Last year when we opened The Other Side of Now: Foresight in Contemporary Caribbean Art, we never thought we would be here today, at a moment that seems difficult to imagine the future. We invited artists of Caribbean descent to reflect on the question: “What might a Caribbean future look like?”
Prompting creativity and imagination, we were interested in exploring how Caribbean art can push towards new possibilities for the region. We did not anticipate that in the following months, we would find ourselves in the first pandemic of our generation. As we face the COVID-19 global challenge, we ask ourselves, what is the other side of now? Is there something about our exhibition project that could help us think about the present context?
In the exhibition, a number of artworks offer ideas and visions that can resonate with our current situation. Researching the pandemic, we came across news reports on environmental effects related to the novel coronavirus outbreak. For example, a group of scientists believe that the pressure of changing habitats for certain species could have helped originate the virus in humans. Additionally, with lockdown measures in place, air pollution in China and Italy has dropped, reminding us about the impact we have on the earth. Any future we imagine might require us to give thought to the connection between people and the planet. The sculptural work by artist Deborah Anzinger does exactly that: it envisions a time to come when humans and nature are united. In this work, a tongue licks the rim of a mouth and, together, they create a picture of an eye. Aloe vera sprouts from the form like eyelashes. Anzinger’s art looks to a future in which there is equality between human rights and environmental rights.
In recent weeks, we have experienced challenging moments, and we might have more challenging weeks ahead. A lot of us are in lockdown, concerned about how our way of life seems to be rapidly changing. In The Other Side of Now, there are works that explore the potential of abrupt change, upheaval and ruin. Work by artist Louisa Marajo gives us a way of shifting the way we see and approach our circumstances. Marajo is known for making installations using materials from previous works. Her composition, which includes torn photographs and wooden pallets from construction sites in Miami, presents a chaotic landscape. Marajo’s installation alludes to destruction but also suggests processes of creative reconstruction that can come after periods of devastation. Beyond a picture of disrepair, Marajo provides a framework or scaffold for practices of rebuilding. Our shared future does not have to be marked by defeat. Instead, it can be shaped by our commitment to restoring ourselves and the spaces we inhabit.
Ideas of survival are also addressed in work by Jamilah Sabur, who draws on the symbols and speech sounds of language to remind us of our capacity to persist in spite of challenges. Her bright neon letter “R” is for recovery; “R” is for resilience. The work declares we can survive something and come back. Sabur also includes a childhood photograph of her mother, reminding us that she, like all of us, belongs to a generation of resilience.
We may feel like we are navigating rough, unknown terrain right now but work by Charles Campbell suggests that we can learn and grow from these trying times. Campbell’s work is a map inspired by his native Jamaica’s Cockpit Country, an area with hills, ridges, and deep valleys where enslaved Africans and their descendants, known as Maroons, settled after escaping the plantations. Jamaican Maroons responded to the harsh landscape by honing skills and abilities that helped them endure. Campbell’s art is a template for creating and sustaining thriving communities well into the future.
All of these visions of strength suggest that we can trust our capacity for resilience. And perhaps, to get through this moment, we will need to face our demons. Paintings from Hulda Guzmán’s series Be Kind to Your Demons are portraits of our inner self. In these paintings, Guzman approaches the future by confronting tough feelings and situations instead of avoiding them. How we acknowledge and become aware of our dread and worry will affect our path forward. Reflecting on what she calls our “collective vulnerability” during this pandemic, author Brené Brown explains how we can manage our demons:
“We can be our worst selves when we’re afraid, or our very best, bravest selves. In the context of fear and vulnerability, there is often very little in between because when we are uncertain and afraid our default is self-protection. We don’t have to be scary when we’re scared. Let’s choose awkward, brave, and kind. And let’s choose each other.”
In The Other Side of Now, the question that inspired us became a strategic tool to propel artistic and curatorial imagination for Caribbean art. The artists propose their own personal ideas, while asserting their role within an ever-expanding and transnational Caribbean community. What might our future look like? On the other side of this human pandemic, there is the opportunity to imagine our present and future, and we will continue to have art as a source of imagination, motivation, and encouragement.
This blog post was co-authored by exhibition curators María Elena Ortiz and Marsha Pearce.
María Elena Ortiz is Curator at Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM). She has curated several exhibitions and programs, and is developing PAMM’s Caribbean Cultural Institute. Her research, writing, and curatorial practices are informed by the connections of Latinx, Latin American and Black communities in the U.S. and the Caribbean.
Marsha Pearce is a scholar, writer, educator, and curator based in the Caribbean. She holds a Ph.D. in Cultural Studies and teaches in the visual arts program at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus. Her work has been published in several exhibition catalogues, peer-reviewed academic journals, and books.