With the discovery of the Caribbean Islands by Christopher Columbus for Spain in 1492, the indigenous people [Arawaks] were enslaved, exploited and annihilated within fifty years of the discovery, The importation of Africans as slaves to carry on the mining and farming previously done by the Arawaks was the beginning of four centuries of explanation in the Caribbean.
The historical descriptions and records were written by representatives of the colonizing countries and projecting prejudices and points of view that didn’t allow them to “see” and accurately document the cultural and social structures possessed by the Arawaks and Africans.
Images of the Caribbean 1880+ 1910 provide a stunning insight into the lives of Caribbean people. The clothing, the marketplace, the homes, the families, people at work, all exhibit a poignant visual experience.
Now at the Visual Arts Research and Resource Center Relating to the Caribbean (22 E. S4th Street), the exhibit focuses on people and scenic views of the post-slavery Caribbean. The Photographs, including images from Cuba, Dominica, Martinique, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, Haiti and Santo Domingo, are from the Library of Congress and will be on view through August 18.
The objective of the exhibition is to identify and expose stored visual arts collections dealing with the Caribbean. For centuries of slavery and exploitation by European and American cultures prevented the aesthetic perceptions and cultural heritage of Caribbean people from being accurately documented, valued and exposed.
It is now that archeologists, researchers and historians are beginning to piece together and review the documentation that exists. As they put together the history and art collections that are dispersed throughout cultural institutions worldwide are being identified.
The collections of researched information, with artifacts and visual arts, focuses on the cultures of people of color in the Caribbean and their aesthetic point of view. The perception of what is art and what constitutes aesthetic quality, depends primarily on culture and educational training of the evaluator. This country traditionally has focused on Western European art forms as a basis for evaluating all other art forms.
With the advocacy of people of color, articulating, promulgating and disseminating information on our art forms, we are focusing on the fact that there exist a wide range of cultural diversity and art forms that must be recognized and viewed based on the beliefs and cultures that gave birth to them.
It is hoped that audiences viewing this exhibition will understand and recognize that the history of people of color has yet to be accurately documented and portrayed. It is the responsibility of each of us to identify our art forms, document and research our history and rewrite — where necessary — our own experiences.
We must continue to identify and bring out the vast resource of photographic images, artifacts and other collections and documentations that remain in storage in cultural institutions worldwide, not readily accessible to us.
We must research and accurately project images that speak to our experiences as a people. These images are an essential part of our aesthetic perception and provide an understanding of our interpretation of our heritage and culture.
There is a variety of resources available to all audiences interested in viewing collections relating to our past experiences.
Pre-Columbian Caribbean Collections
The American Museum of Natural History, 79th Street and Central Park West has an extensive collection in storage. The Brooklyn Museum, Department of Primitive Art and New Work Cultures, 188 Eastern Parkway has a small collection in storage. Museum of the American Indian, Broadway at 155th Street has an exhibition on view.
Visual Arts Research and Resource Centre Relating to the Caribbean, 22 East 54th Street, New York, New York, 10022 has copies of collections from the Library of Congress, The American Museum of Natural History, the British Museum, the Museum of the American Indian, the Smithsonian Institute.