Photograph documenting the eruption of the volcano Mount Pelée in Martinique, 1902, photo courtesy of The Caribbean Photo Archive

Dust Specks on the Sea: Contemporary Sculpture from the French Carribean & Haiti

June 19, 2021 – September 18, 2021

Curated by Arden Sherman, Director and Curator of Hunter East Harlem Gallery and Katie Hood Morgan, Assistant Curator, Hunter East Harlem Gallery

In 1964, French President Charles de Gaulle visited Martinique, Guadeloupe, and French Guiana on official State business. Flying over the Caribbean Sea, de Gaulle described the islands as “dust specks on the sea.” His quote evokes an otherworldly aerial view of the Caribbean archipelago, while also revealing a deep-seated hierarchical perspective of the region, stemming from France’s history as a powerful colonizing force in the Caribbean. Challenging this colonial perception, Dust Specks on the Sea focuses on sculptural works by twenty-seven artists from Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana, & Haiti. It presents various approaches to subject matter, materials, and process that speak to contemporary practices by artists of this region, evincing their participation in a globalized art world and putting pressure on notions of who is at its “center” and who is on its “periphery.”

The French Caribbean is made up of two islands—Guadeloupe and Martinique—and the state of French Guiana, which sits on the northeastern edge of South America. These Overseas Departments are officially governed by, and are politically, economically, and socially connected to, France. In the Greater Antilles, the nation of Haiti shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. In 1804, after over a decade of rebellion led by slaves, Haiti gained independence from France and forever changed the history of French sovereignty in the Caribbean.

In Dust Specks on the Sea, this history is undeniably present, but these artists are not bound to make artwork that didactically demonstrates the conditions of the region and its colonial trauma. Rather, they play all fields: expressing their personal relationships to heritage, navigating art-making in the globalized contemporary art world, and looking beyond their cultural background for inspiration and ideas. Their works are placed in close proximity and in direct conversation with one another, evoking a network of ideas among a mosaic of individual artistic approaches. The result is a space that is not completely Caribbean, not completely European, and not completely independent; the exhibition and its artworks live somewhere in the grey area between all three.

The exhibition features the work of the following artists: Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnenc, Raphaël Barontini, Sylvia Berté, Julie Bessard, Hervé Beuze, Jean-François Boclé, Alex Burke, Vladimir Cybil Charlier, Gaëlle Choisne, Ronald Cyrille, Jean-Ulrick Désert, Kenny Dunkan, Edouard Duval-Carrié, Adler Guerrier, Jean-Marc Hunt, Nathalie Leroy-Fiévée, Audry Liseron-Monfils, Louisa Marajo, Ricardo Ozier-Lafontaine, Jérémie Paul, Marielle Plaisir, Michelle Lisa Polissaint, Najja Moon, Tabita Rezaire, Yoan Sorin, Jude Papaloko Thegenus and Kira Tippenhauer