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There is no shortage of insular tropes (the palm tree, maps, ocean) in Relational Undercurrents: Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Archipelago at MOLAA. A life-size ceramic conch in meaty pink is affixed to a crystal ashtray and projector carousel in Blue Curry’s assembled sculpture, Untitled (2011). As a backdrop, Joiri Minaya’s Redecode: a tropical theme is a great way to create a fresh, peaceful, relaxing atmosphere (2015) materializes its title in wallpaper printed in pixilated vegetation. While these tropical tropes may seem obvious, Undercurrents embraces and refurbishes them as symbols in a tongue-in-cheek way to form new standards by which to judge the modern-ness of work that is typically slapped with the label of folk or decorative art, due to its region of origin.
A deliberate departure from the mainland Americas, this exhibition sticks closely to the theme of cultural self-definition so prevalent throughout Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA. In one of the first contemporary exhibition surveys of Caribbean art in the U.S., 80 artists with roots on the islands and their diasporas present works with the intention of breaking imposed western stereotypes and promoting the idea of unity among island people of heterogeneous backgrounds.
Interactive installations, a woven tapestry including depictions of drug money, a sea of discarded objects, large-scale paintings, film, and photography commingle with one another in the galleries. In Kushan Munroe’s painting The Sinking of HMBS Flamingo (2014), men bathed in the red glow of fire drown while watching their ship sink as a military fighter jet flies overhead. The tragedy of this historic event is diminished by Raquel Paiewonsky’s microfiber Bitch balls (2012) littering the floor, with breast-like characteristics and amusing phallic nipples. Positioned on the wall to the left is Suddenly We Jumped (2014), a slow motion video in which the artist Antonia Wright throws her own nude body through a glass ceiling in protest of the constraints traditionally imposed on women. Though thorough, the exhibition is crowded with works that can often inhibit one another due to proximity. The disconnect between the curatorial mission and execution tends to undermine the concept of unity within diverse cultural relationships on a regional level. The works themselves explore vastly different themes and do little to inform one another conceptually, instead operating more poignantly as individuals.
Relational Undercurrents: Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Archipelago runs from September 16, 2017–February 25, 2018 at the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) (628 Alamitos Ave., Long Beach, CA).