In Conversation With Albertine Kopp

An Initiative For Caribbean Art

Newly-formed in 2019 as an independent not-for-profit, the Caribbean Art Initiative will continue to support art exchanges and cultural programs across the Caribbean. C&AL spoke with Albertine Kopp, head of the Initiative.

C&AL: Compared to the Americas, Caribbean art is neglected when one looks at the exhibitions agenda, programming line-up, and educational curriculum of European art schools, museums, and galleries. What is your prognosis for Caribbean art in Europe given its neglected status by institutions on this side of the Atlantic?

AK: I would say it is neglected and under-represented everywhere. This is due to an ecosystem that one has to take into account. First, we must begin in the Caribbean, to rebuild and maintain sustainable infrastructure and ecosystems and support existing ones in terms of structure, representation, and programming. There is a lot to do in education and art mediation, which is very important. We have to work hand-in-hand with the people through art mediation, so that they can understand the value of Caribbean art and appreciate it. It always depends on what is the priority in certain countries. For some countries, it is tourism; in others, it is culture – and almost always, there is a blend of the two. In terms of future visions, I would say that the Americas retain our most crucial responsibility. There are some notable new movements already. The Pérez Museum in Miami announced a Caribbean research center. In terms of museums in Europe, the Reina Sofía is looking at [Caribbean] artists. In 2017 they bought a work from Engel Leonardo, a Dominican artist, during Arco Madrid.

For me, and what matters for to the Caribbean Art Initiative, before engaging too deeply in Europe – excepting exhibitions, which is one vital activity, obviously – we must foster first museums and existing institutions within the Caribbean.

C&AL: “The Caribbean” as a geographical zone is marked by different languages and dissimilar national histories. Yet, the Caribbean Art Initiative is tasking itself with a mandate to create artistic and cultural exchanges across the region. With this broad-ranging mandate, what problems and possibilities are you anticipating?

AK: Problems? Maybe in communication and how to navigate the terrain. I am a very positive person in general, so I am not looking at these as problems, but rather as learning experiences. That is my first approach. And this is how we approach the region, otherwise you will get stuck into something. In terms of solutions – the happiest and most fundamental route is to find a basis for a common dialogue. The new generation has that already. There are many artists who are engaging in cross-island projects, such as Caribbean Linked. I think art and culture within the Caribbean will be the vehicle for the islands to speak together.

C&AL: In Switzerland, a lot of new art ventures have popped up to take advantage of the buzz of activity and audiences that Art Basel brings. I refer to paper positions, photo basel, and Zurich Art Weekend. What future ideas are you entertaining for Caribbean artists during Art Basel week?

AK: It is crucial to be present at global platforms – be it the Venice Biennale or Art Basel; and fighting to be there to also have a voice, because I think it is unfair to be left out from the global art community’s table. The plus that we have with the Caribbean Art Initiative is a very strong international network. Half our network is not from the Caribbean, but from outside the region. This is what makes us strong in terms of the cultural exchange. During these big global events like Art Basel, we try to create a meeting point for discussion so people know where to find each other. At Venice, we did the Caribbean Art Salon, which included a reunion of Caribbean artists participating in the Venice Biennale and a discussion related to the event. I am very encouraged and inspired by the response and positive feedback. It is a format that is very easy to adapt. We are trying to really find the right partners at the moment. We did the Art Basel breakfast to raise the awareness of people to support this very long-term, not-for-profit institution. We cannot do it alone.

Ramatu Musa, who made the interview, is a Swiss-based writer, editor, and culture critic.