline welcomes and bids farewell to those coming in and out of the island.

Photographs: Robert John Álvarez.


Collection, in 2007, of the waters to be used for the version of Helado de agua de mar Caribe [Caribbean Seawater Ice Cream] featured in The World Outside, Bronx Museum of the Arts, September 2007–January 2008 and the Pérez Art Museum Miami, April–July 2008.

We embarked in the eastern province of La Romana in a motorboat called Nikita. Architect and artist Gianfranco Fini was at the helm. We headed southwest into the open sea and stopped some eighteen nautical miles offshore, at 17° 326’ 20” north and 68° 58’ 860” west, to collect the water, the main raw material for the ice cream. From then on, it was important to keep the waters from getting contaminated.

Photographs: Lowell Whippel / Gianfranco Finni.


Making the ice cream for the second version of the work, featured at the exhibition The World Outside at the Bronx Museum. Ingredients: Caribbean seawater, whey, coconut oil, stabilizers, marinated seaweed, blue food dye #6. I added Dominican rum this time.

Photography: Amy Rosenblum Martín.

Archive 2 >
Statement of Intentions

by Quisqueya Henríquez

In the late nineteen-nineties, I moved back to the Dominican Republic from the United States. A journey against the northward migration flow, a journey that would redefine my entire practice through engagement with issues specific to the context and a keener vision of some of the historical, social, and cultural facets of the Dominican Republic and the Caribbean in general.

The Caribbean Sea was, I thought, a theme with a great many angles to explore. I was interested in lessening the emotional charge of insularity, of being an island, in destabilizing imaginaries, in creating a startling narrative. I envisioned an experience, an exchange with the audience. I wanted the work to be edible, close to the domestic, savory when something sweet is expected, a change in the rules, a jab at preconceived ideas.

The palate put to the test, savoring a geographic circumstance.

Ephemeralness is vital to this work. Implicit to it is the challenge of keeping steady a consistency that depends on dropping temperatures.

Archive 3 >
Documentation of the Action

Archive 4 >
Other works in the Burlas series

These three pieces by Quisqueya Henríquez are tied, on conceptual level, to the ice cream. As part of the same series, they provide a framework for Helado de agua de mar Caribe [Caribbean Seawater Ice Cream] within Henríquez’s art.

The Burlas works explore visions of the tropics, the Caribbean in particular: from sayings or clichéd ideas that establish a deterministic tie between climate and ways of thinking to a relationship to the light, the sun, the landscape, and the sea, by way of the tourist vision and other factors that make up a discourse riddled with stereotypes.

Burlas formulates a dialogue with the discourses structured in previous decades around and from the Caribbean islands, ideas located and constructed, through parody, at the intersection of the cultural, the geopolitical, and the weather. With irony and humor, the works in this series revolve around Cuban writer Virgilio Piñera’s poem La isla en peso [The Whole Island, 1943], mostly that poem’s opening stanza that reads “the curse of water everywhere …”.

Others works from that 2001–2001 series include Ropa congelada [Frozen Clothes], Lucha térmica [Thermal Struggle], and El sabor de los estereotipos [The Taste of Stereotypes].

Image: Quisqueya Henríquez, Sangre congelada [Frozen Blood], from the Burlas series2001. Digital photograph. 101,6 x 101,6 cm.


From the Burlas series, 2001
Digital photography
35 prints, 25,4 x 30,5 cm each
Edition of 5


From the Burlas series, 2001
Video installation (dimensions variable)
Duration: 14:34
Edition of 5


From the Burlas series, 2001
Digital photography
8 prints, 25,4 x 30,5 cm each
Edition of 5

Archive 5 >
Inexact Chronology:
Interventions and Turbulences

This section consists of seven of Quisqueya Henríquez’s observations regarding historical events and sociocultural constructions that inform, on a conceptual level, Helado de agua de mar Caribe [Caribbean Seawater Ice Cream].

Image: Quisqueya Henríquez. Línea de horizonte [Horizon Line], from the Espacio público series, 2005. Digital photography. Edition of 3.


To mention the sea, to recognize its presence, is, on islands, an act of courage and of profound dependence. Colonial presences, pirates, corsairs, buccaneers, and filibusters. For centuries, the sea was a fear tied to everything.

Image: Island Map. c. S XVIII. Henríquez Cruz familiar Archive.


Three instances of United States military occupation or intervention in the Dominican Republic (1904, 1916, and 1965); the strategic conception of the region as the “third frontier” or “perimeter of defense,” to use historian Jorge Rodríguez Beruff’s phrase.

Image: USS Olympia, from which the 1916 U.S. occupation was announced. National Archive, Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic.


North American political-military stewardship of the Dominican Republic, which included the “counterinsurgency doctrine,” focused on radical opposition movements. That stewardship lasted into the nineteen-eighties, when—with the beginning of the end of the Cold War—it came to be called “low-intensity conflict.”

Image: Henríquez Cruz family Archive.


Thanks to a wall built in the sixteenth century, Santo Domingo was a walled city for centuries. In 1920, “the pleasure of studies”—the city’s first opening to the sea—was built. But into the nineteen-forties, bourgeois homes in Santo Domingo were built along the city’s southern shore with their backs to the sea. This was not only a means to deal with hurricanes and the extremely salty Caribbean water, but also evidence of the psyche of a West Indian island forged between a colonial heritage and the rise of a nation state.

Image: Archivo General de la Nación. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.


A brief idyllic moment around the nineteen-seventies. A slight sense of resignation, part and parcel of a “stable periphery.” This period was also characterized by discourses of resistance in art and literature in response to the “leaden age,” as the first twelve years of Joaquín Balaguer’s rule were know. Balaguer had been a close ally of Dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, who was responsible for the murder of over four thousand Dominicans, among them intellectuals and leftist leaders. That idealistic vision was brought to an end with the drama of migration that began in the nineteen-eighties.

Image: Justo Susana. Sin título [Untitled]. 1975, Acrylic on canvas, Tamara and Juan Julio Bodden collection.


On September 5, 1980, twenty-two undocumented Dominicans suffocated to death in the ballast tank of the Regina Express. The mass exodus from the port of Mariel of some 125,000 Cubans fleeing to the United States took place that same year.

The nineteen-nineties witnessed an increase in Dominican migration to Puerto Rico and the continental United States, mostly by means of illegal journeys across the Mona Passage. In 1994, 362,000 Cuban boat people left the Havana waterfront to make their way to Miami through the Straits of Florida in what is known as the Marial boatlift or the third Cuban exodus.

Currently, approximately one hundred journeys begin at the Dominican Republic’s western shores every year to sneak an average of eighty people each to the eastern shores of Puerto Rico. The vessels used most often are yolas—precarious wooden rafts—and fiberglass motorboats. Yola trips are slower, cheaper, and more dangerous than the ones in motorboats.

On July 9, 2020 eighty-seven Dominican migrants were repatriated from Puerto Rico in a major operation of the United States Coast Guard (Caribbean Border Interagency Group). Three vessels making clandestine crossings were intercepted.

Images: Ship leaving the port of Mariel, 1980 and the front page of Listín Diario, September 6, 1980.


After his performance protesting the absence of any Indigenous component in the celebration of the five hundredth anniversary of the “discovery” of the Americas, artist Silvano Lora, speaking to the press, called for a year of commemoration, not celebration. For the five hundredth anniversary, replicas of La Pinta, La Niña, and La Santa María, the ships in Columbus’s fleet, arrived in Santo Domingo. Silvano’s action—a political response to that pro-Hispanic vision—entailed making a replica of a cayuco, the small Indian boat with no keel used in the West Indies.

Silvano Lora during his action in the waters off Santo Domingo’s del Puerto Avenue in October 1992. Photograph: Carlos Santos. Courtesy of the Fundación Silvano Lora.

Archive 6 >
Related Texts

We recommend the following critical essays on Quisqueya Henríquez’s work and Helado de agua de mar Caribe [Caribbean Seawater Ice Cream] in particular

6.1. Isabela Villanueva. "Tasting the Caribbean: The Art of Quisqueya Henríquez". Review: Literature and Arts of the Americas 74, mayo de 2007, p. 106-110.
See full text (PDF) >

6.2. Rachel Somerstein. "The Other Side of Paradise". Artnews, septiembre de 2007, p 122-123.
See full text (PDF) >

6.3. Amy Rosenblum Martín. "Quisqueya Henríquez and The World Outside". Catálogo de la exposición The World Outside A Survey Exhibition 1991-2007. The Bronx Museum of The Arts, 2007.
See full text (PDF) >