On view at the Queens Museum of Art: Los Carpinteros, Faro tumbado (Fallen Lighthouse), 2004

Opening next week at El Museo del Barrio, The Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Queens Museum of Art, Caribbean: Crossroads of the World surveys this rich and complex region through more than two hundred years of art and visual history. Here, Cuban Art News gives readers a first look at this thought-provoking exhibition.

The show’s concept—considering the Caribbean as a diverse but discrete whole—is somewhat provocative in itself. The exhibition’s curators go further, rejecting a chronological approach and opting instead to explore half a dozen themes that they see as key to understanding the region and its art. Each museum tackles two of them in a sometimes surprising mix. The exhibition segments are modular, and visitors can start with any of the museums.

“For the first time ever, this project will examine the impact of Africa, South Asia and Europe on the visual culture of the Caribbean, including painters that were part of the Impressionists and Surrealists in France,” notes Caribbean: Crossroads director Elvis Fuentes. With this show, he says, “the public will realize how intertwined the Caribbean and American experiences truly are.”

Overall, the exhibition includes more than 400 works: painting, sculpture, prints, books, photography, film, video, and historic artifacts from Caribbean nations, Europe, and the United States. Among the Cuban artists on view are Belkis Ayón, José Bedia, Los Carpinteros, Sandra Ceballos, Alexis Esquivel, Antonio Gattorno, Félix Gonzalez-Torres, Wifredo Lam, Ana Mendieta, Glexis Novoa, and Lázaro Saavedra.

At the Studio Museum in Harlem, the exhibition segment titled Shades of History explores the impact of race on the region’s culture and history, beginning with the Haitian Revolution in 1804. The second segment, Land of the Outlaw, takes on the Caribbean of the popular imagination, as both a tropical paradise and a haven for illicit activity, from pirates and treasure-hunters to slave traders and—shades of Juan of the Living Dead—the now-universal figure of the zombie. At the Studio Museum, look for José Bedia’s Madre de Guerra (Mother of War, 1989), an untitled 1993 work by Belkis Ayón, and Alexis Esquivel’s Autopsia (Autopsy, 1998), among other works by Cuban artists.

At El Museo del BarrioCounterpoints digs into economics, interpreting the region’s history as a series of contrasting, sometimes clashing, sets of interests: the international sugar industry with its plantation system, for instance, versus the smaller-scale, more locally rooted tobacco industry, which spawned a thriving middle class. The second segment here, Patriot Acts, reflects the role of artists and intellectuals in shaping cultural identity in many emerging Caribbean nations, which often played out as a struggle between academic aesthetics and more down-to-earth indigenous and African roots. Here, Cuban works on view include Antonio Gattorno’s Ascension (1947), Los Carpinteros’ drawing Faro Tumbado (Fallen Lighthouse, 2004), and Doce Cuchillos (Twelve Knives, 1983) by José Bedia. [INSTALLATION UPDATE: Only Ascension is on view at El Museo. Doce Cuchillos is at the Studio Museum, and Faro Tumbado is at the Queens Museum.]

At the Queens Museum of ArtFluid Motions dives into the realities, geographic and otherwise, of a region defined by its bodies of water. The companion segment, Kingdoms of this World, explores the remarkable variety of languages, cultures, and religions that co-exist in the Caribbean, and their ongoing influence in shaping the visual expression of the region and the ongoing exchange with other cultures. In these segments, look for Sandra Ceballos’s Absolut Delaunay (1995), Lázaro Saavedra’s El Sagrado Corazón (The Sacred Heart, 1995), and Glexis Novoa’s Waiting for the Enemy (2002), among other Cuban works.

As befits an exhibition as far-flung as this one, Caribbean: Crossroads of the World will have three separate openings next week, starting with The Studio Museum in Harlem on Wednesday evening, June 13, followed by El Museo del Barrio on Thursday evening, June 14, and the Queens Museum of Art on Saturday evening, June 16. To encourage viewers to visit the entire exhibition, paid admission to any of the three museums will include a ticket good for free entry to the other two.

The show is accompanied by a major publication, Caribbean: Art at the Crossroads of the World. Conceived as a resource for the study of early modern and contemporary Caribbean history, art, and culture, the book runs close to 500 pages, with 500 color illustrations. Edited by Deborah Cullen and Elvis Fuentes and co-published by El Museo del Barrio and Yale University Press, it includes texts by scholars, artists, and curators.