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Reclaiming cultural identity through decoloniality

by Lorenza Mezzapelle September 24, 2019
Reclaiming cultural identity through decoloniality

Tropical patterns, the sound of waves, and palm trees are most often what is demonstrated when the Caribbean islands are depicted in the Western world. While picturesque, this romanticized portrayal curated by the Western gaze fails to acknowledge the islands’ colonial history and the effects of mass tourism.

On view at Darling Foundry in Old Montreal, Archipelago of the Invisibles was curated by two former residents, Jin-Yoon Han and Marina Reyes. The exhibit celebrates Latin American art, artists, and curators for the 10-year anniversary of the Residency of the Americas. The residency aims to establish relationships between communities through the Americas, as a means of fostering open-mindedness and inclusivity.

The two group exhibitions, Two Ways to Disappear Without Losing the Physical Form and Resisting Paradise explore the ways in which we view one another – through the exploration of themes of identity, representation, and erasure. They examine the cultural and socio-political effects of the regions’ complex histories.

Two Ways to Disappear Without Losing the Physical Form, on display in the Grand Salle, is curated by Jin-Yoon Han, whose work focuses on the life of images and what they evoke. Resisting Paradise, on display in the Small Gallery, is curated by Marina Reyes, whose curatorial research focuses on post-colonial theory in popular culture.

In the Small Gallery, Joiri Minaya, a Dominican-American multidisciplinary artist, explores themes of identity from a decolonial space. Decoloniality, a term associated with a new Latin American movement, aims to recognize the socio-political implications of Western modes of thinking, how colonialism continually affects people, and challenges Eurocentric standards and structures of power.

Photo by Britanny Guiseppe-Clarke

Minaya’s video, Siboney, documents Minaya, clad in white, painting a mural inspired by a ‘tropical’ patterned shirt. Once finished, Minaya proceeds by pouring water over herself and rubbing herself against the mural until it is ultimately ruined. All the while, a slow rendition of Connie Francis’ song “Siboney” plays in the background.

The use of ‘tropical’ fabric references Western representations of the ‘foreign’, while the act of Minaya rubbing herself against, and undoing the painting – alongside the sensual version of Francis’ “Siboney” – is a symbol of the idealization of Caribbean bodies, seen as subjects in ‘paradise’ by colonizers.

Similarly, Minaya’s piece, #dominicanwomengooglesearch, explores various representations of the body. The installation consists of digital prints of images found by searching “Dominican women” on Google. Some images are pixelated and others stylized with tropical patterned fabrics, representing romanticized portrayals and interpretations of ‘tropical’ bodies.

In the Grande Salle, Javier González Pesce, a Chilean artist, explores themes of disappearance in his work The Island of the Un-adapted. The installation consists of roofing sheets and objects found and collected from rooftops in Santiago. The objects, assembled into “archipelagos”–or groups of islands– on the rooftop, represent the removal and scattering of items in the visual world.

While the items no longer serve a purpose and were discarded, they now form a group of small islands and therefore, are a symbol of hope. Their ability to float implies an ability to survive, regardless of imposed conditions.

González Pesce’s second project, Untitled (Human Face), consists of a sculpture and video. The sculptures, three canoes sculpted to resemble facial features, are placed across a video demonstrating the three canoes – or facial elements – moving and rearranging themselves in the sea. The installation symbolizes the evolution and disappearance of the face on a constantly changing surface.

Together, Two Ways to Disappear Without Losing the Physical Form and Resisting Paradise create a dialogue surrounding themes of representation and colonialism, and aim to recontextualize and reclaim the artists’ cultural identity in the visual world.

Archipelago of the Invisibles is on display at Darling Foundry, at 745 Ottawa St., until Dec. 8. The gallery is open Wednesday to Sunday, from 12 to 7 p.m., and Thursday, from 12-10 p.m.

 

Feature photo by Lorenza Mezzapelle

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