Porto Cupecoy Déjà-Vu, Giorgio De Chirico and the Art We Like

A few days ago I decided to drive to Porto Cupecoy. As some may know, it is a huge tourist complex heavily inspired by mediterranean – Renaissance – little villages. If you compare it to the Maho mass tourist facilities, Porto Cupecoy might even be considered a pretty place to hang out. Why would I go there? Simple curiosity or the mere realisation that on a 120 km2 island you don’t get to be picky. It was about 5 pm and there was absolutely no one. Just me and my shadow. Not one shop open, no personal touch on the balconies, not even a trace of animal life. It was surreal and immediately the works of Giorgio De Chirico came to mind, a painter of the early 20th century who became famous for drawing shadows and mannequins in sunny and deserted Italian squares.

Art historians called it metaphysical art, but what if De Chirico had already envisioned places like Porto Cupecoy? I guess we will never know. However, this ‘Cupecoy déjà-vu’ – if I can call it like that – made me realise how much I miss a Sunday afternoon stroll in a Museum.

On a small island like Sint Maarten – as well as in any other remote place – it is easy to feel like you don’t have enough cultural stimuli. Even more likely so if you are used to live in metropolis such us Amsterdam, New York, Paris or Rome. With stunning beaches, great weather all year round, fascinating nature, big iguanas (yes, I consider these animals a positive aspect of this island) I am truly not in the position for complaining. Nevertheless, as a modern art lover, sometimes I cannot help but dream of having an extension of the Musée d’Orsay here in Sint Maarten. Wouldn’t  it be awesome? On the other hand, wouldn’t it make more sense to have a collection of Caribbean paintings instead? I’ve just said I love modern art but it would have be more appropriate to say Western modern art. As a matter of fact, 99.9% of all paintings and sculptures created from the 18th century until the 1920s and collected in important museums are European, with Russian artists as the most exotic ones. In other words, what the hell would Van Gogh’s sunflowers or Degas’ classical dancers do in a fixed museum collection in Sint Maarten?

Sadly enough, there is no such a Caribbean art museum on the island. (Or if it exists is very well hidden). Is this because Caribbean people are not artistic enough? Nonsense. As for any other place on earth, if arts are not promoted it is not because they don’t exist. What is missing here is not creativity or talent but rather funds, projects, and the will of investing in arts that might fall far from white Western aesthetic criteria. However, I have to admit that if a Caribbean exposition existed I am not sure whether I would be able to appreciated it. I believe there are many ways of enjoying arts. You can like a painting because of its colours or of how it makes you feel. Or you can like a painting for the reasons I just said, but especially because you recognise it. You have heard about it, you can place it historically, you can draw relations with other paintings, you can see things you know no one else can see unless they share – at least partially – your knowledge.

I am one of those who needs some contextualisation for truly appreciating art. I do rely on the works of critics and art historians and I am pretty sure that is a limitation. But I’m not alone in this and I am convinced that besides funds and projects it will also be important to raise awareness and education of the art. And this does not necessarily has to start from Sint Maarten, which is for all intents and purposes a periphery of this world.

In my own small world I always ask myself, what can I do about it? I think I will force myself to visit the museum in Sint Maarten. Although it appears to be a boring commemoration of the island colonial past, I might find a few surprises. I’ve also seen a few art galleries, Tropisme Gallery and the Minguet Art Gallery for instance, which might be worth a visit. If I find them interesting I’ll let you know. If I don’t, I can at least say that I’ve tried.

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