Miranda Katz reviews art exhibition “Flow: Economies of the Look and Creativity in Contemporary Art from the Caribbean,” which is on view at the Inter-American Development Bank Cultural Center (located at 1300 New York Avenue NW in Washington, DC.) through August 29, 2014. [See previous post IDB Presents “FLOW: Economies of the Look and Creativity in Contemporary Art from the Caribbean”.]
Katz writes: ‘A thought-provoking commentary on image-obsessed societies, “Flow” defies easy definition. These artists subvert stereotypes of the Caribbean, revealing complexities that go far beyond the paradisiacal image of the region propagated by the tourism industry. Do not be deceived by its title: The exhibition does not encourage going with the “flow” of commoditization and beautification; rather, it pushes back against that current, acting as a critical check to contemporary Caribbean culture.’
“Flow: Economies of the Look and Creativity in Contemporary Art from the Caribbean” addresses the region’s shifting culture, critiquing archetypes of beauty, gender, race and power. Featuring 27 works by artists from more than a dozen islands and nations — Aruba, the Bahamas, Barbados, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Panama, Puerto Rico, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago — the exhibition is a commentary on today’s image-driven pop culture, particularly in an increasingly globalized Caribbean.
The exhibition is broken into three categories: “Surfaces,” “Acces(sories)” and “Vanity Fair.” The first category deals primarily with themes of beauty and aesthetics, looking at the role appearance plays in society, from tattoos to fashion. The second explores the significance of brands and personal decorations: What, exactly, do they tell us about a particular reality? The latter category is concerned with the image of the Caribbean itself and juxtaposes the ideal of a beach paradise with a reality that can be the antithesis of paradise.
Though the gallery does not make explicitly clear to which category each piece belongs, this is no detriment; rather, this ambiguity allows viewers to contemplate the myriad messages each piece might convey. For example, Jessica Lagunas’s three video performances — “The Better to Caress You With,” “The Better to Kiss You With” and “The Better to See You With” — belong to the category of “Surfaces,” yet speak to more than just the theme of idealized beauty. In the videos, Lagunas applies nail polish, lipstick and mascara, respectively, until each container is fully emptied, resulting in grotesquely over-painted nails, lips and eyelashes. This series addresses cosmetics and the ideals to which women aspire, yet it also comments on the commoditization of the beauty industry itself; as such, it treads the line between “Surfaces” and “Acces(sories),” calling into question the relationship between aesthetics and economics. [See photo above.]
Nail polish makes another appearance in Nicole Awai’s “Specimen from Local Ephemera: Castle Nut and Drama Queen Series,” a mixed-media piece that blends standard materials — graphite, acrylic paint — with the less traditional, such as glitter and the aforementioned nail polish. “Specimen” offsets classical portraiture and architectural precision with a legend detailing the colors of the nail polishes she has painted with — “Pool Party” blue, “Dream Queen” pink and so on. With the brands of each polish written clearly on the surface of the piece, it is ambiguous whether Awai is critiquing commodity culture or embracing it as a new medium.
[. . .] Set off from the main room are two of the most striking pieces of such criticism: Regina Galindo’s “Cut through the Line (Recorte por la línea)” and Kelly Sinnapah Mary’s “Vagina, Jyoti Singh Pandey.” The former is a video performance in which a plastic surgeon draws on the artist’s naked body with marker to indicate the surgeries that would be necessary to render her physically perfect. As Galindo’s body becomes covered with marker ink, the overlapping shapes and lines blur and overlap, losing their meaning while highlighting unattainable ideals of beauty. The piece was filmed in Venezuela, which has some of the highest rates of cosmetic surgery in the world and an entire industry built around beauty pageants.[See photo, left.]
Mary’s piece, on the other hand, is a chromogenic print that depicts a woman sitting in a sensual pose and holding out scissors. Written on her headdress are the words “castrate rapists.” Here, archetypes of female beauty come into conflict with sexism and gender violence. [. . .]
For more information on the exhibit, call (202) 623-1410 or visit www.iadb.org/cultural
For full review, see http://www.washdiplomat.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=10623:caribbean-artists-critique-image-driven-culture&catid=1520:-july-2014&Itemid=428