“Relational Undercurrents: Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Archipelago” in New York (Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University) is about to come to an end. The exhibition opened on June 1 and will close on September 23, 2018. In “Understanding Contemporary Caribbean Art Outside of the Latin American Framework,” Gwen A. Unger (Hyperallergic) explains that, as curators argue, “trying to subsume the Caribbean into a discourse of Latin America or America limits the ability to account for differences between islands.” Unger writes:
Even with the rising influx of exhibitions focused on Latin American art, the Caribbean has yet to be given such expansive exposure. When contemporary Caribbean art is represented in exhibitions, more often than not, countries that do not qualify as Spanish-speaking are omitted. Where do these countries fit, if not in a Latin American model, or a North American model? Relational Undercurrents: Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Archipelago — now on view at the Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University — attempts to answer this challenge.
Before making its way to the Wallach Art Gallery, Relational Undercurrents was first curated and organized as an exhibition for Pacific Standard Time: Los Angeles/Latin America at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach (MOLAA), California. Pacific Standard Time (PST), an initiative started by the Getty Foundation, focuses on various cultural themes of Southern California, in collaboration with arts institutions of the region. The most recent iteration, Los Angeles/Latin America (or LA/LA) took place from September 2017 to January 2018, and focused on the dialogue between Latin American and Latino art and Los Angeles.
Relational Undercurrents is a survey of contemporary Caribbean art spanning several countries, including Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Curacao, Aruba, St. Maarten, St. Martin, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Barbados, St. Vincent, and their diasporas. Featuring over 80 artists, the work consists of varying types of media such as installation, painting, photography, video, and performance. The curator, Tatiana Flores, is an associate professor of Art History and Latino and Caribbean Studies at Rutgers University, New Brunswick and a graduate of the Department of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University.
In their catalogue essay, Flores and her collaborator Michelle A. Stephens outline the underlying assumptions, theories, and goals of the exhibition, in particular the idea of using the archipelago as an analytical framework. Whereas past exhibitions have focused on the diversity and hybridity inherent in the Caribbean, Flores explains that Relational Undercurrents is meant to highlight the connections among different experiences in the Caribbean, bringing together artists from variegated backgrounds and languages. The curators want to show the Caribbean as a shared experience, while not negating the diversity of the region, because, as Stephens and Flores write in their introductory essay to the catalogue, “the visual arts are uniquely equipped to bridge the region’s language and cultural divides.”
By using the archipelago as a framework for the exhibition, Flores and Stephens define the Caribbean from the perspective of its inhabitants rather than from the continent. Trying to subsume the Caribbean into a discourse of Latin America or America, they argue, limits the ability to account for differences in experience between islands. [. . .]
[Above: Fermín Ceballos, “Isolation” (2005), photo of performance, Santo Domingo (photograph by Sayuri Guzmán, courtesy the artist).]
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