[Blackstudies-l] After 40 Years, New York’s Caribbean Cultural Center Finds a Permanent Home in East Harlem

Maria Lima lima at geneseo.edu
Tue Oct 18 03:27:28 EDT 2016

lisaparavisini posted: " ARTSY EDITORIAL BY TESS THACKARA New York has a
triumphant new space dedicated to global black culture. Last night, the
40-year-old Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI)
reopened in a disused firehouse near the borderland betwe"
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<http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/> After 40 Years, New
York’s Caribbean Cultural Center Finds a Permanent Home in East Harlem
lisaparavisini <http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/>

[image: d7hftxdivxxvm.cloudfront.jpg]
New York has a triumphant new space dedicated to global black culture. Last
night, the 40-year-old Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute
(CCCADI) reopened in a disused firehouse near the borderland between East
and West Harlem, a few blocks from Marcus Garvey Park. It adds one more
space to the city’s tiny roster of cultural institutions dedicated to
communities of color, and joins the neighborhood’s Studio Museum
<https://www.artsy.net/studio-museum> and El Museo del Barrio
<https://www.artsy.net/elmuseo> by putting down roots in a region with a
long and rich history of African-American and Latino cultures.

It’s a small and intimate space, but one that represents an enormous
achievement and far-reaching implications—and it’s a project that has been
some nine years in the making. “We are here, in El Barrio, can you hear me
Harlem?” Nyoka Acevedo, a board member, called out to a packed crowd just
hours after the institution’s ribbon-cutting, which was attended by New
York City’s Commissioner of Cultural Affairs, Tom Finkelpearl, the First
Lady of New York City, Chirlane McCray, and numerous other officials who
have helped to secure a permanent home for the institution, and to amass
$9.3 million (a combination of tax-payer money and individual donations)
for its renovation. “Here we stand, in our home, in Harlem, in this
landmark building, one of the few institutions of color to have a landmark
building in the city.”

The significance of the moment was not lost on anyone in the room. The
arrival of CCCADI in Harlem marks the end of the institution’s odyssey
through three different spaces, beginning in a building in the East 80s in
1976, before moving to 58th and 9th, and now East Harlem. “The process has
been a difficult one,” the institution’s firebrand founder and former El
Museo director Dr. Marta Moreno-Vega, who is Afro-Puerto Rican, said over
the phone a week before the opening. Difficult, she explained, “because
having people invest in an idea that addresses the articulation of a vision
that is anti-racism, anti-discrimination, and pro-African and African
Diaspora cultures, is one that even for our own is not always embraced. The
whole notion that you’re building an institution to a vision of liberation
is one that is hard to grasp, and we were fortunate to get people who
understood and invested in different ways, and now we’re here.”

Since its founding, the institution has been as much a locus for activism,
and a meeting ground for people of African descent from around the globe,
as it has been a platform for art. Lowery Stokes Sims, a former museum
director and longtime advocate for artists of color, who has co-curated the
CCCADI’s inaugural show “Home, Memory, and Future,” recalls the
institution’s early days, when Dr. Moreno-Vega had just conceived the
space. “I met a very global group of people there,” says Sims, “and we’re
talking in the ’70s and ’80s before globalization became a widespread
notion. It was Southern black people, Caribbean black people, African black
people, Latin American black people, who came together for commonalities.”

She remembers a conference Moreno-Vega organized that brought together
Yoruba priestesses from Nigeria, Brazil, and Puerto Rico. “While they
couldn’t speak each other’s languages,” Sims says, “they could communicate
with each other in Yoruba, which is the original language for Santeria.”
Back then, despite the Civil Rights movement that had roiled through the
1960s and defined the era, consciousness around systemic racism was only
nascent—particularly in the culture sector.

“The art world, as you know, is one of the most racist, discriminatory, and
marginalizing experiences because it’s grounded in a Eurocentric vision as
opposed to a global vision,” says Dr. Moreno-Vega. “So when we started,
people really didn’t understand what we were doing. In time, because of the
Black Art Movement, and the Eureka Movement, and the Native American
Movement, and all of the movements that branched out of the Civil Rights
movement, you begin to get people who are conscious of these movements.”

Today, that increased consciousness has put a spotlight on the rampant
inequities of the art world—as well as bringing attention to numerous
under-recognized artists of Latino and African descent, such as Carmen
Herrera <https://www.artsy.net/artist/carmen-herrera> and Archibald
Motley—but Moreno-Vega stresses the constant labor and vigilance that is
necessary to keep moving the dial. “Finding a multigenerational audience is
part of our reality, because we need to train the next generation,” she
says. “We have to think about the future, and continuity. We have to think
about what we’re putting into our kids’ brains, because they have to know
who they are.”

The strength of Latino and African-American voices across the culture
sector, one imagines, can only benefit from the spirit of diversity and
inclusivity that characterizes the CCCADI. “We’re talking about black and
Latino solidarity,” Acevedo remarked at the opening, noting that there has
historically been tension between the two communities in West and East
Harlem, often considered to be divided along 5th Avenue.

The great diversity represented by Harlem, and by the African Diaspora more
broadly, is on view in the institution’s powerful inaugural exhibition,
which explores the idea of what constitutes “home.” One aspect of belonging
somewhere is feeling a connection to its history. And so the show opens
with iconic photographers of the neighborhood from the 1970s—Dawoud Bey
<https://www.artsy.net/artist/dawoud-bey>’s gorgeous portraits of
musicians, shoemakers, barbers, and other individuals around Harlem; the
quiet, peaceful images that Chester Higgins Jr.
<https://www.artsy.net/artist/chester-higgins-jr> took of members of the
Black Muslim community at a time when the Black Power Movement had drawn
national attention; and Hiram Maristany’s pictures of the Young Lords, the
Puerto Rican liberation movement that he served as official photographer
to, starting in 1969.

But it’s on the second floor, where the works of six contemporary artists
are on view, that the exhibition really sings. It’s dominated by
installations that conjure a warm, imaginative atmosphere, including the
work of the brilliant Chicana artist Amalia Mesa-Bains, now in her
seventies, who has configured the furnishings and tchotchkes of a Mexican
household—votive paintings and ornaments, portraits, the skulls and glitter
known for Dia de Los Muertos, and a chest of drawers, all of which form an
altar set against a wall of mottled, colorful paint that dissipates into a
somber grey and hanging letters that spell out B-O-R-D-E-R-S.

Elsewhere, African-American artist Abigail DeVille
<https://www.artsy.net/artist/abigail-deville> has created a magical
shelter from scraps salvaged around Harlem. Visitors can go inside and find
walls lined with buckets containing glass bottles, and a flickering light
that momentarily catches their glistening surfaces. It calls to mind the
subterranean home of Ralph Ellison’s *Invisible Man*, decorated with
lightbulbs. DeVille’s work and that of Adrian Roman, who presents an
assemblage exploring the histories and migrations of his two Puerto Rican
grandfathers and a panel in which a makeshift boat composed of newspaper
undertakes a voyage across an ocean, suggest the psychological
underpinnings of belonging. “Home is an idea, rather than physical,
tangible things,” Roman told me at the opening.

Perhaps the most moving of all the installations, though, is Puerto Rican
artist Pepón Osorio <https://www.artsy.net/artist/pepon-osorio>’s *A mis
adorables hijas* (1990), a purple sofa affixed to a wall, invoking a
domestic space. Stitched into its upholstery is a tender goodbye message
from a mother to her daughters, bringing into sharp relief the impact that
migration and border politics have in dismantling families.

It’s no coincidence that the CCCADI has arrived in Harlem during a period
of rapid change across the neighborhood, and the message of Osorio’s work
points to the human impact of forced migration—whether between countries or
neighborhoods. “Gentrification is on steroids, in El Barrio, in Harlem, and
globally,” Dr. Moreno-Vega says. “Wherever our communities are, generally,
were areas where people didn’t want to be. And now all of our historic
communities tend to be on waterfronts. How do we sustain home when people
are buying up our historic land, be it the Caribbean, Africa, or here?”

Now that its future is certain, the CCCADI is well-positioned to both
preserve the history of Harlem and continue galvanizing communities around
current issues. “This institution,” Dr. Moreno-Vega said at the opening,
“is not an art institution; it’s a social justice institution. Art is a
vehicle, and we use it to talk about issues. We’re talking about the
dislocation of our people throughout history.”

Seen together, the work of these artists speaks clearly and forcefully
about displacement, but also about the resilient power of culture to
withstand change—and sometimes even to transform lives.

*lisaparavisini <http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/>* |
October 17, 2016 at 9:53 pm | Categories: News
<http://repeatingislands.com/?cat=103> | URL: http://wp.me/psnTa-rrP

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