Review: Art of the islands on display at Studio Museum, El Museo del Barrio and Queens Museum of Art

‘Caribbean: Crossroads of the World’ explores issues of identity, colonialism, race, legacy of slavery, Casey Quinlan reports in this article for The New York Daily News.

Is there such a thing as a “Caribbean identity?” If so, is it defined by a mentality, a landscape or a shared experience of colonialism?

The Queens Museum of Art has partnered with the Studio Museum and El Museo del Barrio in Harlem to explore that question. The museums are showcasing works from Trinidad to Puerto Rico, spanning centuries of artists both established and emerging in the exhibition, “Caribbean: Crossroads of The World.”

“We realized museums were tired of doing Caribbean shows that didn’t matter, that had no real result,” said Elvis Fuentes, associate curator at El Museo Del Barrio in Harlem. “We thought if three museums can’t do a historical show that’s never been done, then who will?”

Fuentes spearheaded the project, which took several years to complete. What has emerged is an eclectic show that features craft pieces, such as costumes and oars, along with serious works from painter Armando Reveron and photographer Leo Matiz.

“There is this discussion of, ‘What is the Caribbean?’” said Tom Finkelpearl, the executive director of the Queens Museum of Art. “Is it the ocean, or a sensibility? We ended up with a broad definition.”

To delve into the many components of Caribbean identity, the exhibit abandons traditional linear concepts of organization. Instead, rough intuitive sketches of eels, fish and conch shells are displayed alongside more traditional landscapes featuring crashing waves and cloudy skies.

By grouping disparate pieces, the curators said they were trying to help tease out the similarities that make these works distinctly Caribbean.

Likewise, though each museum focuses on distinct aspects of Caribbean life, the exhibit considered in its entirety can be regarded as a cogent whole.

El Museo’s exploration of “Counterpoints” traces the legacy of the region’s slave plantations, exploring their impact on its social hierarchy; works under the rubric “Patriot Acts” address themes of Caribbean identity.

Works on display at the Studio Museum speak to the idea of the Caribbean as a land of the outlaw — one occupied by pirates and treasure seekers. Works grouped under the rubric “Shades of History” explore the region’s deeply complicated constructs of race.

The Queens Museum of Art is highlighting the “Fluid Motion” that seems omnipresent in a region composed of islands in the sea; “Kingdoms of the World” will trace the development of Caribbean religious traditions.

The exhibition runs through Oct. 21 at the Studio Museum, and until Jan. 6 at El Museo del Barrio and the Queens Museum of Art. An admission purchased at any venue confers access to all three. For more information, visit

Image: “Merengue” by Jaime Colson, 1937, on display at Queens Museum of Art

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