MAHOGANY EXPOSITION: What is 'Contemporary' Caribbean Culture ?

We launched our first digital exhibition video in March 2020; an exposition on what is contemporary Caribbean culture. The exhibition was curated and animated by Zoe Osborne, founder of Mahogany Culture. It is an expression of creatives from Barbados and the diaspora with work that sparks discussion.

Participants: Akilah Watts, Alex Gibson , Alexander James, Danielle Trotman, Dwight Jones, Joshua Greaves, Kyle D. Alchemist, Orisha Image (Moussa Kone), Ray Liottta, Rhiannon Marquez, UZiMA, Xii the 7even & Zoe Osborne.

What is Culture?

What does Caribbean culture look like in today's context?

We know what 'traditional' Caribbean art looks like and now there is a new wave of talent that exists, and we can no longer be confined to the pre-existing images and ideas of what it means to be Caribbean. What are these? As mentioned before Mahogany Culture was created to remove the old preconceived notions of what it meant to be Caribbean:

"Jamaican patties, dancehall + Rihanna"

And don't get me wrong nain ain't wrong wid dat.

The idea is to push that narrative and create a platform for the diversity of the Caribbean to be showcased and explore how people today connect with their Caribbean identity.

The exhibition experience begins with you entering through a hallway with a wood frame structure that references the Caribbean vernacular building, the chattel house. You first see a letter addressed to home from Alex Gibson. This 'Caribbean Love Letter' positions you as a viewer seeing this message being transcribed.

As you continue through the experience you see illustrations of Barbadian figures by Danielle Trotman. These iconic Bajan symbols surround you as you circle around Zoe Osborne's chair installation which is a commentary of colonial Barbadian style contrasted with a modern expression. You then come to a video by Orisha Image (Moussa Kone) which shows the comparison of Yorùbá words spoken by a male speaker born in Ondo, Nigeria, and a female speaker from Havana, Cuba.

Now the trip of the Caribbean begins with images captured by Alexander James with deep tones pulling you in to each photograph capturing the feel, characteristics of the people and geography of Barbados. We simultaneously experience Akilah Watts' vibrant depiction of hairstyles of black Barbadians against the backdrop of mesmerizing patterns of local foods we all love. These paintings instantly shoot you to a memory of having your hair braided in primary school and your love of juicy star fruit and that’s only one perspective of the imagery her work provides.

Joshua Greaves' soft/gentle approach to his subjects captures the peace that lies within each scene and the sharp perspective of each photograph draws you in leaving you with that contented feeling similar to when you take that nap after you had a sea bath.

Kyle D. Alchemist then takes you to the market with his photographs that capture the energy of vendors and lifestyle on the streets showcasing Bajan city life. If you were ever homesick these are the photographs that really capture what you might be missing.

UZiMA's video tells us a story of liberation and emancipation from our past of slavery. This piece activates your critical thinking and touches on themes of race and mental health in Barbados.

Xii the 7even's vibrantly coloured illustrations bring us a new visual perspective on identifiably Caribbean representations. From Errol Barrow and Bob Marley to the well known Chefette, an iconic fast food restaurant in Barbados.

Ray Liottta then takes your mind on a trip exploring the question of home and self through his illustrations depicting 'the castle I called home was made of glass'.

You then pass by Zoe Osborne's illustrations which start a conversation about the diaspora, physical space and the architectural disconnect in metropolitan cities.

Rhiannon Marquez's iconic photograph of a cow then jolts your mind in to further conscious thinking as it stares at you at eye level. You then ramp up to the final piece of the show that calls for introspection and the conclusion for this exposition.

What is contemporary Caribbean culture?

You are the contemporary culture and to quote Errol Barrow, " What kind of mirror image do you have of yourself? ".

​The exhibition animation experience can be viewed here.

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