What’s on Our Nightstands: Art in the Caribbean, An Introduction

These past few days, I have been examining the impressive collection produced by Anne Walmsley and Stanley Greaves, in collaboration with Christopher Cozier, Art in the Caribbean: An Introduction (London: New Beacon Books, 2010).

Art in the Caribbean: An Introduction is a handsome, highly informative and accessible book; it is an effective tool for those who want to obtain a broad perspective on art in the pan-Caribbean region offering, as the editors state, “an opportunity to engage with the visual arts in the Caribbean region: from Belize to Central America through the Antillean Archipelago to the Guianas and South America.”

The “Gallery” presents 40 artworks—including paintings, sculpture, ceramics, artifacts, photography, video, installations, and a performance piece/costume/kinetic sculpture—made in the Caribbean from the 1940s to the 2000s. These works attest to a broad region steeped in African, Amerindian, Asian, and European art traditions reflecting their endless combinations and interlaced development. Each work is reproduced full-page, in color, coupled with an explanatory text. The Gallery includes works by artists representing Aruba, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Puerto Rico, Suriname, and Trinidad.

The Gallery section is complemented by very useful sections: Historical Background, Time Line, and Glossary of Art Terms. The Historical Background section outlines art production throughout the Caribbean region spanning from the pre-Columbian, colonial, and early independence periods to contemporary development. Illustrated by 100 smaller images, this section is divided into areas according to geo-political context and colonization patterns—Spanish, French, British, and Dutch—and further grouped by individual countries or groups of countries.  The Time Line lists main historical events and art developments allowing for sense of chronological comparison, from 5000BC to this decade. The Glossary of Art Terms is equally helpful, followed by a select bibliography and a listing of illustrations and their sources.

Although I was disappointed (perhaps succumbing to my nationalistic zeal) not to find representation of leading Puerto Rican artists in the Gallery, I learned about the people involved in a Public Art Community Project in Vieques (Erick Bermúdez, Nilda Medina, and Rosina Santana Castellón). The Historical Background section was more satisfying in the terms of inclusiveness. Within the obvious limitations of space, in this section, Anne Walmsley and Stanley Greaves did a great job of contextualizing the featured artists in the broader scope of artistic trajectories of each country. And of course, I was forewarned; the authors started out by recognizing that they would not be able to please everyone with their choices and that the selection was “drawn from all parts of the region but weighted towards the Anglophone Caribbean, given the books origins and expected readership.”

This tome constitutes a valuable contribution to the limited corpus of literature on Caribbean art. Not since Veerle Poupeye’s 1998 Caribbean Art have I found such an inclusive and up-to-date overview of the region’s aesthetic production. Greaves and Walmsley have achieved what they set out to do: to represent the principal visual traditions of the region, reflecting “the local and global reality that is inherent in the Caribbean formation and growth.”

Anne Walmsley is a British-born researcher and writer, specializing in Caribbean arts, with experience of secondary school teaching and educational publishing in the region.

Stanley Greaves is a Guyanese-born artist and art teacher whose art educational posts have ranged from secondary school to art colleges/universities in Guyana and Barbados.

For purchasing information, see www.newbeaconbooks.co.uk

For a full review by André Bagoo, see http://www.newsday.co.tt/features/0,132414.html

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s