december cover

Tracing Antilles

The Frost Art Museum at Florida International University in Miami has commissioned the Cuban-born contemporary artist Humberto Castro to create a new multi-media site-specific installation entitled Tracing Antilles. Curated by Ana Estrada, the exhibition will open on October 16th and will be the result of an artistic investigation of the historical events that have shaped the evolution of culture through the generations in the Greater Antilles.

Castro was educated in Cuba where he spent the first 10 years of his career. As part of the generation of Cuban artists of the 80’s, well-known for instigating changes in the conceptual and aesthetic approach to art produced on the island, he founded the team “Hexagon,” an artists’ group that mounted installations aimed at provoking public participation in the work. In 1984, he emigrated to Paris where he lived in exile, disconnected from his Caribbean roots, yet very much integrated and prolific within this European context. In 1999, he moved to Miami where the confrontation with his own past and memory inspired him to investigate his personal history of migration and displacement within the larger context of Caribbean history.

For this project at the Frost Art Museum, Castro will be traveling to three points of information: Jamaica, Haiti and Dominican Republic, islands that have been dominated in their histories by the European nations of England, France and Spain. Throughout this journey, the artist will conduct interviews, photograph and accumulate video footage, as well as collect materials and objects with historical, symbolic and aesthetic relevance to the project. These visual elements will be incorporated into mixed media works created exclusively for the installation at the Frost Art Museum. Castro states, “The purpose of this travel is to make real contact with the islands and their populations in an effort to understand the long-term effects of colonialism.” Some of the works in the exhibition will refer to the fate of indigenous cultures of the region, particularly the Taino, and how the effects of the Spanish Conquest in the Americas still have an influence on the psyche of inhabitants in the region today.

Many of Castro’s images incorporate figurative elements evoking human bondage juxtaposed with wing-like forms that suggest transformation and escape, revealing a multi-layered tension within the universal human struggle between oppression and transcendence. Visual elements related to ocean travel and the movements of submerged figures also reflect the play between the internal and external human experience of physical migration and spiritual release. The new work for the exhibition promises to be a captivating blend of Western artistic techniques, such as large-scale figurative oil paintings and bronze sculptures, integrated with more contemporary expressions that incorporate found objects, traditional crafts, photography and video. In this way, the work will demonstrate the historical and social complexity of the region in a visual fusion of the past with the present.

Along with the personal dimension of the project, that of the Cuban-born artist encountering his native region and his roots after living in Europe and the U.S. for many years, the exhibition will also focus on more universal human themes such as displacement, migration and the transculturation that eventually form the identity of a nation and its people. As an artist who was raised and educated in the ideologies of the Cuban Revolution, and who as an adult emigrated to Europe, Castro questions the validity of the radical political movements and upheavals that the islands have endured through the centuries in an attempt to instill change in a post-colonial world. The artist insists that only a revolution within the individual self can create lasting change. The work will explore both externalized and internalized forms of oppression that inhabitants combat daily in the region, as well as the possibility of transformation through education and knowledge of one’s own history, and by valuing and caring for one’s own environment, culture and spiritual traditions.

Ana Estrada