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Is there such a thing as contemporary Caribbean history painting?

We have an example of it in the exhibition Claude Cauquil, Martinique 1920-2020 at the Martinique Territorial Archives. So why not discuss the question whether the genre was strongly present in the Caribbean before the modern era? In what ways did 19th century Caribbean history painting differ from the norms of academic history painting in Europe? How has the way we portray history changed in the contemporary period with its installations and videos? Are there many artists in the Caribbean today whose work depicts or deals with history? What are the specific features of contemporary Caribbean history painting?
At the period when academic norms held sway, history painting was traditionally seen as the highest form of Western painting. It emerged at the Renaissance and reached its zenith from the 17th to the 19th centuries, before being rejected by avant-garde movements towards the end of the 19th century. The genre is defined above all by its subject. History paintings generally depict a specific moment in a historical narrative. They show a moment in a story. The paintings are generally in large format with a focus on a few main characters who can be identified, alongside other minor figures. Particular care is given to accessories, to the details of clothing or objects linked to the subject portrayed.
Is history being painted today in the Caribbean and how is the genre being renewed – a genre sometimes seen as obsolete? The wide range of painting styles cannot fail to attract attention, from the naive painting of Haiti to Hervé Télémaque’s critical figurative style via Edouard Duval Carrié’s magical realism or the syncretic approach of Claude Cauquil, combining contrasting colours and values with fragmented surfaces. Are installations and video really taking over? And how could we fail to note the varied tone of the works, from realism to the firmly ironic stance in Cuban works?
To give structure to the approach, three categories are suggested: the portrayal of outstanding and datable events; portraits of historic figures, and lastly, allusions to a period marked by a social and political context.
This is also a chance for the Aica Southern Caribbean blog to fulfil its mission as a link between critics in the Caribbean and elsewhere and to become a real forum for discussion.
All of us can help enrich the conversation either by contributing to the comments section at the end of the article or by sending a text in Word format and illustrations in JPEG format to You can just send us a photo of a painting or an installation with a full caption if you think it could be included in one of the categories via Aicasc Facebook Messenger. At the end of the day, we will have helped to provide a more fully rounded vision of this artistic movement. And the Aica Southern Caribbean would like to thank you in advance.


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