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New Art Exhibition Celebrates Broward County's Caribbean Heritage

Paul Campbell
History Fort Lauderdale
Fervent Hope

Through paintings, photos and historical clippings from artist and researchers,  History Fort Lauderdale museum's newest exhibition “Island Imprint: A History of the Caribbean Community in Broward County”  is celebrating South Florida's Caribbean culture and community. 

"One in four South Floridians were born in the Caribbean, yet the community is not celebrated as a whole in Broward County,” said Calibe Thompson, creative director of Island Syndicate, the creative agency that partnered with the museum for the exhibition.

"Island Imprint" traces the history and migration patterns of the Caribbean community in South Florida going back to the 1700s. It is part of a year-long programming initiative paying homage to Caribbean culture, traditions and history. Thompson joined Sundial to discuss a number of the art pieces and the history behind Broward County’s Caribbean population.

This has been edited lightly for clarity. 

WLRN: What does it mean to be Caribbean?

THOMPSON: There is this disparity among the Caribbean community based on language. So, if you're in South Florida and a Cuban person says 'I'm Caribbean-American,' then you immediately think , 'everybody belongs to the Latin Caribbean community.' There's all these little subgroups: Jamaicans, Trinidadians, Haitians and the French speaking Caribbean. I consider all of us under one umbrella. 

Because it's so many different islands but they are all island nations. 

Yes. Twenty plus island nations. But we are the melting pot of the world as far as I'm concerned. 

What was the reason for displaying this exhibit of Broward County in Broward County focused on the Caribbean culture?  

We've been working with History Fort Lauderdale for a little over a year now. And they said they wanted to do something that showed a little bit more diversity than their traditional exhibitions. They were aware of Caribbean American Heritage Month and had not had something celebrating this particular culture. Our company, Island Syndicate -we are a creative agency and we pioneer a number of different projects including food events, including television content, exhibitions and museums and all this kind of stuff-,  we've partnered with History Fort Lauderdale in fact on a year of activities entitled "Island Imprint."

This is our flagship activity for Caribbean-American Heritage Month. We're able to focus on Broward of course because we're working with History Fort Lauderdale as opposed to anywhere else in South Florida,  where there are enclaves of Caribbean people. We wanted to focus on Broward for this. 

Credit Sonya Sanchez Arias / History Fort Lauderdale
History Fort Lauderdale
Caribbean Porch

Let's talk about some of the artwork. Let's start with "Caribbean Porch" by Sonya Sanchez Arias. This is a beautiful piece and I love the color. Tell us a little bit about it.

She's a jewler and she's just one of these mixed-media types of artists. She's from Trinidad. She's lived in Miami, Broward and West Palm Beach and most recently was in Broward. She has this style where she takes any type of medium or photo or image and makes something else out of it. These images are from her cell phone. She's taken an iPhone picture of a porch window that you could find theoretically anywhere in the Caribbean. And she has created these rich saturated colors out of it. 

The blacks are super black, the pinks are super pink. You saw all the colors are super bold and she's transposed them onto these metallic plates and then put those onto old driftwood or floorboards or window panels that have been just weathered and beaten and broken down. So you're seeing this juxtaposition of, you know, just very sharp artwork and sharp color against these just very weathered and dated pieces of wood. And the contrast is remarkable. Her collection of work is remarkable. What she was able to do with an iPhone and when we actually saw the physical pieces online, we were just blown away, it was stunning. 

Another one that I wanted to ask you about this one, Paul Campbell's "Fervent Hope." Tell me what I'm looking at and what does this represent? 

Paul is a Jamaican artist. He grew up in Jamaica. He went to school in England. And he has a fascinating story. He's been in art,  he's been in theater and he takes all of his life experiences and pours them onto the page. He always has this face of a black person that is undeniably a black person. He said someone in England told him once, "Your images are too ethnic." And he said after that he made the nose as twice as big on the lips twice as big because he was going to stamp that into everything. 

So that presence of that feature is all there. For this particular piece, he talked about connecting with Mother Earth. His pieces are full of symbolism. So when you see that tree when you see the colors, he's trying to express that the world is there for the future, his children and the future generation. 

Chris knew he wanted to work in public radio beginning in middle school, as WHYY played in his car rides to and from school in New Jersey. He’s freelanced for All Things Considered and was a desk associate for CBS Radio News in New York City. Most recently, he was producing for Capital Public Radio’s Insight booking guests, conducting research and leading special projects at Sacramento’s NPR affiliate.