Until 6 Jan 13
Arnaldo Roche Rabell, We Have to Dream in Blue, 1986
The cultural and artistic history of the Caribbean since the Haitian Revolution in 1791 to 1804 is so expansive that three New York institutions have collaborated to tell the region’s story in the exhibition “Caribbean: Crossroads of the World”, opening during Caribbean American Heritage Month in the US in June.
Through art and historic artefacts, El Museo del Barrio, the Queens Museum of Art and the Studio Museum in Harlem each focus on important themes of the region to present a “comprehensive vision of what happened throughout the 19th and 20th centuries,” says Elvis Fuentes, the associate curator for special projects at El Museo del Barrio and the project director of “Caribbean: Crossroads”.
“It’s not a show on Caribbean art,” he says. “It’s a show on the Caribbean that uses art to talk about many, many issues.” Each institution focuses on two of those issues.
El Museo del Barrio explores the Caribbean’s plantation systems and how artists have created an identity for the region.
The Queens Museum of Art examines the unique geography of a region made up of islands, and the languages, cultures and religions that result in that relative isolation.
The Studio Museum in Harlem delves into race in the Caribbean along with stereotypes and myths, such as pirates and zombies.
“You cannot understand what happened in the agricultural industry, for instance, without knowing the environment, the past, the colonial period,” says Gerald Alexis, a Haitian art historian who helped organise the show.
“All of these elements are tied together.” Major planning for the exhibition began in 2006 with meetings between all three institutions, and the original idea was to focus solely on 20th-century art.
But after the organisers began making research trips to islands such as Aruba, Guadeloupe, and Trinidad and Tobago, representatives from each institution realised that they “have a responsibility to do something historical that institutions in the Caribbean would never be able to do,” says Fuentes, who is Cuban.
“What wasn’t needed was just another contemporary art show.” Alexis says that research trips to the Caribbean “confirmed how productive and extraordinary the creativity is in these countries.
Through talking to artists and visiting studios and museums, it confirmed that there was a need to prove that.” To amass a citywide exhibition of more than 400 works, including paintings, sculptures, prints, books, photography, film, video and historic artefacts from the Caribbean and abroad, a large curatorial team of artists and scholars have worked on the project with personnel from each institution.
Fuentes says that the institutions felt it necessary to examine “how the whole Caribbean has been affected by historical-political events, culture and aesthetics of every kind.” Many of the islands are still tied to their colonisers economically and politically, including the British, French and Dutch, which continues to shape their cultures.
Moreover, the show examines the impact that Africa and south Asia has had on the region. “Everybody went through there and left something,” he says.
The project, sponsored by the MetLife Foundation, also reaches outside the three main institutions with satellite exhibitions at the Americas Society, the Bronx Museum of the Arts and the Nathan Cummings Foundation in Hell’s Kitchen, among other institutions.
Admission to any of the three main museums includes entry to the other two venues. Eric Magnuson
Categories: Latin American
El Museo del Barrio
1230 Fifth Avenue, New York 10029, USA
+1 212 831 7272
Supplied by The Art Newspaper