Nov. 4, 2003 – Two artists from St. Croix and two from St. John have been chosen to represent the territory in the 5th Biennial of Caribbean Art in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic, which opens on Friday.
More than a hundred artists from throughout the Caribbean will be recognized at the opening ceremonies for the three-month exhibition in Santo Domingo's Museo de Arte Moderno. The Virgin Islanders taking part are sculptor Mike Walsh and painter LaVaughn Belle of St. Croix and ceramist Mark Hansen and painter/multimedia artist Janet Cook-Rutnik of St. John.
Walsh is exhibiting two of his large metal sculptures, one in aluminum titled "The Veil" and the other in mild steel called "God." Belle is showing a video/installation piece from Cuba, where she is enrolled in graduate art classes. Hansen is displaying three ceramic works which incorporate digital photographic images transferred via decals and fired into the glazed surface of free-form abstract clay vessels. Cook-Rutnik is exhibiting a mixed-media triptych and an installation piece titled "The Way We Were" which combines photography, collage and paintings on canvas.
Invitations were extended to 42 nations and territories in the region to participate in this year's biennial, encompassing the British, Dutch, French, Spanish and U.S. Caribbean island nations and possessions, Central American countries and Mexico.
The first Santo Domingo bienal was held in 1992 to mark the quincentennial of Columbus' arrival in what Europeans would call the New World.
The first three Santo Domingo biennials were limited to paintings. The fourth was opened up to include drawings, prints, tapestry, photography, three-dimensional works (found objects, interventions, sculpture, etc.) and objects in space (installations, sculptural groups, etc.).
This year's event has gone a step beyond — encompassing all visual media, "including the most innovative visual expression in video, installation, etc.," Cook-Rutnik said.
As the biennial committee put it in a news release in June: "Categories have been abolished" so that the exhibitors can showcase "the most innovating and amazing creations those artists can imagine."
Cook-Rutnik, who has exhibited in previous Santo Domingo biennials, was asked to serve as the V.I. adviser for this year's show, which will be in place through Feb. 7, 2004. She forwarded slides submitted by local artists to the selection jury last summer.
In announcing the call for submissions in July, she said the 5th biennial theme is "perception" — from the perspective of the artist: "how we perceive ourselves, and how and why others perceive us as Caribbean."
In her own artist's statement, Cook-Rutnik describes her exhibition works as exploring "the three major viewpoints in perception: the external world, the internal view and the random, media perspective." She further states: "How we in the Caribbean are perceived, and how we perceive ourselves, is of paramount importance in these rapidly changing times marked by political chaos and economic uncertainty … As outside forces shape the mercurial marketplace, we are forced to navigate while holding onto the traditions that tie the Caribbean to the natural world for shelter and sustenance."
Cook-Rutnik says the biennial "is an important art event" regionally — especially this year, "because it has been incorporated by the Cariforo Cultural Center of the Dominican Republic, which produces a quarterly art forum and sponsors many regional and international exhibitions."
Concurrent with the biennial, Cariforo is hosting the annual pre-congress of the International Association of Art Critics. Known by its Spanish-language acronym, AICA, the association "is the unifying organization for curators and critics from the Caribbean, the mainland, Europe, Asia and Africa," Cook-Rutnik said. "From these ranks come curators and artist recommendations for the Venice Biennale, Bienal de São Paulo, Bienal de Habana — the major art shows of the world."
Over the next three months, a series of lectures, panel discussions and dialogues in Santo Domingo will address art and aesthetics and the "perception" theme.
The top prizes this year include the publication of a book on the winning artist's work, a mounted solo show at the Museo de Arte Moderno including catalog and artist's travel costs, an artist's residency in the Dominican Republic, and three awards for the best overall representations of a country or territory.
The participating V.I. artists, with partial funding from the V.I. Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts, will travel to the Dominican Republic along with other local artists and art lovers "interested in seeing this world-class museum exhibition of Caribbean art," Cook-Rutnik said in a recent release.
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