Joiri Minaya: Labadee
September 14–December 8, 2019
Joiri Minaya investigates the construction and commodification of “tropical” identity, particularly its intersections with race and gender. Through installation, photography, video, and performance, she reveals how neocolonialism continues to shape perceptions of the Caribbean and its people as exotic. The U.S.-born, Dominican Republic-raised artist’s video Labadee explores social and economic dynamics at a beach resort on the northern coast of Haiti. Since 1986 the Royal Caribbean cruise line has leased Labadee from the Haitian government and marketed it as a private paradise solely for use by its customers.
Connecting the Caribbean tourism industry with the legacy of invasion and colonization, the video begins with passages from Christopher Columbus’s diary recounting his arrival in the region, which transition seamlessly into a description of Minaya’s contemporary visit to Labadee. There, a concrete wall and high, razor-wire fence separate the tourists from the locals; cruise passengers may not leave the property, and the only Haitians allowed on the beach are those employed by the resort or who pay a fee to sell goods or perform. Boys gesture to the tourists from the other side of the fence, asking for food from the resort’s buffet. Their presence disrupts the fantasy that private beaches offer visitors and underscores the limited benefit of such restricted spaces to local economies: cruise lines retain the majority of the revenue generated by these properties.
Minaya’s footage from Labadee reveals the mechanisms of control and unequal exchange that underpin cruises and resorts and reminds us of the history of conquest, slavery, and genocide that took place on these beaches. Caribbean nations like Haiti won colonial independence but have become ensnared in a new form of colonialism: the dependence on and exploitation by a tourism system that is far from “all-inclusive.”
The artist-designed installation in the adjacent hallway turned a decorative pattern critical. Bright, kitschy prints often serve as shorthand for the tropics, commercializing and flattening regional identities. Here, the fabric evoked structures such as Labadee’s wall and prompted us to consider whose movement and visibility these barriers limit.
This installation was organized by the Blanton Museum of Art.
Feature Image Credit: Installation view of Joiri Minaya: Labadee at the Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, September 14–December 8, 2019. Photo by Manny Alcalá.