Contemporary Caribbean Art

Much like the rest of Latin America, the Caribbean islands has experienced two different eras of history: a time when only the native population inhabited the region and the period after European colonization. In the same way, there are two different forms of Caribbean art, which have influenced modern trends and styles.

Prior to 1496, the art of the Caribbean consisted of stone carvings and clay pottery by the Taino and Arawak peoples. With the arrival of the Spaniards, the classic forms of European painting and architecture all but wiped out the natives' craftsmanship. This would continue with further colonization by the French and the British during the 17th century. In islands like Trinidad and Haiti, a strong French influence appeared in Caribbean art, along with contributions of African styles from the slaves imported across the Atlantic.

Following the end of colonialism, it's been difficult to say what exactly unites the Caribbean culturally. There is no one art style, but a diversity of forms and patterns unique to each island culture and to each inspired artist. Some artists still practice the European traditions of high art, while others use the vivid colors of African tribes and folk religious traditions like Santeria and Vodou. One clear trend has been to erase the distinction between "high" and "low" art, owing to the lack of enduring cultural histories like many European and Asian countries.

For a clear sense of what contemporary Caribbean art looks like, we can turn to an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum called Infinite Island. One work on display is a collaborative sculpture by Arthur Simms (originally from Jamaica) and Peter Orner (who was born in the US). Their work is called Globe: The Veld, which they created in 2004. The first half is an ordinary globe like the sort you'd see in a classroom, but the bottom half is cut away and replaced with a mish-mash of common objects. According to Simms and Orner, sculptures like this one are made to tell a story of "personal identity, family, spiritual and physical journeys, erotic tension, and nostalgia for home." What we're seeing is a representation of the Caribbean identity: fragmented and trying to find itself in the shadow of larger nations to the north and west. It's not as colorful as other forms of Caribbean art, but it speaks to the modern condition of life in the islands.

To see more artwork from the Caribbean, you can visit the Caribbean Museum Center for the Arts in Frederiksted in the Virgin Islands, along with the Brooklyn Museum in New York City.

Image by Ambernectar 13 on Flickr

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