Counter-Memory and Cultural Capital: The Arts as Sustainable Civic Practice in the Caribbean

Marielle Barrow

Advisor: Michael G Malouf, PhD, Department of English

Committee Members: Alison Landsberg, Roger Lancaster, David Scott

Enterprise Hall, #318
February 22, 2016, 12:00 PM to 09:00 AM


This dissertation establishes a comparative transnational framework, arguing that a nascent Caribbean public sphere is emerging through and across contemporary visual arts practices of Haiti, Bahamas and Trinidad. Bringing together Memory Studies with Public Policy and deploying an ethnographical methodology, this dissertation carefully examines unmapped artistries of the Caribbean, not as an art historical project but as part of a cultural studies analysis of the relations between artistic practice, citizenry and economics. This project introduces new vocabularies for explaining current Caribbean conditions in relation to Western thought while accounting for shifts in practice and increased international visibility.

Counter-cultural-memories are creative expressions that make use of folklore, spirituality (Christianity, Vodou syncretism, Orisha) and traditional cultural forms (Carnival and Junkanoo). Such memories manifest as contemporary formats of conceptual, visual, sonorous and corporeal performances. Caribbean visual artists resist and transgress historical ways of knowing, categorical divisions such as monument, performance and spectacle, spatial, geopolitical and ideological frontiers, while making use of the tools and resources of formal institutions like museums. Artistry as counter-cultural-memory reflects a new and significant moment of civic engagement and personhood. Through such counter-cultural-memory practices, artists augment their power on socio-economic levels. In other words, they develop the arts as sustainable civic practice. Artist-led initiatives are mobilizing resources, using negotiations with formal institutions to grow in size and power- increasing the cultural capital of the region and thus the visibility of the Caribbean on the world stage.

I argue that these transgressive counter-cultural-memory practices circulated and built through networks of practitioners, dialogues, events and Internet technologies, generate new levels of cultural capital for the Caribbean region marking a new era. Through this interplay, the complex connectivity and critical dialogue of artists, I conclude that counter-cultural memory practices coincide with cultural capital configurations resulting in an incipient Caribbean public domain different yet related to the Habermasian bourgeois public sphere. Such a public can substantively intervene in, interrupt and contribute to decision-making apparatus, capitalist market structures and ideological strongholds that determine their future including the market and the government.