In her paintings and drawings Tessa Mars links female vulnerability and resistance. Through her work she engages in a radical process of reclaiming: reclaiming what has been taken away, what has been fractured and misconceived. During a residency at the artist-run initiative Alice Yard in Trinidad and Tobago in 2015, Mars developed her fictional alter ego Tessalines. Tessalines, a heroic image of smiling pride and self-determination, reemerges throughout her paintings and drawings: beautiful, bold, defiant, heroic, and mischievous. Tessalines wears the military attire and symbols of the Haitian Revolution and becomes a gender-bended, fictional version of Haiti’s national hero Jean-Jacques Dessalines.
The national history and identity which Mars decides to evoke in her paintings are not retellings of the typical national story of masculine heroism. Instead, she feminizes the past to speak about links to contemporary societal concerns: how does the past continue to influence and haunt the present? As a female hero of the Haitian Revolution, Tessalines rewrites this history of silences within silences. Reclaiming the revolutionary body, she creates female, Maroon bodies of resistance. For the 10th Berlin Biennale, Mars developed the work The Good Fight (2018) during a two-month studio residency at the ZK/U – Center for Art and Urbanistics.