Criticality and context: migrating meanings of art from the Caribbean

Therese Hadchity


Recent critical attention to art of the Caribbean has sought to render obsolete an older and pervasive interest in trying to define what is ‘Caribbean’ about the region’s art. Such attention has implied the limits of seeing the region as a bounded territorial entity, preferring to celebrate its transnational and diasporic character. Allegedly, the more familiar interconnections between art, identity and nationality have dissolved. Not without contradiction, however, such an emphasis on the need to transcend all boundaries of nation and language has seemed to trade on generalisations of the region’s similarities among its many countries and territories, as well as with the wider diasporic community of Caribbean people elsewhere in the Atlantic world.

Through a discussion of three contemporary Barbadian artists, this article argues that such notions of a borderless cultural zone are less open-ended than current criticism admits, and on occasion quite harmful. Drawing on the work of Leon Wainwright and Timothy Brennan (while differentiating between their contributions), Hadchity shows the complexities and contradictions of recent developments that have seen Caribbean artists of an ostensibly cosmopolitan disposition, enjoying access to metropolitan art spaces in the North Atlantic. The author examines the conditionality of this success and explains how certain artistic gestures may be received in different locations. In conclusion, Hadchity argues for a renewed interest in nation-based contextual art histories, as a premise for appreciating the significance of Caribbean art works before and after they make their way into the wider world.

Keywords: Caribbean, contemporaneity, transnationalism, cosmopolitanism, post-nationalism, cultural resistance, Ewan Atkinson, Sheena Rose, Alicia Alleyne

Full text:  OAJ_issue5_hadchity_final_v2 (PDF 1.5 MB)


Biographical note
Therese Hadchity is an independent art critic, curator and teacher of art history based in Barbados. She was the owner and lead-curator of the Zemicon Gallery in Bridgetown from 2000–2010. She has authored numerous essays for exhibition catalogues on Barbadian art and artists, including Ras Akyem Ramsay, Ras Ishi Butcher, Nick Whittle, Winston Kellman, Ewan Atkinson and Alison Chapman-Andrews. Her primary research interest is the generational dynamics of visual art in the Anglophone Caribbean, which forms the basis of her doctoral research in Cultural Studies at the University of the West Indies.