Review: ‘Field Notes’ Uses Visual Art to Explore Caribbean Heritage


A review by Martha Schwendener for The New York Times.



Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts

80 Hanson Place, at South Portland Avenue, Fort Greene, Brooklyn

Through Sept. 27

Field notes are central to the disciplines of ethnography and anthropology, yet they were usually composed by someone observing a culture that wasn’t his or her own — in other words, an outsider. The seven artists in this show — all from the Caribbean or the Caribbean diaspora — reverse that tradition, making “notes” in the form of art that highlights myths, superstitions and practices native to the islands.

Gilles Elie-dit-Cosaque, originally from Martinique, makes lovely notebook-collages called “Lambeaux” (“Scraps”), a series from 2009 to 2015. Filled with personal and historical photographs and ephemera, the works borrow from Creole, a heterogeneous mixing of elements, to add a Caribbean tweak to the French “collage.” “Field Notes” (2014), a film by Vashti Harrison, an artist based in California whose roots lead back to Trinidad and Tobago, offers ruminations on ghosts and apparitions, and considers the etymological difference between zombies and Trinidadian jumbies (mythological spirits).

Holly Parotti’s photographs of silk cotton trees in the Bahamas conjure similar spooky mythologies, while Kelly Sinnapah Mary’s video and collage images of exaggerated female bodies, clearly inspired by the Kenyan-born artist Wangechi Mutu, suggest how African and Caribbean diasporas might mix and overlap. Deborah Anzinger, Joiri Minaya and Jasmine Thomas Girvan have all made lateral installations, hung on a wall or suspended in space, with paintings, photographs and found objects that refer to Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.

Sprinkled throughout the show, particularly in the wall text, are references to writers and thinkers like James Baldwin, Aimé Césaire, Jean Rhys, Édouard Glissant and Stuart Hall, who all eloquently addressed colonialism, racism and migration. The art here often falls short of these models, though the artists are all described as emerging in the news release. Thinking of these works as notes rather than opuses supports the provisional, exploratory process proposed by the exhibition’s title.

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