No work from the French Departments of the Americas features in the Caribbean: Art at the Crossroads of the World catalogue
Three museums in New York – El Museo del Barrio, Queens Museum of Art and The Studio Museum in Harlem – are holding a major cultural event from 12 June 2012 to 6 January 2013: an exhibition featuring over five hundred artists, exploring the history and art of the Caribbean from the Haitian Revolution (1804) to the present day, through painting, sculpture, installation, photography, engraving, video and historical objects.
The aim of Caribbean: Crossroads of the World is to examine the exchanges between individuals, objects, ideas and information in the Caribbean Basin, Europe and North America, and to explore the impact of these relationships on the Caribbean and the way it is imagined.
The project should help visitors understand the Caribbean’s position as a crossroads in the northern hemisphere of the modern world.
A reference book, Caribbean: Art at the Crossroads of the World, with 496 pages illustrated with over 250 reproductions of historic and contemporary works, was published in 2012 by Yale University Press. This catalogue, a compilation of current knowledge on the subject, is a summa in the editorial sense of the word.
Before even beginning to read the texts on an in-depth level, one cannot help but notice the total absence of iconographic documentation from the French Departments of the Americas. Haiti features prominently but there is not a single work, old or modern, by any artist from Martinique, Guadeloupe or Guiana. And this despite thirteen members of the curatorial and editorial team – Gérald Alexis, Naomi Beckwith, Deborah Cullen, Nancy Hoffman, Hitomi Iwasaki, Thomas Finklpearl, Rebeca Noriega, Virginia Perez Ratton, Veerle Poupeye, Bernd Scherer, Marlies Schoenmakers, Valérie Smith and Suzanne del Valle – having attended the seminar on contemporary Caribbean art, Parcours Martinique, held in Martinique in 2008 by Cultures France, the Clément Foundation, the AICA Southern Caribbean, the AMCA and the DRAC Martinique, and therefore having taken part in workshop tours organised as part of this event.
Admittedly, artists from the French-speaking Caribbean were invited to exhibit their work at Caribbean: Crossroads of the World, and can be seen on the picture rails.
Yet in the book, Martinique and Guadeloupe only appear in extracts of works by famous writers, Aimé and Suzanne Césaire, Edouard Glissant and Maryse Condé, whereas young art historians write about the art of today in the rest of the Caribbean.
Thus, the art of the French-speaking Caribbean does not feature in this study of the relationships and exchanges between the Caribbean Basin, Europe and the United States, which is a mistake in my view, for it has undeniably offered some original approaches that must surely count for something in the archipelago’s art history.