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“Forecast Form: Art in the Caribbean Diaspora, 1990s–Today”

By Liz Goldner

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD), La Jolla, California
Exhibition continues through July 28, 2024

Alia Farid, “Mezquitas de Puerto Rico,” 2022. All images courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD)

“Forecast Form: Art in the Caribbean Diaspora, 1990s-Today” explores the work of 27 artists native to the Caribbean islands, with several now living elsewhere. They are of African, Indian, and Arab descent and address in their art issues of colonialism, migration, and race, while generally depicting the underside of Caribbean life.

The exhibition’s bellwether is the 1990s global, social, and political evolution and the concurrent emergence of multiculturalism. These ongoing developments continue to challenge our stereotyped notion of Caribbean culture as an exotic tropical paradise, serving mainly tourists and the very wealthy.

Christopher Cozier, “Gas Men,” 2014

“Forecast” refers to the island weather, which can become violent at a moment’s notice. It also looks back to the earlier centuries of slave masters and their descendants. “Forecast” is also a metaphor for the island artists’ constantly shifting and exploratory approaches to their creativity, as expressed by the many conceptually speculative and emotionally defiant pieces on display. “Diaspora” refers to the artists and their ancestors’ dispersion from their homelands. More subjectively, the term refers to the artists’ evolving states of mind, in which they imaginatively transform and empower their previously subjugated personas in response to the legacy of slavery and abuse.

A dystopian vision triggered by the exhibition is the 2017 image of our then-President brazenly throwing paper towels into a crowd of Puerto Ricans in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which devastated their island that year. This image of a powerful white supremacist humiliating the Caribbean nation and its residents, 3,000 of whom eventually died from Maria’s effects, serves as the central metaphor for this exhibition. Curator Carla Acevedo-Yates (born in Puerto Rico) explains, “I was thinking a lot about the weather after Hurricane Maria; all the histories of pillage and colonialism came to light so much more because of the environmental destruction that happened there.”

Denzil Forrester, “Night Strobe,” 1985

Similar in style and intensity to the paper towel scenario are Christopher Cozier’s two videos, “Gas Men” (2014) and “Dem things does bit too?” (2014-15). Both address the impact of oil extraction, conditions derived from centuries of colonial rule and enslavement, forced labor, and corrupt politics in Trinidad. In the first video, two businessmen spin gas pump nozzles above their heads, mimicking the actions of movie star cowboys. In the second video, the two men point the nozzles at each other, expressing patriarchal violence.

Other artists in the exhibition also address violence, exposing it, railing against it, striving to eradicate it through their artistry. Joscelyn Gardner’s “Creole Portraits III: bringing down the flowers” (2009-11) is a collection of 13 portraits of faceless and enslaved Afro-Caribbean women, each piece composed of braided hair, a slave collar, and plants that induce abortion. These are based on the derisive content in English plantation owner/slave overseer Thomas Thistlewood’s diaries, which detail his thousands of acts of rape and sexual assault on immigrants who were hauled into Jamaica during the 18th century. The supposedly abortion-inducing plants serve as the works’ titles.

Ebony G. Patterson, “the wailing . . . guides us home . . . and there is a bellying on the land,” 2021
Cuban-born artist Ana Mendieta was exiled to the United States, where she grew up in foster homes. She explored violence, exile, identity, and belonging, often including her own naked body in ways that eerily foretold her notorious death at age 36. Several photographs from her series “Untitled: Silueta Series, Mexico” (1973-1977) are woven throughout this show rather than installed as a group. They serve as periodic reminders within the larger context. The first image is of the impression of Mendieta’s body at the shore as it is about to be engulfed by the incoming tide, symbolic of a dissolving, fragmented identity. Later in the show another photo features a wooden frame, in a shape echoing her body, consumed by fireworks.

Ebony G. Patterson’s “the wailing . . . guides us home . . . and there is a bellying on the land” (2021) is a large woven tapestry. Depicting the garden as a site of burial, renewal and transformation while conveying a simultaneous sense of beauty and violence, the artist employs beads, glitter, flower appliqués and other elements in creating a wildly attractive installation. It sardonically displays a headless woman, her hands held in the air, with a plant between her shoulders. The many monarch butterflies (an endangered species) in the piece represent the homeless, wandering black body.

Suchitra Mattai, “An Ocean Cradle,” 2022
Yet all is not dark and foreboding in this exhibition. One of the more lyrical pieces is Suchitra Mattai’s “An Ocean Cradle” (2022). A Guyanan of Indian heritage, her large oceanic landscape wall hanging, woven from many vintage handmade saris, reflects physical movement across the oceans and empathetic movement across lineages. As saris are passed down from Indian families over generations, they carry memories of ancestors, often retaining their scents of perfume and spice. It is a magnificent object, one that metaphorically connects countless female descendants from the South Asian diaspora. It elevates female attire and domestic labor in the grand feminist aesthetic tradition.

Ana Mendieta, “Silueta Works in Mexico,” 1973-77

Alia Farid’s “Mezquitas de Puerto Rico (Hatillo)” (2014), a large prayer rug, illustrates mosques and other buildings that have migrated in style and form from the Arab world to that of the Caribbean. With these and other rich detailing, the tapestry imparts a message of shared histories, while conveying Latin American and Arab solidarity against colonialism. The colorful rug also contains sites of communal gathering, buildings from towns in Farid’s homeland of Kuwait, rolling hills, and rows of passing cars. The artist shared her initial design with women in Iran, who then provided their own patterns that were incorporated into the rug while weaving it, including the addition of intricate borders, composed of floral and geometric designs.

“Forecast Form” affords us an opportunity to examine the behaviors and effects of our collective colonial past, while it looks to a future in which personal and global aesthetic vision helps forge a more empathetic, non-violent world.

Liz Goldner is an award-winning art writer based in Laguna Beach. She has contributed to the LA Times, LA Weekly, KCET Artbound, Artillery, AICA-USA Magazine, Orange County Register, Art Ltd. and several other print and online publications. She has written reviews for ArtScene and Visual Art Source since 2009. 
Liz Goldner's Website.

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