"Caribbean: Crossroads of the World"
Watch 11 artists describe their works in Caribbean: Crossroads of the World.
Caribbean: Crossroads of the World will highlight over two centuries of rarely seen works—from paintings and sculptures to prints, photographs, installations, films, and videos—dating from the Haitian Revolution to the present. This exhibition employs an inter-disciplinary approach to advance our understanding of the Caribbean and its artistic heritage and contemporary practices. It focuses on four central themes: Fluid Motions, Counterpoints, Shades of History, and Kingdoms of this World. These interconnected frameworks allow insight into the complex context from which the vital and varied artistic production of the region has emerged, illuminating the multiple histories of the region.
Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortiz argued that two essentially different economic models––or counterpoints––produced sharply contrasting developments in Caribbean societies. Sugar was a transnational business that relied on the plantation system, new technologies, and low-skilled laborers, whereas the tobacco industry was developed locally and employed highly trained technical workers who became part of the growing middle class. Today, a new counterpoint continues to unfold, in which the oil and tourism industries reign. One demands beautiful, pristine beaches and turquoise-blue water while the other threatens these resources through ecological damage.
Counterpoints reflects on the economic shifts that took place in the region throughout the last century, from the dominance of plantation systems and the production of commodities such as sugar, tobacco, and fruit to the emergence of the oil and tourism industries. It also focuses on new economies related to leisure and creativity, such as sports and cultural industries.
Since the Haitian Revolution (1791–1804), a pivotal event that altered the visibility and influence of people of African descent in the region, discussions of Caribbean selfhood and identity have encompassed human rights, social status, national identity, and notions of beauty. The works presented in this gallery broadly explore the significance and relevance of race to the history and visual culture of the Caribbean. They also highlight major figures in Caribbean history and their influence on the ideals and values of cultural movements beyond its borders, such as Négritude, the Harlem Renaissance, and the civil rights movement.
These works shed new light on the legacies of slavery and abolition, the cultures of escaped slaves, and the Caribbean’s unique hybridity, underscoring their relevance to understanding the region today. From taking on a history of stereotypical and propagandistic images of people of African and mixed-race descent and contemporary images from popular media to issues of representation and beauty, these works critically unveil complex sociocultural contexts in which colonial, classist, and racialized ideas still play an important role.
Spiritual practices, indigenous forms, popular music and dance genres, newly created dialects, and carnival traditions emerge from the melding and adapting of different cultures converging in the Caribbean. Many Africans were forced to come to the New World as slaves and brought with them their religious practices. These were integrated with existing indigenous beliefs as well as with the sanctioned Catholic rituals mandated by the dominant colonial class. The resulting religions that mix together diverse beliefs and modes of worship often give primacy to the body as a vehicle for religious expression through corporeal veneration. Metaphorically leaving behind flesh and body, the aesthetic form of the carnival uses performance, masquerade, and costuming to hide and transform the self.
Caribbean artists often reveal disparate cultural heritages and practices, ranging from Wayang (Javanese shadow puppet theater) and Jamaica’s Rastafarianism to Aruba’s indigenous Papiamento language and the Dominican merengue. Unsurprisingly, Caribbean artists found fertile ground in European art movements and styles such as the baroque, Surrealism, and Dadaism, extending and subverting their tenets to address local, regional, and postcolonial issues. Throughout the history of artistic production in the region, Caribbean culture has been seen as a means and a metaphor for survival and resistance.