The Caribbean at the time of the Anthropocene?

In Aica Caraïbe du Sud, Dominique Brebion writes about a current exhibition in Paris, “Courants Verts, Créer pour l’environnement” [Green Currents, Creating for the Environment], curated by art historian Paul Ardenne, author of Un Art écologique. Création plasticienne et anthropocène (Le Bord de l’Eau, 2018, 2019). This exhibition, which runs from September 16 to January 31, 2021, is taking place at Espace Fondation EDF—the exhibition space of the state-run Électricité de France (EDF) located at 6 rue Récamier, Paris, France.

Fondation EDF describes: “For the first time in France, a large-scale exhibition bringing together international artists engaged in the ecological fight. All the artists are resolutely committed through their installations, photographs, videos or drawings to face the challenges posed by the Anthropocene: this moment when human activities deeply disrupt natural processes, imposing on humanity new behaviors, a relationship to the environment, a culture and mentalities to be recast.

Without pessimism, ‘Courants Verts, Creating for the environment,’ highlights with the works exhibited the adaptation process that humanity is going through today. The exhibition reminds us that art plays its role in this essential mutation that is characteristic of the current climate transition by acting on imaginations and offering new stories.” (See more in EDF’s press release.)

Opening her article with a piece by Trinidadian-born, St. Vincent-based photographer Nadia Huggins, Brebion discusses Caribbean artists in the context of the aim of the “Courants Verts” exhibition. She writes, “Today, artists are looking for a new relationship with the natural world and want to go beyond creation in and with the landscape. Defined by Paul Ardenne, ‘ecological’ art seeks to raise public awareness of environmental issues, global warming, the effect of our entry into the new era of the ‘Anthropocene.’ Adapted to the requirements of sustainable development, plastic works in love with ecology adopt unusual forms: work in and with nature, the practice of recycling and ephemeral interventions, collaborative and poetic creations. These are all the various forms of plastic creation whose purpose is the defense of ecology, the environment, and sustainable development. Whichever form the work adopts, claiming to be part of this current (whether it is a painting, a photograph, a sculpture, an installation, a video or a public intervention), it aims to achieve this objective: to raise public awareness of environmental issues and invite them to act.”

After quoting Ardenne’s definition of what constitutes successful “eco-work” in triggering “the spectators’ desire to act, to participate, to clean, to cleanse, to help,” Brebion poses the question “Isn’t it time to ask what part the Caribbean plays in what is referred to as artivism?”

She offers a concise examination of Caribbean artists from across the 20th and 21st centuries whose works reflect relationships with nature, such as Cuban artists Wifredo Lam, Manuel Mendive, Ana Mendieta, Hulda Guzmán, and Cuban-American artist Lilian Garcia-Roig. Brebion then follows up with a list of artists from the Caribbean region whose work constitutes “artivism.” In this conversation on art as ecological activism she mentions Tony Capellan (Dominican Republic), Deborah C.  Anzinger (Jamaica), Luz Severino (Dominican Republic, Martinique), Joiri Minaya (Dominican Republic), Deborah Jack (Saint Martin), and Louisa Marajo (Martinique).

To this conversation—and as an initial response to the question “Isn’t it time to ask what part the Caribbean plays in what is referred to as artivism?”—I would add that a great place to begin to explore is the body of work of scholars who have been writing about “eco-work” for over a decade, such as LeGrace Benson, Elizabeth M. DeLoughrey, Tatiana Flores, and Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert, among others. It is also helpful to move across fields, since there are many works exploring Caribbean literature that have broached the same questions—and the intersections of literature, art, and ecological activism—comparatively. A case in point would be Caribbean Literature and the Environment: Between Nature and Culture (University of Virginia Press, 2005), edited by Elizabeth M. DeLoughrey.

As a starting point, below are a just few titles to explore (in order of publication date):

  • Benson, LeGrace. “A Long Bilingual Conversation Concerning Paradise Lost: Landscapes in Haitian Art.” In Caribbean Literature and the Environment: Between Nature and Culture. Edited by Elizabeth M. DeLoughrey, Renée K. Gosson, and George B. Handley. University of Virginia Press, 2005.
  • Paravisini-Gebert, Lizabeth. “Endangered Species: Ecology and the Discourse of the Nation.” In Displacements and Transformations in Caribbean Literature and Culture. Edited by Paravisini-Gebert, Lizabeth and Ivette Romero-Cesareo. University Press of Florida, 2008.
  • Paravisini-Gebert, Lizabeth. “Caribbean Utopias and Dystopias: The Emergence of the Environmental Writer and Artist.” In The Natural World in Latin American Literatures: Ecocritical Essays on Twentieth Century Writings. Edited by Adrian Kane. McFarland & Co., 2009.
  • Postcolonial Ecologies: Literatures of the Environment. Edited by Elizabeth M. DeLoughrey and George B. Handley. Oxford University Press, 2011.
  • The Oxford Handbook of Ecocriticism. Edited by Greg Garrard. London and New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.
  • Paravisini-Gebert, Lizabeth. “Bagasse: Caribbean Art and the Debris of the Plantation.” In Global Ecologies: Postcolonial Approaches to the Environmental Humanities. Edited by Elizabeth DeLoughrey, Jill Didus, and Anthony Carrigan. Routledge, 2015. (See below.)
  • Global Ecologies: Postcolonial Approaches to the Environmental Humanities. Edited by Elizabeth DeLoughrey, Jill Didus and Anthony Carrigan. New York: Routledge, 2015.
  • Flores, Tatiana. Relational Undercurrents: Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Archipelago. Exhibition. [Note: As curator of the exhibition, Tatiana Flores selected works by a great many artists involved in eco-activism. The exhibition catalog was edited by Tatiana Flores and Michelle Ann Stephens. Duke University Press, 2017.]
  • DeLoughrey, Elizabeth M. Allegories of the Anthropocene. Duke University Press, 2019.
  • Paravisini-Gebert, Lizabeth. “The Debris of Caribbean History: Literature, Art and Archipelagic Plastic.” In Archipelagic Thinking: Towards New Comparative Methodologies and Disciplinary Formations. Edited by Yolanda Martínez-San Miguel and Michelle Stephens. Rutgers University Press, 2020.
  • British Art Studies. Special issue on “The Arts, Environmental Justice and the Ecological Crisis.” November 2020.

[Excerpts by Fondation EDF and Dominique Brebion translated by Ivette Romero. For full article, see For more on the exhibition, see]

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