Caribbeans in NYC: Island Culture on Display at Three Museums

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By Amanda Woods

The rich history and culture of the Caribbean lines the walls of El Museo del Barrio in East Harlem, The Studio Museum in Harlem and the Queens Museum of Art ? all part of a new exhibition called Caribbean: Crossroads of the World.

The exhibition, which includes 500 works of art ? some dating back four centuries and others more current ? was established to encourage conversations about the relationship between the Caribbean and the United States, including issues of identity and belonging.

"I hope that people will look at the Caribbean as a very complex region, instead of, people tend to think of it in terms of tourism," said Elvis Fuentes, the project director of the exhibition. "It has a very rich history."

Each of the three museums has two smaller exhibits, which examine issues Caribbean natives face. Counterpoints, located in El Museo del Barrio, focuses on the Caribbean's economic developments ? mainly its shift toward oil production and the tourism industry. Shades of History, displayed in The Studio Museum in Harlem, explores the influence of race on the Caribbean's visual history and culture. Kingdoms of this World, one of the exhibits in Queens, represents the Caribbean's melting pot of cultures, languages and art forms.

Oil and watercolor paintings, woodcut art, sculptures and video installations about Caribbean culture can be found in each of the exhibits. One painting in El Museo del Barrio called "You Have to Dream in Blue" depicts blue eyes on a mulatto face, emphasizing the struggles to balance one's Caribbean identity with the colonial American culture. Another painting in the Queens Museum of Art called Spirit of the Carnival shows British forces embattled with an ancient African spirit.

The exhibit went through years of planning ? the first meeting was held at El Museo del Barrio six years ago, Fuentes said, and then organizers and scholars traveled to the Caribbean several times for inspiration. Tom Finkelpearl, the executive director at the Queens Museum of Art, had not traveled to the Caribbean often before the project.

"When I went down there, I began to understand the complexity of it," Finkelpearl said. "You're looking across from one island to the next, and you realize that you're in a colony, and that's an independent free-standing country that speaks a different language. My head was spinning."

Organizers also had a New York City-specific focus when selecting the works of art to include in the exhibit.

"New York history has a lot to do with Caribbean history," Fuentes said. "All of that makes the connections between the Caribbean and New York culture."

The exhibit at El Museo de Barrio began on Tuesday and will run until Jan. 6; the Studio Museum of Art Exhibit on Thursday and remain open until Oct. 21; and the Queens Museum of Art display will officially open on Sunday and also close on Jan. 6. Visitors can purchase a single "Passport to the Caribbean" at any of the museums that will allow admission to all of the venues for their entire running time.

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