Caribbean art refers to the visual (including painting, photography, and printmaking) as well as plastic arts (such as sculpture) originating from the islands of the Caribbean (for mainland-Caribbean see Continental Caribbean). Art in the Caribbean is marked by thousands of years of habitation by the Arawak peoples of the Caribbean followed by waves of immigration which included artists of European origins and subsequently by artists with heritage from countries all around the world (including African). The nature of Caribbean art reflects these diverse origins, as artists have taken their traditions and adapted these influences to reflect the reality of their lives in the Caribbean.

The governments of the Caribbean have at times played a central role in the development of Caribbean culture. However, this claim is challenged by some scholars and artists. Historically and in later times artists have combined British, French, Spanish, Dutch and African artistic traditions, at times embracing European styles and at other times working to promote nationalism by developing distinctly Caribbean styles. Caribbean art remains the combination of these various influences.

Early influences

Of cause it is now understood that the first immigrants (said to be originally from the Orinoco basin) to the Caribbean region were the "Indians" or Taíno (those found throughout much of the Greater and Lesser Antilles), and the Arawak (those found in South America and part of Trinidad). These early Caribbean's are supposed to have occupied the region since 2000BC.

In Puerto Rico and the Lesser Antilles, the Taíno-Arawak art has been found in stone carvings, figurines (which are essentially curvilinear) and pottery dating from the period before European contact and are said to be as old as twenty-four hundred years. These few discovered artifacts, preserved in museum collections, have contributed new culturally hybrid art forms.

For nearly two centuries (1492–1697) the new Caribbean was under colonization and siege as four European states (Spain, Holland, British and France) fought over ownership of the islands.

Not until the 1950s and 1960s did a small number of Caribbean artists began to renew and in some cases re-invent indigenous art forms. Currently there are no indigenous artists practicing in any media in the Caribbean.

Spanish Caribbean art in the colonial period (from 1496)

The settlement in the Caribbean islands by the Spanish began, four years after Columbus' happening on the region, this was on the island of Hispaniola as early as 1496. By 1508 they settled on Puerto Rico and in 1515 settlements begun on Cuba. They then tried to colonise Trinidad in 1532 and 1569 but did not succeed until 1592. It is extremely unlikely that the Taíno-Arawak people had any input to the spaniade artistic developments since it has been estimated that their population was quickly depleted from 200,000 to as little as 500.

Dutch Caribbean art in the colonial period (from 1600)

The Dutch plundered Santiago de Cuba in 1554, captured the Spanish silver fleet off Cuba in 1628 and six years later they seized Curaçao. By 1635 they controlled the majority of the trade in the region that would continue for about a decade until its schemes to dominate trading in the Caribbean started failing. Curaçao governor, Peter Stuyvesant, led an attack against St. Martin in 1644 but four years later they split the island with the French (a position which stands to the present day).

British Caribbean art in the colonial period (from 1605)

1586 Santo Domingo surrendered to the British 1595 The British took over San Juan

England St. Lucia (1605 failed)

Grenada (1609 failed)

1624 St. Kitts, Nevis, Virgin Gorda (British Virgin Islands), Barbados, Montserrat; and 1648 St. Martin was England and France (shared) By 1655 the English take over Jamaica from the Spanish and 1755 an organ which cost ^440 sterling was set up in the church at St. Jago, in Jamaica. The Bevington organ, St Andrew's Presbyterian Church. St Georges, Grenada, West Indies, dates from the 1860s

French Caribbean art in the colonial period (from 1625)

Currently little or no research has been done to highlight the early French influenced art forms originating in the Caribbean, nor to list artists who might fit within this category.

French settlers arrived in the Caribbean in the 1625 and established trading ports on the islands of St. Kitts, Tortuga (in 1628, now a British Virgin Island) in Saint-Domingue (later Hispaniola), Martinique, and Guadeloupe (both in 1635). Near the end of the 17th century, the population of the French Caribbean was growing steadily but the territory was increasingly isolated from France because in 1674 the French trading company finally failed, and few artists had arrived from Europe.

Although Trinidad was never governed by the French, the islands original settlers, the Spanish, allowed planters from the French islands to settle and develop the country from about 1777. The effect of French occupation can be seen in the names of places and to a smaller extent in the laws of the country - so it is highly possible that art also may have early French influences.

Art in the Caribbean reflects the cultural complexity of the region and its history of colonialism. Its rich indigenous heritage inherited from its original Amerindian communities, the constant movement of mainly European itinerant artists in an out of the region since the 18th century, and the presence of a strong African Diaspora culture as a result of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, have all influenced its stylistic diversity.

Caribbean art after World War II

Contemporary trends in Caribbean art

Art made in the Caribbean by living Caribbean artists refers to a range of visual, media, performance, and other practices that are critically acclaimed. There has been much debate over whether a national style, philosophical outlook, or unified and cohesive culture exists or ever has existed within the Caribbean. Geographically it is large, with many distinct regions, and its population are diverse and made up of varying national and ethnic backgrounds. Also distinctions between "high art" and "popular" art seem to be becoming less clear, making the task of locating common characteristics of Caribbean art or culture increasingly difficult.

Tumelo Mosaka, curator at the Brooklyn Museum (NY) suggests:

"Today, consistent throughout most islands is the division between mainstream artist movements more closely related to European stylistic trends and often rooted in national development, and self-taught artists whose art works reflect ritual preoccupations related to spiritual movements such as Revivalism, Santería and Vodou and less exposure to art movements abroad. More recently, contemporary artists influenced by post-modernism's concerns with identity have found ways to fuse both forms resulting in art that appear peculiarly unique to their Caribbean experience".
—Mosaka, T., Brooklyn Museum (NY)

There are, however, a few notable moments when Caribbean contemporary artists — as individuals or groups — have distinguished themselves through commonality, international recognition, collaboration, or "the spirit of the times".

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