Beyond the island paradise: “Relational Undercurrents”


[Many thanks to Thomas Spear for bringing this item to our attention.] The full title of the article is “Beyond the island paradise: A show that looks at what binds art and ideas in the polyglot Caribbean.” Carolina A. Miranda reviews “Relational Undercurrents: Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Archipelago,” part of the Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA exhibition series. [See previous post Relational Undercurrents: Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Archipelago.] Here are excerpts; read full review via the Los Angeles Times:

In the galleries of Long Beach’s Museum of Latin American Art hangs an unusual map. On first impact, it looks like a seafaring map from the Age of Exploration, with its barely recognizable land forms and monster octopuses devouring a sailing ship. But study it further and curious details emerge. There are the precise renderings of seaplanes and cruise ships. And soon the familiar outlines of the Caribbean Sea come into focus.

The map is a 2017 work by Haiti-born artist Jean-Ulrick Désert titled “The Waters of Kiskeya/Quisqueya.” Part of the Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA exhibition series, the map is on view at “Relational Undercurrents: Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Archipelago,” now in its final days at the museum.

One thing that makes Désert’s map so difficult to identify on first impact is that he has rendered the Caribbean Sea in white instead of the more familiar blue, so the water blends in with the landmasses around it. Moreover, a web of red lines dissects the water into a constellation of geometric shapes that mark the Caribbean’s maritime borders.

“All the red lines, they’re like shards of glass,” says the exhibition’s curator Tatiana Flores. “It’s the story of the Caribbean. Under indigenous people, this was one space, but it became so fragmented as a result of colonial history.” Désert’s map seems to undo the concept of what is Caribbean even as it defines it — pointing to the challenges facing any curator who seeks to tackle this unwieldy region, a place that is less land than water, and where reality, like the tides, always seems to be shifting.

“These are places that weren’t supposed to be places,” says Trinidadian artist Christopher Cozier via telephone from Port of Spain. “You have a location where competing European kingdoms created external labor camps to enrich themselves … It was where transplanted units of labor and raw materials came together.”

The Caribbean has mountains and lowlands; tropical weather and dry. It is home to people who bear indigenous, African, European and Asian roots and speak English, Dutch, Spanish, French and Kreyol. It was the site of one of the Western Hemisphere’s earliest independence struggles (the 1791 slave revolt that led to Haiti’s independence in 1804) and one of its last (Cuba, in 1898 — which came, in part, as a result of the Spanish-American War). Over the centuries, its myriad nations have been governed by colonial authority, distant monarchy, democracy, dictatorship and communist dictate.

“Relational Undercurrents” doesn’t seek to define the Caribbean, nor to capture the breadth of its experience. Instead, it zooms in on points of connection, looking for ideas that bind, rather than the red lines that divide. The result is a taut show, full of surprises, built around several themes that transcend language, politics and the old colonial divides — and that pierce the trope of island paradise. [. . .]

Continue reading at

[Image above: A still from the video “Black Bullets,” 2010, by Danish Trinidadian artist Jeannette Ehlers, on view at MOLAA. (Jeannette Ehlers)]

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