This project will bring together a research grouping of academics in history of art and architecture, geography, social anthropology, and postcolonial literature, from several EU countries, to work on a set of focused, comparative studies on urban place, aesthetics and identity in the Caribbean region.
We wish to explore, across linguistic boundaries (Anglophone, Francophone, Hispanophone, and Dutch-speaking), how art and architecture in urban settings have contributed to the expression or formation of particular, and contested, cultural identities and notions of postcolonial heritage in the Caribbean. We will examine how a set of urban spaces, interconnected by maritime links, but differentiated by contrasting colonial histories and continuing relationships with the metropoles, have been shaped through politicised aesthetic strategies, perceived and appropriated by inhabitants, and re-framed as heritage in a postcolonial context. We will test the premise of a history ‘made by art’ (Pinney 2004), by studying the forms that urban aesthetics have assumed in Caribbean colonial and postcolonial space, the power relationships which they inscribed, and the role they played in transforming local and translocal cultural identities within a context of modernisation.
Why the Caribbean? The region is one of the most highly urbanised in the world, but the aesthetic history of its cities and urban culture is not extensively documented, and certainly not within a comparative regional context. As Gilroy, Sheller and others have argued, the experience of the Caribbean should be recognized as central to the history of modernity, understood as emerging from a two-way exchange with the metropole, rather than as an export from Europe to the rest of the world. The Caribbean region as a whole is an important precursor, often considered the embodiment par excellence, of current notions of cultural hybridity or ‘creolisation’ deployed in the understanding, indeed legitimation, of contemporary globalisation and its effects on cosmopolitan urban centres around the world.
We maintain that a comparative investigation of the development of urban aesthetics and social identities in the Caribbean offers an invaluable resource for examination of the ways in which ‘theories of hybridity move between the space of political representation and the space of aesthetic representation’ and ‘cultural forms participate in politics’ (Puri, S., 2004: 1), contributing to an emerging body of scholarship on critical concepts of postcolonial heritage.