Peabody Essex Museum,|
Feb 19, 2005 - Jun 05, 2005
Salem, MA, USA
by Madeline Medeiros Ruiz
On the third floor of the recently remodeled Peabody Essex Museum (PEM), Assistant Curator of Maritime Art Sam Scott is re-contextualizing what we commonly understand as "maritime art" - masterful, historical paintings of European trade ships and glass-encased harpoons - within the discourse of contemporary art and art making practices of the Caribbean. In a curious, yet successful attempt to update our perhaps ignorant definition of maritime art, Scott claims:
"The traditional definition of works that qualify as maritime art must be broadened to include pieces that can access the meaning of the sea in people’s lives in more complex ways. Embracing contemporary art within the rubric of maritime art will help to advance this goal because the ability of contemporary artists to present multiple, and often contradictory, layers of meaning make them ideal voices for accessing complex cultural relationships to the sea."
With this definition in mind the four contemporary artists included in Island Thresholds - David Boxer of Jamaica, Tony Capellán of the Dominican Republic, Kcho of Cuba and Marc Latamie of Martinique - coherently and emphatically exhibited works that speak of the precise relationship between artists and their specific geographical circumstance.
One of the most successful elements of the show is the disinterest in categorizing Caribbean art. Each of these artists presents different issues in their art, blatantly rejecting the possibility of classifying the work as a whole. The fact that all artists are from the Caribbean is only a means of entering a discussion of their work, not an absolute for defining it.
The quasi-barrage of supplementary information that greets visitors as they walk into the exhibition’s first gallery did not have its intended "welcoming" effect. It is a testament to the PEM’s commitment to public education, witnessed by the many auxiliary activities and programs surrounding this exhibition. The video commentary by the show’s artists and various book displays with topics ranging from racial politics to national identity was rather preemptive and would have been better served in the last gallery, once your interest had peeked. Included among the books was the Island Nations catalogue from the undeniably successful exhibition of a similar, yet more aggressive and expansive theme, which opened a month prior at the Rhode Island School of Design, curated by Judith Tannenbaum and Rene Moráles.