The Feminine Body in Caribbean Contemporary Art


The International Association of Art Critics (Association Internationale des Critiques d’Art or AICA) recently posted a comprehensive article on the feminine body in Caribbean contemporary art. Written by Dominique Brebion, it was translated from the French original by Suzanne Lampla. The article reviews works by the Dominican Republic’s Raquel Païewonsky—see image above—Céleste Woss y Gil, and Leticia Ceballos; Joscelyn Gardner, and Alberta Whittle, from Barbados; Janine Antoni  and Marlon Griffith, from the Bahamas; Trinidad’s Suzan Dayal  and Nicole Awaï; Jamaica’s Renée Cox,Venezuela’s Yeni and Nan;  Martinicans Julie Bessard, Alex Burke, Ella-artiss, and Shelly Rufin; and Kelly Sinnapah Mary, from Guadeloupe. Here are excerpts with a link to the full article below.

[. . .] From the 1960’s, the body was not exclusively limited to a status of representation, on the contrary it became used as a prop for protest, a communication tool for ideals and claims, a provocation vehicle defending the freedom of speech. The body becomes among other things a tool for the feminist protest with artists like Orlan, Valie Export, Louise Bourgeois, The Guerilla Girls, Kara Walker, Marina Amabrovic, and Annette Messager. This artistic work based on protest is also common in the Caribbean even though it seems less obvious in the French oversea regions of America. If we consider a broader context, that of the Caribbean, numerous works directly related to women’s menstruation, feminist protest or confusion of genders can be found.

So in the first category of works related to menstruation we can evoke Suzan Dayal (Trinidad) with Menstruation/Ovulation (acrylic on canvas, cotton, linen, bamboo and iron sheet, (158cm x158cm) and also Raquel Païewonsky (Dominican Republic) featuring pregnancy and maternity. Women artists like Joscelyn Gardner (Barbados) Raquel Païewonsky (Dominican Republic) Suzan Dayal (Trinidad) Janine Antoni (Bahamas) Nicole Awaï (Trinidad) also question feminist issues.

[. . .] Breasts are a recurring shape in Raquel Païewonsky’s work, in her paintings as well as in her installations. The title Bitch Ball is a pun on the words bitch and beach. Païewonsky questions the nursing mother/ sex toy representation but also the representation that society- and women too- gives to the feminine body, of feminity. These are oversized breasts with oversized areola and nipple, which are hand embroidered, fitted over huge beach balls covered in microfiber, a synthetic material similar to the human skin and representing different shades of skin colour that can be found in the Caribbean.

[. . .] I don’t think that we could confirm that in Martinique there exists a strong tradition, or a movement of women artists who produce committed and radical work about the feminist thematic. [. . .] I can mention more particularly Julie Bessard’s work (Martinique) whose Ombres portées – Projected Shadows- are not based on feminism. She creates installations using the straw with which the milliner makes hats. First the preparation of the straw which is fixed with staples on a hard thread to make it easier to bend it and then shaping it into the object she wants is a long painstaking work, expiatory, partly like saying the rosary or working at a tapestry. This is a repetitive and automatic gesture in which the artist’s entire body is needed, and we could probably make a parallel with Joscelyn Gardner’s Tiny Prick – (Barbados), or even classify this among the practices most commonly defined as specifically feminine. All the same can we relate the artist’s sex with her creative choices? The dolls created by Alex Burke (Martinique) as well as the paper lace of Marlon Griffith (The Bahamas) seem to denote the opposite.

[. . .] What dialogue can be established between the glorified nudes by Céleste Woss y Gil (Dominican Republic), or the narrative photographic mise-en-scène by Renée Cox (Jamaica), the feminist performances by Janine Antoni (Bahamas) or Ana Mendieta (Cuba), social or historical critique that we find in the fragmented bodies of Raquel Païewonsky (Dominican Republic) or Joscelyn Gardner (Barbados)?

For full article, see

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