Global Caribbean IV: French West Indies & Guiana,
Focus on the Contemporary Expression
Art Basel‐Miami 2012 at the Little Haiti Cultural Center
This fourth exhibition of Global Caribbean, entitled French West Indies & Guiana, Focus on the Contemporary Expression will present fourteen artists of the French Caribbean. The very prestigious Clement Foundation of Martinique has been a staunch promoter of Caribbean artistic expression and in particular the overseas French departments. Over the years the foundation has actively presented artists from the region and promoted them internationally. Thus the international forum of Art Basel Miami is a fitting venue to present Caribbean artists who are seldom invited to these shores.
Preface Written by Edouard Duval Carrié, Artist, Curator,
& HCAA director
It is with great delight that we are presenting in the still sparkling new facility here in Miami this group of works stemming from this part of the Caribbean that for better words have to be coined as French. For me this story starts about twenty years ago when a group of Antillean artists friends in Paris asked me to join an effort to present works in the lofty Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne in the city of Nantes, France. That exhibit, aptly named “Mawon, Marroon, Cimarron, Marron” was part of a larger effort initiated by the French authorities commemorating the end of slavery in their dominions. The discourses and conflicts that had permitted that perfidious human construct centuries ago to flourish and ultimately collapse were taken out of dusty shelves and put once again under scrutiny. But one thing was different. Young contemporary artists were asked to join in the ongoing debates and for many the scars that should have been long healed were still there palpable to the gaze under the medieval chandeliers of that mighty fortress.
I had then promised myself that I would one day try as I may to bring their works to this shore and my only regret is for this to have taken so long. Of course these are a different group of artists but not unlike those of the Mawon exhibit the spirit translating from their work is not dissimilar in this selection. An exuberant will to assert their singularity is as present in the works selected here. And most relevant is the intellectual discourses behind these creation which belies the assertion by many that those somnolent islands have and can only produce works lulled by the verdant seas which bathes their pristine beaches.
Each of them, have against all odds, managed to produce works that befits that concept of “Marronage”. Working and creating art that from a distant periphery can address central issues that are as relevant today as they were two centuries ago : how to survive and keep one’s dignity in face of a disparaging ethnocentric metropolis. The condescendence from the center today is still but a pale legacy of a professed blindness to which millions of deported Africans perished providing an edulcorated semblance of civility back then. Many can claim that much has changed since, hence an exhibit of this type. Yes the centrality of the slavery issue has been assuaged by time but its sequels are still felt today and are evident in many conflicts that rage around our planet to this day. Those conflicts have to be addressed today as they were forcefully tackled back then. It is probably a quest that is, the quest of a certain liberty, as central to the human spirit as is the quest of an economic equilibrium and yet both remain as elusive as they did back then. Yes the concept of the maroon as the group of self-liberated slaves, defined by skin color and a bloody history, which took to remote mountain refuges in those faraway colonies, can be ill applied to this group of savvy contemporary artists. Yet something remains which can only be defined as a fierce commitment by them to persevere and develop their discourse in absolute freedom!
But here we are discussing the visual production of a small corner of this planet in a context where such lofty debates, are but the backdrop to the case in point. And yet a history of art can be ascertained. I have secured for this exhibit the expertise of a few scholars and researchers hailing mainly from Martinique to help elucidate certain aspect of the development of the regions art scene. M. Gerry L’Etang, eminent scholar and anthropologist addresses the historical context in which the French Antilles’s artistic expression has evolved, from the tenuous plantation system of colonial times with a glance at the artistic productions in the 19th and early 20th century; Mme Renée-Paule Yung-Hing, ardent art promoter as well as member of the regional council of Martinique addresses the modern artistic problematic of the region giving highlights of the insertion of these territories into the framework of a post colonial France as full fledged “Département d’Outre Mer” (Overseas Departments); Mme Dominique Brebion, contemporary art critic, who has been mounting exhibits hailing from the region give us her assessment of the artists presented in this selection. Her first hand contact with those illuminates the problems faced by the region’s artists in their attempts to insert themselves into a wider world of artistic endeavors