Caribbean Arts and Culture Online

• February 2011

It is often difficult when talking about the Caribbean to consider the specificities of all its “parts,” the differences, inequalities, between the islands. Even when putting the language differences aside, we still have to face the different economic, political, and historical patterns and rules sometimes governing, and always influencing, the artistic ecosystem and cultural strength and identity of the Caribbean.

History has shown us that the political state of a country or region plays a crucial role in its artistic health. Artistic production can flourish, or it can stagnate if not supported by “the powers” in place.

So, how about finding or creating a place where political favoritism and economic debacle would be irrelevant? Can the online world be this place? Can we revive our culture there?

Concept to Quotidian: A Dialogue

Using the “online world” as a storage space—archiving slices of folklore, snapshots of cultural events, is important and perfectly fits the medium. It is becoming an excellent source of knowledge—accessible and virtually infinite. However, its most interesting aspect is in its capacity to restart the dialogue and exchange between the conceptual views of culture and its day-to-day realities.

The forum is once more an open space.

Although “specialist” circles are quite often just transferred online as is, and so are not always accessible or “guest” friendly, more and more, online platforms offer an open space for discussion. Concepts, ideas, and knowledge are more easily shared and are now offered greater visibility; they also quite often share space with creative acts and daily conversation. This gives way to a more genuine and larger-scale dialogue, and equally as important, distils the need for an informed response to quotidian interactions through clearer overview and better understanding,

In theory, a consequence of that would be the creation of a more defined and better-shared social consciousness: one whose strength will be in its connected-nodes structure, one not easily diluted by seas and oceans, one not afraid of being uprooted, one being more of a rhizome than a tree. This would consequently challenge the commonly shared views of society and culture as vertically growing organs and therefore would not be a smooth transposition. But while the advances of technology (travel, communications) make us question the geo-centered mapping of culture and traditions, our better understanding of interaction through various fields (physics and social sciences, for example) would have us ask ourselves, isn’t the online world, with its rhizomatic structure, a more truthful representation of how culture is transmitted and arts generated than the current arborescent conception of culture and knowledge? And, if so, what would that mean?

History and culture are, generally, described through chronological narratives: from the primary source to its latest metamorphosis or consequence. Viewing societies, particularly Caribbean societies, through this lens is quite tempting, as it simplifies claims of authenticity and gives a feeling of continuity, especially needed in young and challenged cultures. But this vision doesn’t seem to take into account real-life interactions. We, as individuals, generations, societies, continuously established connections with other individuals, other generations, other cultures. Those connections create a map of active and potential interactions and this map defines us as individuals and societies. Thus, from this angle, we see culture and arts as always in movement, occupying new spaces, dynamically adapting to changes without losing their essence.

We can create spaces online as fertile clumps facilitating the propagation of arts and enabling culture to perennate. Internodes will grow naturally between online and “offline” spaces, strengthening each node and creating an inspiring map and in turn reshaping the cultural and artistic landscape.

Authenticity and Staged Reality

But even though we can transfer and transmit existing cultural symbols and traditions online, will the new elements created there be part of a specific culture? Will they be authentic?

As in real life, the danger when creating spaces for cultural growth and expression is to fall into the hollow beauty of a staged reality and end up with a cultural display of meaningless folklore and frozen-in-time traditions.

A living culture is a changing culture; it dynamically encompasses all expressions of shared values and practices. The authenticity of cultural elements comes from the fact that they tend to be faithful to the group they represent and do not try to conform to external values. They are the expression of the inner needs and conflicts of an entity or linked entities.

The online infrastructure offers so many points of contact and gives access to such a large potential audience, it is tempting to gauge success on commercial and/or quantitative worth; yet, a natural, organic growth can prevent turning an online cultural node into a cyber touristic destination, faking realities and feeding clichés.

A Network of Possibilities

Although access to online resources is still dependent on social and economic circumstances, a network of online platforms supporting the creation and exchange of rich information and facilitating interaction offers the chance to map out a stronger, more dynamic Caribbean cultural identity, freed from geographic and political limitations. Caribbean culture and arts online is made of modular fertile spaces conciliating and accommodating the transmission of traditions with the continuous process of creation and, thus, redefining the Caribbean perspectives and issues.

 

Frederic Marc is the founder of Latineos, an online platform dedicated to Latin America, the Caribbean, arts, and culture.

 

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