Archipelagoes Seminar Gallery Show: “From Island to Ocean: Caribbean and Pacific Dialogues”

By: Maria Elizabeth Rodríguez Beltrán

The Archipelagoes Seminar of the Center for Cultural Analysis hosted a gallery show and panel discussion on October 20. The first part of the seminar opened by analyzing sculptures and ceramics by artist Juana Valdes and paintings/collages by Fidalis Buehler. This seminar provided the space for Professor Valdes’s work, which is represented on the right of this picture, to intertwine with professor Fidalis Buehler’s work, featured on the left side. In this way, the seminar developed a conversation about archipelagoes in the Caribbean and the Pacific and their commonalities and differences, not only between the islands but also between the oceans.

In the second part of the seminar, Brian Russell Roberts from Brigham Young University analyzed some of the artifacts presented by both artists through the lens of Barbara Christian’s essay “The Race for Theory.” Dr. Roberts explained that these pieces allow us to have “an archipelagic approach to geography, to human culture. An approach that recognizes the different prominences to the islands”.

This was followed by English professor Mary Eyring, also from Brigham Young University, who called the audience to look at transnational cultural exchanges through the lens of Ocean Studies. We were challenged to start thinking about the “ocean as positive space,” which means that instead of only focusing on the islands when thinking about archipelagoes, we must also think about the waters that surround these islands, how the sea changes the way we think about people within the islands, and how the ocean shapes people’s identities. She spoke about how the ocean transforms the lives of those who go into it and those who come back, those that never make it back, and those that live surrounded by it.

Professor Eyring encouraged us to see the archipelagoes from the “fish-eye view”—the view from the water— instead of the “bird’s eye” view: a horizontal view, closer to the people of the island, instead of the vertical and dominant view of the distant observer, the colonial one. This made me think about Teresa Goddu’s Essay “The Panoramic Perspective of Anti-Slavery” and her concept of the scopic power.

Professor Eyring closed her talk by challenging us to think beyond the ship as an extension of land-based power, and rather about the “power of the sea” outside and inside of the naval, the sea as a space of re-identification.

In conclusion, this seminar allowed the audience to speak about archipelagoes in new forms by looking at them from the perspective of cultural, literary, and ocean studies.