Fluid Ecologies highlights daily Caribbean life, heritage

“Fluid Ecologies” features 13 works by seven Caribbean artists. The pieces, seemingly different, share themes about Caribbean life like the importance of preservation and fragility of the environment. Photo by Alec Ferretti

Art is often credited as an illuminating me­dium, a way to capture a scene, a theme or a truth. The Loeb’s newest exhibit, “Fluid Ecologies: Hispanic Caribbean Art” from the permanent collection is no exception. These 13 works on paper shed a much deeper light on Caribbean life, one that goes well beyond a typ­ical tourist’s perspective.

The collection will open on Tuesday, Jan. 26th at 10:00 a.m. and run until May 8th. The seven 20th-century artists featured in the ex­hibit are from Puerto Rico, Cuba and Colom­bia. Through the coordination of Lisa Para­visini and Elizabeth Nogrady, the Loeb is able to bring visibility to these important works of Caribbean art.

Professor of Hispanic Studies Lisa Paravisini discussed with the Loeb’s curator of academic programs, Elizabeth Nogrady, about the Loeb gallery’s holdings on Caribbean art. Paravisini was planning to teach a section of Environmen­tal Studies/Africana Studies 258 (Caribbean Culture and the Environment) focused on en­vironmental art and was looking for materials from Vassar’s own collection to use in class.

The redesign of the class was aided by a grant from the CAAD (Creative Arts Across Disciplines) initiative that allowed the class to visit several museum exhibits and invite Mexi­can artist Alejandro Duran to class. According to Paravisini, “Given the depth and quality of Vassar’s collection of Caribbean art, Elizabeth Nogrady proposed the idea of organizing an exhibit. I was very eager to pursue it, although this is not something I’ve ever done before.”

Nogrady helped Paravisini bring everything together and co-curate the collection. Her job is to suggest ideas and work with faculty to make use of our collections through teaching and public presentations.

The Loeb’s coordinator of public education and information, Margaret Vetare, is especial­ly excited for the exhibit primarily because it showcases works that usually cannot be dis­played. She explained, “I’m very excited about this show because it gives us this opportunity to showcase part of our permanent collection that doesn’t get seen all that often partly be­cause these are works on paper, which are very fragile and wouldn’t be on view for a long time the way other parts of our permanent collec­tion are.”

Since many of the artists are still living today and are from various parts of the Caribbean, the collection focuses on a part of this artistic heritage of the Americas that isn’t represented strongly in the Loeb’s permanent installation.

Vetare is thankful for the work Paravisini did to make the exhibit come together in a cohesive way. She appreciates when faculty research can complement a museum collection. Vetare explained, “The work that Lisa Paravisini has done to place these works of art in context of Caribbean history and aesthetics is really important to us as a museum. It’s really great when faculty conduct research that contributes to the museum’s understanding of our own col­lection.”

Vetare is excited for what the collection brings to the Loeb and the surrounding com­munity as a whole. The museum staff’s lan­guage proficiency makes the exhibit particu­larly accessible to those in the community who are not native English speakers.

She explained, “This is going to be fun for our visitors to see because it is different. We are excited that some of the docent staff who work here are fluent Spanish speakers, so I am going to be able to offer to group tours the ex­hibition in Spanish. This gives us an opportuni­ty to link it with a language opportunity.”

The works themselves are vibrant and in­credibly varied. Although they’re all works on paper, their medium is still very diverse. They include charcoal work by Thomas Sanchez, which you can hold up against the colored pencil and pastel work of incredible detail and fineness by Marisol. The collection also show­cases screen-print techniques.

Although the exhibit is relatively small, it speaks to a variety of Caribbean lives and ex­periences. All of these experiences were heav­ily influenced by their location. As a result, the seemingly disparate collection touches on many themes in Caribbean life like the environ­ment and its role in everyday life.

For Paravisini, uniting such disparate works was initially challenging. She explained, “The greatest difficulty I found as a beginner curator for an exhibit was finding a title, since it re­quired a unifying concept bringing some very different art and artists together.”

She returned to these themes in Caribbean life to look for the connection. She continued, “Here, I returned to the initial idea for the class, what art can teach us about living in the Caribbean environment, and found clear links between the works and artists through the flu­idity of their movements across the Caribbean Sea (migration and sea-crossings as themes), their concerns for the vulnerability of the Ca­ribbean environment and their sense of geog­raphy and place.”

The collection as a whole is very different from what the Loeb normally showcases. The collection represents a different side of Carib­bean art rather than the blue skies and clear water that is so prominently ingrained in West­ern ideas. While each work is very different, to­gether they push against the identity imposed on them.

Vetare hopes that the exhibit resonates be­yond Vassar and allows the Loeb to reach local populations that may be from the Caribbean and have a specific interest in the exhibit. It also reaches out to school groups and com­munities, such as people in the Hudson Valley who may have a cultural interest in the collec­tion. The Loeb staff is eager for this exhibit to include groups of people who might not oth­erwise feel a connection to the museum. For those who might already be familiar with the museum, the collection asks them to look at the world beyond the standard canon of Western art and to look in different directions, at which the Vassar community thrives.

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