A review by Nadja Sayej for London’s Guardian.
“Is it possible to move Caribbean art, or art of the Caribbeandiaspora, away from trauma and catastrophe?” asks María Elena Ortiz, who has co-curated a new exhibition tasked with doing just this, focusing on the future rather than the rocky, colonial past.
Working alongside Marsha Pearce, Ortiz has constructed The Other Side of Now: Foresight in Contemporary Caribbean Art, which showcases the works of 14 artists at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, opening this week.
The artists in the exhibition, mostly young, hailing from the English, French, Dutch and Spanish-speaking islands, all look to questions regarding the future of the region.
“I’m a black Latina born and raised in Puerto Rico, I curate work I identify with,” said Oritz. “There are so many great artists in the Caribbean; the goal was to include other voices in the conversation. If we have this platform, why not use it to support the work of young artists?”
One of the main questions behind the exhibit is how to think about the future of the Caribbean in present day. “Not tomorrow,” adds Ortiz.
“After that hurricane season happened, we asked ourselves, how can we think about our future?” said Ortiz. “I think the Caribbean has been marked by traumatic things, it’s a source of inspiration that is valid and true. But how to move beyond that, is it possible, needed? How can we have autonomy? It’s often forgotten or not talked about.”
It ties into the recent announcement from Antigua, which has a “Chinese colony” plan to build resorts, homes and factories, sparking outrage from local activists and environmentalists.
Last summer, Antigua and Barbuda was the first country in the region to sign up for China’s Belt and Road initiative, which will see infrastructure built across the islands, including one area that is a marine-protected reserve.
This exhibit features artworks by the Trinidad and Tobago artist Alicia Milne, who is showcasing touristic plates of Caribbean islands – which may look like your average ceramic plates – but have subtle changes.
“She tweaked them subtly with Chinese motifs,” said Ortiz. “She is interested in how China has influence in the Caribbean, funding hotels and resorts. Can we escape this, considering China is becoming an influence in Caribbean dynamics? It expresses her everyday reality.”
There are also works by the Barbados artist Sheena Rose, who is showing graphic portraits of women with afros standing together in regal poses, while the Dominican artist Hulda Guzman shows a colorful set of paintings that deal with overcoming personal demons.
Don’t expect paintings of palm trees or portraits of steel drum musicians. “There’s a lot of abstraction as a form of fighting against the cliches,” said Ortiz. “The artists are coming from each of their different perspectives; how do we move beyond the limiting aspects of national discourse?”
The shore of St Martin is on view in a video by the artist Deborah Jack, who grew up in the area, while the Martinique artist Louisa Marajo is showing an abstract installation that tears apart wooden crates and canvases to show an expansive rendition of what it looks like to map chaos.
Many of the artists here are young women who are not widely recognized by the mainstream art world; many don’t have their own Wikipedia pages, despite their extensive exhibition track records.
“There’s a lot of questions around who belongs, who has power and white supremacy,” said Ortiz. “We are not victims to a situation; we can take a different mindset of empowering ourselves. It starts with the individual. Sometimes problems feel so big and you feel powerless, like you can’t make a change, but on an individual level, you can.”
- The Other Side of Now: Foresight in Contemporary Caribbean Art is showing at the Pérez Art Museum Miami until 7 June 2020