Uprising Art is media partner of the first edition of the BIAC, Biennale Internationale d’Art Contemporain de Martinique, that takes place between November 22, 2013 and January 15, 2014 and which theme is « On the Resonance of the Literary Outcry in the Visual Arts ». For this need, Uprising travels to the Martinique from November 19 to 26 to report on the event and conduct a series of interviews of the organizing team, the invited curators, the artists in residency and the artists from the International and Martinican Pavilions.

Follow us to know more on the backstage of the event and its main outcomes.

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Exclusively an interview of
Edward Sullivan, art historian
Co-president of the scientific committee of the BIAC

You teach Art History and are particularly involved in promoting Latin-American and Caribbean art. For which reasons can we consider the BIAC as an innovating event, and a meaningful one, for the region?

I am professor of modern and contemporary Latin American art and Caribbean art at New York University. At this point biennial exhibitions and major art fairs are principal ways for everyone concerned with the field to get to know what is new AND to make comparisons with the art of the older generation of artists who are active. It is also a forum for intellectual reflections. the most successful biennials and fairs have, attached to them, such things as lecture series, debates, film presentations etc. All of these things complement the activities of the biennial. Experts from various parts of the world come together and consider what is on view and the history behind it. I think that this could be a very serious component of BIAC.

Which advice did you give for this very first edition?

My advice for the first edition: I would not attempt to do everything nor would I attempt to imitate what other biennials have done. Martinique is  unique place with a very deep and engaging history. I would be most interested to see the innovative art that artists from the island and rom the Martinican diaspora have been doing. Martinique has also been a very important place in 20th century history for various intellectual movements such as Aime Césaire’s Negritude movement. I would be interested to see how artists have absorbed these historical lessons and are dealing with them in a contemporary language. I think that the BIAC should, most productively, engage with what is happening in Martinique as it relates to the Caribbean island all around it. The great dynamics of Caribbean islands art and that of its diasporas should be one of the principal focal points. It should not try and be a grand international show with all of the most chic and well known contemporary super stars.

Mario Benjamin, Sans Titre, 2012 © Revue Noire

Mario Benjamin, Sans Titre, 2012 – BIAC’s International Pavilion © Revue Noire

Currently, what are the dynamics at work in Caribbean contemporary art? As an art historian, what changes would you underline in the last two decades, for instance?

Currently the most vibrant dynamic in Caribbean art is fluidity: movement of artists, movement of works from one place in the world to another. this has always been a leitmotif in the art of the Caribbean but now more than ever with ease of the flow of ideas and images,  such travel and movement characterizes the art of the Caribbean.

In the Caribbean region, several biennials already exist (Cuba, Aruba, Dominican Republic…): in which way the BIAC can contribute to the regional dialogue, and can extend it further so as to access the international scene and a global dialogue?

There are currently a number of other Caribbean biennial exhibitions. Havana’s is the oldest: Santo Domingo and others are also significant. BIAC could differentiate itself from them by concentrating not on the entire world but more closely on the region: especially the Francophone Caribbean and how its unique history influences and informs the work of the artists from places like Martinique, Guadalupe Saint Martin etc…AND the interactions with artists in France [the metropole, the hexagon] as well as artists in other parts of Europe, the US, Canada and beyond.

Esthetically what is a stake in the BIAC?

Esthetically the promotion of Martinique as an extremely powerful and creative entity is at stake with this biennial. Martinique is not a large island and it is not always present in the grand international exhibitions. It is up to BIAC to stress the importance of the island’s contribution to contemporary art AND to historical art.

Florine Demosthene, Wonder Twins, The Capture Series, 2011 / Courtesy of the artist

Florine Demosthene, Wonder Twins, The Capture Series, 2011 – BIAC’s International Pavilion / Courtesy of the artist

According to you, why Caribbean art is not generating an enthusiasm similar as the one triggered by art from Asia or the Middle East?

Currently art from East Asia, mainly china, is creating huge interest. this is also true for Middle Eastern art. I believe that this has less to do with the inherent quality of the art from these regions, and more to do with both the huge financial stakes at risk as well as political factors. China is a huge market for the west; the Middle East, with its vast oil riches and its political turmoil is creating an interest for people in its artistic and intellectual production. This is all fine, but it does not mean that art from these places is necessarily better or more powerful from that of other regions–such as the much smaller and much less economically potent Caribbean. However, in my opinion there is nothing to stop us from looking at Caribbean art with the same intensity as that from elsewhere. The BIAC should take on this problem as part of its mission.

What is missing to achieve that recognition?

I cannot say what is missing, but I can, in closing, stress that there is much at stake with the first BIAC; the challenges will be many, in terms of organization, political interest and economic demands. If the organizers of the BIAC can get beyond these hurdles, and I am sure they can, they will create a most important and vibrant show.

By Clelia Coussonnet

July 2013

Headline picture’s credits : Edward Sullivan © Photographic solutions, Hudson, New York