“Bridging the divide / Portfolio”: Janine Mendes-Franco on Caribbean artists today

[Many thanks to Veerle Poupeye (Critical.Caribbean.Art) for bringing this item to our attention.] Here is an excerpt from Janine Mendes-Franco’s “Bridging the divide / Portfolio” for Caribbean Beat (Issue 170 May/June 2022). Mendes-Franco explores the “biggest ever presence” of Caribbean artists at two of the world’s most significant contemporary art events — the Venice Biennale (23 April–27 November) and documenta fifteen (18 June–25 September).

[. . .] This year’s editions are both more diverse and inclusive, with a stronger Caribbean presence than ever before.

Trinidadian contemporary artist Christopher Cozier is not entirely surprised. He calls it the “post-Okwui moment”. Nigerian art critic Okwui Enwezor [. . .] began to shift the paradigm, Cozier says, away from the platforms being “conveyor belts for art stars”. [. . .]

This epidermal layer of the biennial, which features 213 artists — the majority of them showing in Venice for the first time — spotlights work by several regional creators who have routinely straddled this transhistoric divide: the late Cuban printmaker Belkis Ayón, sculptor Firelei Báez from the Dominican Republic, and a handful of Haitian artists, including Drapo Vodou, textile maker Myrlande Constant, self-appointed (and self-taught) “historic animalist” Frantz Zéphirin, and the late master painter Célestin Faustin, whose fantastical canvases famously chronicle the struggle between his attraction and antipathy towards the Vodou religious practices of his homeland.

[. . .] This year, Sonia Boyce, who has Barbadian roots, is representing Britain; her compatriot Alberta Whittle, Scotland; and sculptor Simone Leigh — whose parents are Jamaican — the United States.

Their collective occupation of such significant spaces is dazzling and [. . .] long overdue. Boyce’s art makes a point of inviting the spectator into the experience; Whittle uses empathy and the power of the collective as tools to counteract anti-Blackness; and Leigh is interested in how Black female subjectivity plays out in historical contexts.

[. . .] As Whittle said when she received the Scotland commission, “With so many urgent conversations on health, grief, refusal, race and healing at the forefront of my mind, now is the moment to ask questions about how we can unlearn and be more actively reflective on a personal level as well as collectively.” [. . .]

For full article, see https://www.caribbean-beat.com/issue-170/bridging-the-divide-portfolio#axzz7SEZKOnMD

[Shown above, photo by Matthew A. Williams: Alberta Whittle.]

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