This exhibition is the first introduction of contemporary artists from the Caribbean in MoCA TAIPEI. Presented as a duo exhibition with Su Hui-Yu's The Trio Hall on current global politics, NEXUS creates an entry point beyond the obvious: paradise-like exotic islands. In dialogue with each other, the works provoke a feeling of urgency to connect to move to a sustainable future in symbioses within the world ecosystem.
As a curator from the Netherlands presenting artists from the Caribbean in Taiwan, I cannot disregard Dutch colonization and global politics. In the Far East (viewed from the Netherlands), from the 17th century to the 1940s, immigration and the development of Taiwan were largely shaped by the Dutch and the empires of China and Japan. Portuguese sailors first saw Taiwan in 1557 and dubbed it “Ihla Formosa” (beautiful island). However, the Dutch East India Company, in competition with its Spanish and Portuguese rivals in the Far East, established Netherlands Formosa, a base in southern Taiwan, located near today's Tainan City, in 1624. The reason for Dutch colonization in Southern Taiwan was twofold: It heralded the creation of an immigration port of entry in Southern Taiwan which fueled a demand for manpower from China, and it integrated Taiwan into global trade systems, thus hastening the country's development to benefit Dutch trade. In response to the demand for laborers first initiated by Dutch colonization, a massive wave of Chinese immigrants came to Taiwan between 1661 and 1682. Along came military leader Zheng Chenggong (often called Koxinga), who defeated the Dutch in 1662. These migrants from China were the first to establish an agrarian economy in Taiwan (Ji-Ping Lin, Tradition and Progress: Taiwan's Evolving Migration Reality, January 24, 2012).
In the Far West (viewed from the Netherlands), the Caribbean is part of a broader region documented as “discovered” by Spanish conquerors Christopher Columbus and (lesser known) Alonso de Ojeda, the first Europeans to reach the region, in 1492. The Dutch in competition with its Spanish, Portuguese, British, and French rivals, here too, occupied Sint Maarten in 1618, Curacao and Bonaire in 1634, St. Eustatius and Aruba in 1637, and Saba in 1640. These islands formed the Netherlands Antilles from 1948 until October 2010, and are still part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to date. In addition, the Dutch occupied St. Croix (1625-1650), St. Thomas (1657-1672), and Tobago (1632-1675). The demand for laborers for the agrarian economy in the Caribbean started the transatlantic human trade. As of 1637, the Dutch transported and traded enslaved people until 1814 when the Netherlands abolished human trading.
Colonialism (1500-1800) is what kick-started global politics driven by capitalism as a world system and is where our connection and entanglement started. Ever since Taiwan and the Caribbean continue to share issues like transnational labor, migration and immigration, environmental disasters, and constant imperialist threats by Europe, the USA, and/or the People’s Republic of China.
Christopher Cozier about his participation in Taiwan points out: “What is interesting here is that Trinidad has a complex relationship as people were brought here in the early 19th century, and later many people displaced in the civil war leading to Taiwan's formation came to Trinidad.” Cozier’s work, All around us - elsewheres are beginnings and endings, focuses on the predicament of transplanted labor.
Global politics has played a significant role in immigration to the USA from both Taiwan and the Caribbean. Foreign in a Domestic Sense a work by Sofía Gallisá Muriente and Natalia Lassalle-Morillo refers to the USA colonization of foreign territories, identifying Puerto Rico as an unincorporated possession. The work evokes, accompanies, and connects the lived experiences of people who are part of the fastest-growing Puerto Rican population in the United States. Like immigrants from Taiwan, they moved for political reasons and in the case of Puerto Rico also because of the environmental disasters in the archipelago.
Capitalism and global politics resulting in the current climate change have a big impact on all islands with environmental disasters rapidly increasing. In Siudadanos, a work by Sharelly Emanuelson (Curacao), we immerse in images of St. Maarten, which she took right after hurricane Gonzalo (2014). The visuals are accompanied by the sounds of birds, insects, and voices speaking to the subject of national unity, an open unity based on the recognition of the ever-changing plurality of the population of the islands.
Haiti and St. Vincent & Grenadines to date formally acknowledges Taiwan. The disruptive and destructive impact of global politics and transnational capitalism economically, politically, and environmentally in the Caribbean is most blatant in Haiti. In Mes Rêves / My Dreams, artist Maksaens Denis works his way through the history of violence, oppression, and greed, evacuating fears, anxieties, and frustrations, and releasing repressed impulses.
In the past decades, Taiwan also has been heavily investing in St. Vincent & the Grenadines in agriculture and fishery. Nadia Huggins’ current work interrogates belonging and displacement, and identity and distortion through images of bodies (her own and others), and the marine environment the bodies encounter. In Circa No Future, Huggins explores her belief there is a link between an under-explored aspect of Caribbean adolescent masculinity and the freedom of bodies in the ocean.
Rodell Warner started creating NFTs to interact with a larger community. TERRARIA allows discussing and collecting these digital references to nature, life and preservation, contributing to the current discourse and urgency for our world needing to transform from globalized transnational capitalism to eco-socialism.
The current times ask us to move towards a more just, equal, and sustainable future. Policy reforms—particularly in the areas of income redistribution, transnational state regulation of world markets, labor, human, women, LGBTQ+, and ethnic rights, and climate change—are important on the road to a viable future.
Art will never be able to offer a solution for a problem. Art at best, disrupts, is uncomfortable, and even shocks at times. It sets out to transgress, sparks the imagination, makes us wonder, ponder, and lets us see beyond what we so far understood and were aware of. It is beyond clarifying a political stance or identity. It shows our continuous entanglement and connection with each other and with the ecosystem of our planet. Complicated connections between perpetrators and victims, inextricably intertwined in the past and present, also will determine our future.
Feudalism, Colonialism, Imperialism, and Transnational Capitalism, to grow our understanding of the social forces and their political and cultural agents that shape global society is essential for building the systemic movement to transition to an at least life-affirming commensalism future. How the future will unfold depends on our ability and willingness to accept our unavoidable entanglement and to adjust, better our connections and see the value and strength of a more coherent togetherness.