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Art and Lust in the Tropics

Legend tells that Captain Morgan’s treasure from the late 17th century is still hidden somewhere – possibly underwater – in San Andres, a small Colombian island off the coast of Nicaragua and Honduras where I was happily conceived 25 years ago. Yes, there is definitely something in the air, the fish or the coconut water as my father proudly boasts that three out of his fours kids were conceived here under the same roof, in the same bedroom in our house that is coincidentally called Wildlife.

Islanders speak Spanish and English with a Jamaican accent, everyone knows everyone and people seem to age wrinkle-free and a just little nuts as they get older. Dread locks get longer and grey, and the local god is Bob Marley. Yes, I was conceived here, on an island that unfortunately lacks identity as it has passed from Spanish to Dutch to English and at last to Colombian hands over the last 400 years. Local artists don’t paint beyond the typical turquoise beach with palm trees, dolphins frolicking in the water and fishermen, well… fishing. There’s not a monkey or a Wifredo Lam-like jungle in sight. Moreover there’s not even the slightest hint of the iconic primitivism that is so strongly identified with 20th century Latin American artists.

“Caribbean” art – just for the sake of giving it a label – hasn’t influenced other art movements, it’s not part of art history, and its evolution – if any – is minor. But the few Caribbean artists that have made a name for themselves have done it outside of their countries. It seems like their work just needed to step out of its context and local market for it to incorporate foreign sources of inspiration and gain acknowledgement and appreciation.

The beginnings of something sprung a few days ago when I found out that one of the island’s few tourist attractions – Morgan’s Cave – had ‘evolved’ into the coconut and pirate museum. “An entire museum dedicated to coconuts!?” I said, “this I must see”. Sadly there is not much except a little cottage with a few twenty year-old dried up coconuts that are exceptionally larger than the ones we have today because they evolved, and the only museum-like artifacts they have at the pirate museums are old guns that supposedly belonged to the colonizers.

Is there hope for local artists from San Andres? Maybe the key to their success lies in whatever mystical ingredients float in the deliciously humid, stuffy air that inspired my parents’ happy baby-making days. Maybe the key lies in Captain Morgan’s unfound treasure, or maybe, just maybe it’s sadly not the time or the place for local artists to succeed. However, the creation of this cultural institution is a big step for the tiny island. On the other hand it might just be the perfect place for infertile couples. Keep San Andres in mind one way or the other!

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