New VoicesMonday, December 31st, 2012 Categories: Features, Updates
Tatiana Flores, writes about artists from across the islands that are challenging regional stereotypes through a series of exhibitions in world cities, for Issue 3 of The Caribbean Property Investor.
For lovers of contemporary art, Caribbean artists are ones to watch. They are gaining attention on a global scale through such high-profile exhibitions as Infinite Island (Brooklyn Museum, 2007), Kréyol Factory (Paris, 2009), Global Caribbean (Miami, 2009-2011), Wrestling with the Image (Washington, D.C., 2011), and Caribbean: Crossroads of the World (New York, 2012). Emerging talent is being fostered regionally in a number of alternative spaces, including Fresh Milk in Barbados, Popop Studios in the Bahamas, Alice Yard in Trinidad, and Tembe Art Studios in Suriname, and curators are flocking to the area to seek out new voices.
Because the Caribbean is so decentralized, and many Caribbean artists live outside the region, navigating the contemporary art scene is not necessarily straightforward but it becomes easier when you know where to look. ARC, a deluxe magazine covering contemporary artists, offers a platform for the promotion of Caribbean art, both through its print publication and website. Its founding editors Holly Bynoe and Nadia Huggins (St Vincent & the Grenadines) are both artists themselves.
Bynoe is a digital collage artist whose work explores themes of history, memory and identity. She layers photographs and documents culled from her family’s archives to create complex compositions that question the veracity of images and suggest that the past is unknowable. Huggins is a photographer whose work confounds expectations related to place, race, and gender. Her photographs project a Caribbean that is far removed from tourist fantasies. Through ARC and their own work, Bynoe and Huggins dispel stereotypical notions of the region’s art and call attention to its intelligence and sophistication.
Other important sources include the journals Small Axe, Calabash, Caribbean InTransit and Draconian Switch. Contemporary production is dynamic and powerful, leaving memorable impressions. Ebony G. Patterson, an artist from Jamaica living in the United States focuses on youth culture, deconstructing stereotypes of race and gender through photography and mixed-media.
Hew Locke, an artist of Guyanese descent residing in London, is among the most visible internationally, having catapulted to fame with his subversive portraits of Queen Elizabeth II. Through sculptures, paintings, and prints, he exposes the hidden mechanisms of globalization and colonialism. His most recent series consists of drawings and other interventions on share certificates, which the artist considers “a window into the history and movement of money, power and ownership.” Gold Standard, his latest work, enlarges the share certificates and transfers them to the walls of a public building in London, juxtaposing the map of Africa and the Rastafari Lion of Judah to a French certificate from Ethiopia.
John Cox from the Bahamas paints with vivid colors and bold surface patterns, placing the human figure, often himself, against abstracted backdrops that suggest multiple possible narratives. Tropical motifs, such as hibiscus flowers and uprooted palm trees, abound in his work, calling attention to the artist’s desire to single out stereotypes for criticism.
His fellow Bahamian Lillian Blades, who lives in Atlanta, also employs strong colors and dynamic patterns in her assemblages, but her work draws more directly on African-American visual traditions, as in the piece Quilted Passages, on view at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. In this and other works, Blades refers to the gendered art of quilting, rooted in “ancestral and matriarchal visual traditions.”
Sheena Rose from Barbados also references textiles in her latest series Sweet Gossip. In these large-format paintings, the artist represents young women wearing traditional African batiks on the phone against an intensely patterned background. Both Rose and Pauline Marcelle from Dominica have traveled to Africa and drawn inspiration from its cultures and traditions.
Addressing themes of history, identity, and place through images, Caribbean artists are making a powerful contribution to contemporary art.