Influence of Cultural Identity on Caribbean Art

Does Cultural Identity Influence the Creation of Art? In the third region of this series, we explore the realities of history on the paradise that is the Caribbean.

10 Ways Cultural Identity Has Influenced Caribbean Art

Culture is a powerful thing, and those who have been shaped by Caribbean culture are no exception. For hundreds of years, people ranging from African descendants to East Indians have called this area home. Their influence has helped shape many aspects of life in the region, including Caribbean art, over the years.

I am originally from an ethnically and culturally diverse town called Luton, which is about 30 miles (48 km) north of London. From a young age, I remember being surrounded by different cultural connection such as, foods, clothing and religions.

Windrush Generation

The Windrush Generation is a group of people who arrived in the United Kingdom as postwar labourers on the HMT Empire Windrush. As a result of Caribbean colonies being involved in the Second World War, the British Government agreed in 1948 to grant 20,000 migrant workers from those colonies the same rights as those born in Britain.

Britain’s colonial past, combined with a postwar labour shortage, resulted in mass migration. Many people in other parts of the Commonwealth were also promised new opportunities. Among these countries were a number of Caribbean nations. Because they were born in a British colony, these British subjects became known as the Windrush generation.

The majority of Windrush Generation migrants have been granted full British citizenship. However, some people have struggled to gain official status because they were told they were in the country illegally, despite having lived and worked in the UK for decades, due to a lack of official paperwork.

There are many cultural festivals celebrating Caribbean culture in many towns and cities throughout the UK. The Notting Hill Carnival, held annually in West Greater London’s Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, is one of the most well-known. The Notting Hill Carnival originated in London’s West Indian community’s “little England.” On August 8, 1959, immigrant Arthur Wint and other members of the black community organised the first Notting Hill Festival to commemorate the abolition of slavery in the British Empire.

The term “art” refers to a wide range of human activities expressed in various ways. This can include visual, auditory, and performed artefacts, and is heavily influenced and shaped by the various cultures from which the art originated.

Caribbean art reflects the region’s history as well as a wide range of influences from British, French, Spanish, and African artistic traditions. People from the region have a diverse cultural background, which has left an indelible mark on the development of the islands.

“The experience of slavery is the bedrock on which Caribbean society has been founded.”

Sharon Hurley Hall

The Realities of History Have Influenced Caribbean Art 

The Caribbean is an ideal location for discovering the diverse cultures and peoples of the Americas. This region’s art reflects the influence of these cultures, with colourful designs and symbolism traceable back to Africa, Europe, and South America. The realities of history have influenced Caribbean art, which can be seen in the brightly coloured fabrics, symbols, and statues found throughout the region.

1. Shaping Diverse Caribbean Art Culture

Caribbean art is a diverse category of art that includes a wide range of visual media. From vibrant paintings to handwoven rugs, island art is as diverse as the cultures that created it. The use of colour and pattern is a common theme in these various types of Caribbean art.

The European colonialists, African slaves, and native Indian tribes have all had a significant impact on the identity of each island. Caribbean history and identity are shaped by an amazing mix of cultures, its diaspora, and shifting socio-political realities.

2. Cultural Identity Expressed through Unique Traditions

The cultural identity of the West Indies is expressed through unique traditions that are vital to its history. Many African slaves were transported to the Caribbean to work on sugar plantations so that Europeans could have sugar and rum, and some of these plantations are still in operation today.

The colourful and famous traditions that descendants continue to celebrate throughout the year in the Caribbean reflect the local people’s struggle to maintain their identity.

  • Las Posadas is celebrated from the middle to the end of December. Piatas, which are star-shaped decorations that represent the north star that guided the three wise men to baby Jesus, are a popular part of the celebration.
  • 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 abundance of sugar cane and coconut trees in many paintings, as well as the use of fruit and vegetables in traditional African and African-influenced dishes, demonstrate the influence of food on Caribbean art. Although many artists, including Picasso, have painted scenes with sugar cane and coconut trees, these motifs are not used by all artists. Different cultures use different types of food to represent their way of life, and many Caribbean cuisines include fruits and vegetables.

The cuisine of the Caribbean is influenced by Africa, France, Spain, India, the Dutch, America, the United Kingdom, and Asia. It primarily consists of seafood, chicken, and steak.

Seasoned jerk chicken is one of the most popular Caribbean dishes. In English-influenced areas of the Caribbean, chicken, goat, and curry are popular foods, whereas French cuisine is popular in French-influenced areas.

People in Spanish-influenced Caribbean regions also eat a lot of spicy and flavorful foods.

4. Influence of Performing Arts

Various traditional arts representative of various cultures and regions are performed. Some of the most well-known 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

Music has had a significant influence on Caribbean art culture, as evidenced by the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, in which costumes and music play an important role. The Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, which takes place in February and March, emphasises costumes and music.

Music, like any other cultural aspect, is heavily influenced by its historical context. Similarly, it is an excellent representation of the Caribbean’s diverse history and culture. Some genres that have gained widespread popularity outside of 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

'Higher monkey climb, the more he show he ass.' - (The higher some people climb up the social ladder, the more ridiculous their behaviour becomes).

Trinidad Saying

6. Religion and its Influence on Caribbean Art

The reality of history has influenced Caribbean art. The region’s art reflects the influence of religion and culture on one another.

Religion is an important part of African-Caribbean culture, connecting its people to their ancestors. It has played a significant role in the development of a distinct Afro-Caribbean identity. The majority of people in Jamaica and Trinidad were brought from Africa as slaves, which resulted in a greater degree of African influence. Because the majority of the slaves in Barbados were from India, Indian influences are more visible. From Haitian Vodou and Cuban Santeria, two religions widely condemned in popular culture, to Rastafari in Jamaica and Orisha-Shango in Trinidad and Tobago.

Religion in the Caribbean is heavily influenced by ethnicities, ancestral backgrounds, and cultures.

Because of repeated waves of migration by people of various beliefs, the Caribbean Islands now have a diverse range of religions practised, ranging from:

  • Christianity
  • Hinduism
  • Islam
  • Judaism
  • Rastafarianism
  • Buddhism
  • Traditional African religion
  • Afro-American religion

7. Traditional Dress and Fashion in the Caribbean

The Caribbean has long been known for its vibrant clothing and native dress, which has evolved over time to include elements of Western dress. The indigenous peoples of the Caribbean have traditionally worn a variety of clothing styles. The Caribbean, on the other hand, has always been known for its vibrant clothing and native dress, which has evolved over time to incorporate elements of Western dress.

Caribbean fashion reflects African, European, and even Asian influences. The hot and humid weather of the Caribbean has had a large influence on clothing trends throughout history. Cotton is widely available on the island, and international visitors introduced materials such as Indian madras and Scottish tartan.

Women’s Fashion:

  • 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.

Men’s Fashion:

  • 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.
  • The Somerset-based shoemaker Clarks of England, has a long history with the Caribbean island of Jamaica. 

    When the Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley banned foreign-made goods from entering the nation in the 1970s, Clarks shoes became even more scarce and expensive.

    To get around the ban, travelling musicians would often purchased the shoes in the United Kingdom and bring them home. They would sell their records and music and use the proceeds to stock their baggage with Clarks footwear. This, in turn, created a robust illicit market for Clarks.

8. Famous Caribbean Visual Artists

Caribbean art is bright and cheerful, influenced primarily by the rainforest, the underwater scene, and religious symbolism. It reflects the region’s rich history as well as the various waves of migration that the region has experienced.

Caribbean art is often distinguished by an exuberant use of colour and tropical imagery. This is due to the region’s historical influence from African, Indian, and European cultures. Furthermore, Caribbean artists work with a wide range of materials, including wood, stone, glass, and many others.

We look at Caribbean art in this section:

  • 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

Caribbean architecture is a distinct style, with influences from Amerindians, Africa, and European colonisers ranging from opulent great houses to simple Kunuku cottages. Caribbean architecture’s design and building materials are often inspired by local resources and traditions, and they take into account where the home is located in the region as well as who will be living there.

However, even after emancipation, slaves rarely built with stone, and single-roomed thatched houses with clay and straw walls were still common in the twentieth century.

Because of the various cultures that have incorporated into the region over time, architectural influences in the Caribbean are lively, eclectic, and intriguing, with the following characteristics:

  • Modern homes are primarily inspired by Amerindian, African, Dutch, Spanish, French, and other European Colonial cultures, and the primary raw materials are stone, concrete, and masonry.
  • The original one-story West Indian home was made of wood and thatch, and later masonry.
  • The African influence can be seen in the rich colours, bold design, and murals and artwork that decorate the homes.
  • Large verandas and community plazas were influenced by Spanish architectural design.
  • The Dutch, French, Spanish, and other Colonial European cultures introduced fancy design and ironwork, as well as second story structures, all of which contributed to an eclectic and charming Caribbean atmosphere.

10. Impact of Language on Caribbean Art Culture

Language can be seen in the way Caribbean artists perceive their society. Many Caribbean islands are made up of several different cultures, each with its own language. Language determines how an individual perceives the world, and this has resulted in a distinct blend of perspectives in the Caribbean.

The majority of Caribbean languages are either European languages (English, Spanish, French, and Dutch) or creoles based on European languages.

Spanish speakers are the most numerous in the Caribbean. English is the first or second language of most Caribbean islands, as well as the unofficial “language of tourism,” the Caribbean region’s dominant industry.

The official language of the Caribbean is that of the colonial power that ruled the island first or longest (England, Spain, France, or the Netherlands).

Language contact, language expansion, language shift, and language death have all occurred in the Caribbean continent’s long multilingual history.

Conclusion: Weh Yuh Ah Seh, de olda de moon, de brighter it shines!

This article looked at some of the most important aspects of Caribbean culture and how they inspired Caribbean art.

I hope you enjoyed my blog post and learned something new from it. It certainly is a part of the world I would like to visit someday!

As previously said, Caribbean culture is influenced by a diverse spectrum of cultural identities, which has influenced Caribbean art for hundreds of years. Caribbean culture has had a huge impact on how we perceive the world and has shaped many elements of our lives.

If you liked this post, I recommend reading The Influence of Cultural Identity on the Creation of Art, which is the series’ cornerstone.

Thank you for reading, and if you know anyone who might be interested in my work, please share it with them as well.

Can I Create a Caribbean Art Masterpiece?

Yes, of course! All you have to do is take inspiration from a particular culture, item, or religious belief and use it to explore your creative side.

If you have any problems with your work, Ren Creative Works is here to help. I can provide you with bespoke services to help you explore the vibrant and exotic world of Caribbean-inspired artwork.

Between Twelve 12 and Fourteen 14  is a stunning and one-of-a-kind wall hanging that is ideal for any room looking for a unique piece of art.

Between Twelve 12 and Fourteen 14

How superstitious are you?

Adrian Reynolds is a Dublin based abstract artist. His paintings are a response to the world that surrounds us. A world that is changing faster than ever before. His work is an exploration of colour, form and texture, placing his work at the intersection between abstraction and representation. His work has been featured in Ireland, the UK and the US.

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