When we hear the word “Caribbean,” many of us tend to think of blue waters, warm sun, and summer cocktails. America’s favorite vacation spot, however, is home to many distinct cultures of its own. A new city-wide exhibit, “Caribbean: Crossroads of the World,” seeks to give us a taste of that culture and history, with artwork that highlights the uniqueness of the many peoples of the Caribbean. In the first of three blog posts on each segment of this multi-museum exhibition, we’ll take a close look at the gallery on display at El Museo del Barrio.
The exhibit is aptly named. The many different influences found amongst the artwork here clearly shows the Caribbean to be a “Crossroads of the World”. Such a diverse array of styles would make it impossible to group the art by any sort of “-ism,” so the curators have elected to layout the museum in terms of the themes which each work explores. One segment, labeled “Patriot Acts”, showcases art which grapples with the constant influence of Western Europe and the Americas on the cultural identity of the Caribbean natives.
This mixing of cultures and identities through art gives the exhibit here a strong sense of postmodernism. Sometimes through integration of style, and sometimes through direct artistic representation, these artworks play with the multi-faceted and complicated world in which they were created. For example, a sculpture entitled “Racional” by Yoan Capote features an aesthetic similar to the marble carvings of the human male made by Roman artists of the classical era; however, this male figure lacks a head, and in place of his genitals is a brain. “Racional” is a work of art that gets you to think. What are dangers of a world where sex dominates a person’s thinking? Is there anything rational about sexually dominated thinking or discourse? My engagement with the piece left me feeling that the artist was attempting to convey a clear message: western art (and by extension, western thought) may be derived more from our instincts than a place of true rationality.
“Racional” is postmodern in its engagement with classical sculpture, but its placement in the multi-cultural landscape of the Caribbean makes also it a commentary on where culture crosses with gender, sexuality, and the influence of so many different world powers. All of the works in the exhibit engage with these ideas in some way. Some only do so peripherally, reflections of the world in which they were created, while others like “Racional” are obvious statements about their world. That this world is truly a “crossroads” of the larger global community charges all of these works with a tremendous amount of meaning.
This exhibition is not one to miss. The diverse array of art ensures that there’s something to see for everyone here. Stay tuned for future posts on the remaining parts of “Caribbean: Crossroads of the World,” on display at the Queens Museum of Art and the Studio Museum of Harlem. In the meantime, head on over to El Museo del Barrio to take in all that this gallery has to offer. The exhibition is free through the Arts Initiative’s Passport to New York program with a valid student CUID.
Berkley Todd, TC ’13