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Caribbean: Crossroads of the World in Miami

The Caribbean: Crossroads of the World exhibition at Pérez Art Museum Miami brings together a diverse and cohesive program of important Caribbean artwork, presenting a thorough show that takes the viewer through the history of the diverse cultures of the Caribbean nations. Curated by Elvis Fuentes, the exhibition outlines important Caribbean art spanning two centuries, starting with historic pieces created after the Haitian Revolution and including contemporary artists such asJanine Antoni and Renee Cox. The exhibition both inspires and educates each visitor on the culturally rich art works from the Caribbean region, supported by extensive research conducted over ten years by three important institutions in New York; El Museo del Barrio, the Queens Museum and The Studio Museum in Harlem.
Installation view, “Caribbean: Crossroads of the World,” Perez Art Museum Miami. All images courtesy of the Perez Art Museum Miami.
The brand new Pérez Art Museum Miami opened just last December, with an inaugural ball coinciding with Art Basel Miami Beach. The gorgeous museum, rich with sprawling exhibition space, lush hanging gardens and a location on the water’s edge, has dedicated its first season to the celebration of Caribbean art, a major focus and influence on the people and culture of Miami. Along with the survey of Caribbean artists, the program includes a Caribbean film and video series, related performances, panels and talks, to give the public a chance to fully appreciate Caribbean arts and culture.
The extensive exhibition includes 180 objects, from paintings to sculpture, prints, photographs and video, assembled together to create a dialogue across the ages, rather than chronologically. With more traditional work hanging alongside contemporary mediums like video, guest curator Elvis Fuentes has assigned four central themes to tie together this eclectic collection that represents many different nations, traditions and histories – Fluid MotionsCounterpointsShades of Historyand Kingdoms of this World.

 
Rigaud Benoit, Sirena, 1962.
Janine Antoni, Touch (video still), 2002.
Fluid Motions represents the Caribbean Sea, which both connects and isolates each cultural hub throughout the region. Water is essentially the lifeblood of the Caribbean, enabling trade and travel, but it also separates one nation from the next, preserving diversity. Within this theme, water-related imagery, both literal and folkloric, fill the exhibition. Seminal Haitian artist Rigaud Benoit’s Sirena, painted in 1962, portrays the iconic mermaid as religious symbol, the figure surrounded by fish and objects from the Haitian Vodou religion. Contrasting to Benoit’s traditional piece is Touch, by Janine Antoni, is a video showing the artist tightrope walking across the horizon line on a wavy beach, her steps touching the horizon line as she moves across the screen. Originally from Grand Bahama, Antoni chose the site of the beach in front of her childhood home, aligning the rope with the horizon line that inspired her, as a child, to look out beyond her tiny island homeland.
Agostino Brunias, Linen Market, Dominica, circa 1780.
Counterpoints is a multi-layered and complicated theme, addressing the history of the Caribbean economy, which includes slavery, plantations, as well as the sugar and tobacco industries, contrasting with today’s commerce surrounding tourism and ecology. Within this theme are many historical paintings and photographs, showing both actual Caribbean life, and that which wealthy patrons wanted portrayed. Fuentes chose Agostino Brunias’ Linen Market, Dominica, painted in 1780, to show the fantastical vision of island life that plantation owners wanted the rest of the world to see. Here, the painting shows what Fuentes refers to as the “whitewashing” of history, an image of mostly lighter skinned women mixing happily with natives, completely shirking the social and racial conflicts that held true at the time.
 
Laura Anderson Barbata, The Cheese Ball Queen, 2003.
Everald Brown, Instrument for Four Persons, 1992.
The third theme, Kingdoms of this World, celebrates colorful traditions of Carnival, spirituality and religion. This section is not only the largest, but is the most vibrant and enigmatic. Visitors are transported to Carnival itself with Laura Anderson Barbata’s sculpture, The Cheese Ball Queen, whose royal blue skirt fans out, coupled with an extended gold headdress. Lively carnival music could be played on Instrument for Four Persons by Everald Brown, while the glittering sequins inRyan Oduber’s video Kima Momo evoke the garish costumes seen in each nation’s celebrations. Jumping outside of the Caribbean itself is Tam Joseph’s piece, Spirit of the Carnival. Tam, who lives in London, shows the familiar decadently costumed Carnival goer, faced with dogs and the riot gear of seemingly endless British policemen. The piece captures the artist’s experience of celebrating traditions of his culture in another country, which he feels are ill received by his hosts, the British.

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Ryan Oduber Kima Momo, 2011.
Tam Joseph, Spirit of the Carnival (The British forces of law and order in confrontation with an ancient African Spirit), 1982.
Finally, Shades of History weaves a thread through the many cultures that have influenced the history of the Caribbean throughout its torrid and war-torn past and have created long-standing issues surrounding racial identity, ideals of beauty understood through skin and hair color, as well as cultural traditions, both native and adopted from colonization. The most obvious example of this is Renée Cox’s photograph Redcoat from the series Queen Nanny of the Maroons, in which the artist, who is from Jamaica, dons the redcoat costume of the invading British. The influence of these outside cultures on beauty is shown in Ebony Patterson’s Untitled Species series, which shows portraits from Jamaica’s dancehall culture, where skin bleaching has become popular, with lighter skin considered to be more beautiful. This betrayal of the native look is the direct result of the Caucasian influence and infringement on Jamaica culture over history. Arnaldo Roche Rabell’sWe Have to Dream in Blue is a textured portrait using elements of the Caribbean landscape to make up the subject’s face, and has also been chosen for the exhibition’s cover image.
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Renée Cox, Redcoat from the series Queen Nanny of the Maroons, 2004.
Ebony Patterson, Untitled Species I, 2010.
Arnaldo Roche Rabell, We Have to Dream in Blue, 1986.
The incredible survey of work that is shown in Caribbean: Crossroads of the World offers the viewer a thorough history of the island cultures, without skirting the issues faced by a tumultuous history of invading people and their effects on native life and perceptions. Presented all together at the new PAMM, the show resonates within its Miami context, creating a dialogue between the Floridian city and the group of islands to the South, some only a stone’s throw away. The exhibition and programming continues until August 17th.
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