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Dr Kate Keohane
University of Oxford
Early Career Fellowship

Locating common-places: post-colonial artistic strategies of the Caribbean

Using innovative interdisciplinary methodology, Kate Keohane’s project examines artistic practices developed in the Caribbean to respond to landscapes damaged by processes of colonisation

Walking Seminar led by Beatriz Santiago Muñoz
BetaLocal, Walking Seminar led by Beatriz Santiago Muñoz, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 2014. Image by Ramiro Chaves. Courtesy Beta-Local.

How have artists in the Caribbean reconciled and reimagined the lived effects of damage inflicted by processes of colonisation? While much focus has rightly been directed towards Caribbean migration and UK and US based diasporas, the experiences of artists living and working within the archipelago remain under-recognised. This interdisciplinary research project will develop the concept of ‘common-places’ or lieux-communs as defined by the writer Édouard Glissant, alongside theories of ‘the commons’ or ‘commoning’, to articulate possibilities for the creation of shared spaces for hiding, collaboration and resistance within artistic practice.

Despite being a complex and multifaceted space where numerous languages, histories and narratives meet, the proliferation of imagery that defines the distance, difference and desirability of the region within the ‘global’ cultural imaginary is all too familiar – typically featuring the horizon, plantation, beach-space, palm-tree, coral reef and mangrove. Books by Krista A. Thompson (2006), Carlos Garrido Castellano (2019), Mimi Sheller (2003), and Samantha A. Noël (2021) have begun to undertake analysis of the formal and socio-political power structures that underlie the depiction of the Caribbean in visual culture. However, there has yet to be an interrogation of how familiar, colonially implicated, landscape tropes and physical sites have been adopted and revised by contemporary artists and collectives to engage with vexed questions of identity and belonging, both within the seemingly globalised art world and as a form of localised resistance.

While many artists, including Nadia Huggins and Deborah Anzinger and collectives such as Semillero Caribe and Beta-Local, utilise and respond to Caribbean landscape-based imagery, they do so as strategies of resistance that are dependent upon imaginative collectivity and the surreal to respond to site-specific needs. My examination of the way that issues of belonging, home-spaces and the everyday (implied by the concept of the common-place) are made (in)visible within artistic, critical and curatorial practice will provide methods for the display and discussion of issues of precarity and difference. With relevance to art historians, practitioners and curators, I will demonstrate the vital role that artists play in working to reconcile the after-effects of colonial landscaping and the subsequent extraction of resources from the Caribbean, as well as the frequent harm dealt by the tourism industry. Through their sustainability, community engagement and emphasis upon staying within or returning to a specific location, these initiatives offer alternative approaches to the relation between individuals, collectives and the places that surround them. 

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