10 Ways Cultural Identity Has Influenced Caribbean Art
I am originally from an ethnically and culturally diverse town called Luton, which is about 30 miles (48.28 km) north of London. From a young age, I remember being surrounded by different cultures, foods, clothing and religions.
Like many towns and cities across the the UK, there are many cultural festivals celebrating Caribbean culture. One of the most famous is the Notting Hill Carnival, which takes place annually in West Greater London, in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
Due to the colonial past of Britain, and the post-war labour shortage, resulted in mass migration. The promise of new opportunities was presented to many people elsewhere in the then Commonwealth. A number of these countries, amongst others, were Caribbean ones. These British subjects, by virtue of having been born in a British colony, were to become commonly known as the Windrush generation.
The term art comprises a diverse range of human activities expressed in various forms. This can be visual, auditory, and performed artefacts, and is largely influenced and shaped by the various cultures the art belongs from.
Caribbean art reflects the regions history and plethora of influences derived from British, French, Spanish, and African artistic traditions. The cultural background of people, native to the Caribbean, is diverse leaving an indelible footprint on the development of the islands.
The Realities of History Have Influenced Caribbean Art
1. Diverse Culture Shaping Caribbean Art
The European colonialists, the African heritage of slaves and the legacy of the native Indian tribes, have all had a significant influence on the identity of each island. The amazing mix of cultures, its diaspora and shifting socio-political realities are all responsible for shaping Caribbean history and identity.
2. Cultural Identity Expressed through Unique Traditions
These famous traditions are celebrated throughout the year in the Caribbean.
- Las Posadas celebrated from mid to late December. Beset part of the celebration are piñatas which are star-shaped decorations representing the north star that guided the 3 wise men to baby Jesus.
- Costa Rica (dia de las culture) ‘Columbus Day‘ celebrates the day on which Christopher Columbus reached the Americas, October 12, 1492. People from different cultures merge by dancing and singing together.
3. Food’s Influence on Caribbean Art
The Caribbean cuisine consists of culinary influences from Africa, France, Spain, India, Dutch, America, Britain, and Asia. It mostly includes seafood, chicken, and steak.
In general, the favourite Caribbean dish is seasoned jerk chicken. Chicken, goat, and curry are favourite foods throughout the English influenced areas of the Caribbean, while French cuisine is prevalent in the French-influenced areas of the Caribbean.
Also, people living in Spanish influenced regions of the Caribbean eat a lot of spicy and flavoured foods.
4. Influence of Performing Arts
Various traditional arts are performed characteristic of various cultures and regions. Some of the most famous are as follows.
- Reggae Sumfest music festival (Jamaican culture) is a weeklong festival located in Montego Bay. Many consider this to be the greatest reggae show on earth, characterised by colourful parades outfit and loud music.
- Merengue, a combination of two dances, the African and the French Minuet.
- Mambo, a famous Latin dance of Cuba.
- Tango, is a partner and social dance.
- Salsa, a distillation of many Latin and Afro-Caribbean dances.
- Rumba, is known for the dancers’ subtle side to side hip movements with the torso erect.
5. Music’s Influence on Caribbean Art
Like any other cultural aspect, music is largely determined by the history of its origin. Likewise, In Caribbean, it is an excellent representation of their diverse history and culture Some genres to gain wide popularity outside the Caribbean include:
- Calypso, a style inspired by Afro-Caribbean music that originated in Trinidad and Tobago during the early to the mid-20th century.
- Reggae, a music style that usually relates to news, social gossip, and political comment.
- Soca, development as a musical genre included its fusion with calypso, cadence, and Indian musical instruments.
- Zouk, a fast jump-up carnival beat originating from the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique.M
6. Religion and its Influence on Caribbean Art
In the Caribbean religion is largely influenced by ethnicities, ancestral backgrounds, and cultures.
Because of repeated waves of migration, by people of different beliefs, it has resulted in a diverse range of religions being practised around the Caribbean Islands, ranging from:
- Traditional African religion
- Afro-American religion
7. Traditional Dress and Fashion in the Caribbean
African, European, and even Asian influences are reflected in Caribbean fashion. Clothing trends throughout Caribbean history has been largely influenced by the hot and humid weather of the region. Cotton is readily available on the island while materials such as Indian madras and Scottish tartan was introduced by international visitors.
Some main Caribbean traditional dress and fashions are as follows:
- Coiffés are a type of headdress which draws the hair back, it consists of fabric wrapped around the head to show social status.
- Gaule Créole is a white, long-sleeved cotton dress traditionally worn by many Caribbean women, particularly in Dominica, Saint Lucia, and French West Indies. These traditional dresses are often referred to as Creole Dress/Madras.
- Traditional Matador skirt.
- Quadrille dress is the folk costume of Jamaica, Dominica and Haiti.
- The Guayabera which is a traditional shirt that is worn by many Caribbean men.
- The Panama Hat, a traditional brimmed straw hat of Ecuadorian origin, is also appreciated by a lot of tourists.
8. Caribbean Visual Artists
Caribbean art is colourful, cheerful and is mainly influenced by the rainforest, the underwater scene, and religious symbolism. It reflects the region’s rich past and the various waves of migration the region has encountered. Here we explore art from the Caribbean:
- The Arawak’s are groups of indigenous people from both South America and the Caribbean. Arawak creations are known for their stone carvings, pottery, and figurines.
- Edna Manley although born in Yorkshire, England on February 28, 1900 to a Jamaican mother and an English father, she spent most of her life in Jamaica. Manley was a key figure in the development of contemporary Jamaican Art and is best known for her sculptures depicting black figures.
- Heleen Cornet is well known for her oil and watercolour paintings.
- Ebony G. Patterson Jamaican-born visual artist known for large and colourful mix media tapestries.
- The Fine Art Fair in Barbados – CafaFair and Jamaican Biennale.
9. Caribbean Architecture
Due to the various cultures that have incorporated in the region over time Architectural influences in the Caribbean are lively, eclectic, and intriguing with the following characteristics:
- Present-day homes are mainly inspired by the Amerindian, African, Dutch, Spanish, French and other European Colonial cultures and use stone, concrete and masonry as the main raw material.
- The original one-story West Indian home earlier used wood and thatch and later masonry.
- The African influence can be noted in the rich colours, bold design and in murals and artwork that decorate the homes.
- The Spanish influenced architectural design with large verandas and community plazas.
- The Dutch and French, Spanish, and other Colonial European cultures introduced fancy design and ironwork and second story structures, all leading to an eclectic and charming Caribbean ambience.
10. Impact of Language on Caribbean Art
Most languages spoken in the Caribbean are either European languages (namely English, Spanish, French, and Dutch) or European language-based creoles.
Spanish-speakers are the most numerous in the Caribbean. English is the first or second language in most Caribbean Islands and is also the unofficial “language of tourism”, the dominant industry in the Caribbean region.
In the Caribbean, the official language is whichever colonial power (England, Spain, France, or the Netherlands) held sway over the island first or longest.
Throughout the long multilingual history of the Caribbean continent, Caribbean languages have been subject to phenomena like language contact, language expansion, language shift, and language death.
We invite you to explore the colourful and exotic world of Caribbean art.
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