|Champions: Caribbean Artists|
Champions: Caribbean Artists Breaking Boundaries in South Florida; Armory Art Center; West Palm Beach, Florida; January 14 – February 11, 2017
Review by Kelli Bodle, Independent Scholar
Installation view of Champions: Caribbean Artists Breaking Boundaries in South Florida; art by Yanira Collado (L), Morel Doucet (R). Armory Art Center; West Palm Beach, Florida; January 14 – February 11, 2017. Photo: Jane Hart.
Once one passes the entryway, the majority of the artists focus on more mundane things than conquering colonialism. Instead, they focus on day-to-day life: local community, family history, and the materials of daily existence. The Dominican, Cuban, Haitian, Colombian, Trinidadian, Jamaican, and Puerto Rican artists have different stories to tell than those seen in “Visit Florida” ads. Overall, the bulk of the artists exhibiting – all immigrants or children of immigrants currently living in Florida – are at peace with their adopted home and focus on their immediate surroundings.
The highlight of the show is viewing acclaimed local artists like the TM Sisters and Adler Guerrier alongside emerging and mid-career artists like Jamilah Sabur and Clara Varas. Visitors to the exhibition encounter Varas’s found-object collages, Michelle Lisa Polissaint’s intimate figurative portraits with themes about home in Dancing with Myself, and Morel Doucet’s Clock Work, which is composed of wood and flora from the Atlantic affixed to a wall in the shape of a clock.
The artists are building identities by merging their heritage with local community. For example, Johanne Rahaman was profiled in The New Yorker for her photographs of working-class black communities in Miami. For Champions, she exhibited photographs of demonstrators wearing ceremonial tribal garb from a trip she took to the Standing Rock Reservation camp, Cannon Ball, in North Dakota. Both subjects address the theme of exploring and understanding one’s environment.
Jane Hart, the curator, installed this quote near the exit: “The dynamic compositions are devoted to self-expression through the lens of the artist’s multicultural identities...” In two words – “multicultural identities” – she explains the show. Champions is artists from a multitude of countries, all with their own complex histories. The fact that they all chose Florida to immigrate to does not flatten their heritage into one story.
Kelli Bodle works at the Boca Raton Museum of Art in Florida, where she has acted as curator, mounting shows ranging from Italian Futurism to French printmaking. Ms. Bodle is also a writer, contributing to the publication Hidden Treasures: What Museums Can’t or Won’t Show You (Baskin, 2013).