Suchitra Mattai and Firelei Báez in Review: ‘Forecast Form’ at the MCA shows the Caribbean is not what you think

Lori Waxman, The Chicago Tribune, March 8, 2023

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Ah, the Caribbean: islands of pleasure with balmy weather, palm trees that sway in the breeze, and miles of pristine beaches fronting turquoise bays. “Forecast Form: Art in the Caribbean Diaspora, 1990s-Today,” the stunningly atmospheric and intellectually lively group show filling the fourth-floor galleries of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago through the end of April, is not about that place.


The show is not really even about a place at all but about the movement of people, commodities, money, weather, culture, power, forms and ideas, all of it somehow tied to Guyana or Cuba or the Dominican Republic or Haiti or one of the other countries and territories that officially constitute the region.

Some migration patterns were news to me, like the Middle East-Caribbean connection illustrated through Alia Farid’s “Mezquitas de Puerto Rico.” A genial prayer rug woven by artisans in Mashhad, Iran, of a cityscape of mosques, car traffic and mountains, it is based on photographs Farid, a native of Kuwait, took of Muslim places of worship found throughout Puerto Rico. A boisterous, oceanic tapestry by Suchitra Mattai, knotted together from old saris family and friends gave her, testifies to the waves of Indians, her ancestors included, who moved to British Guiana from the 1830s to early 1900s to work as indentured servants on sugar cane plantations after slavery was abolished.

“Forecast Form,” which was curated by the MCA’s Carla Acevedo-Yates, is as anti-essentializing about the Caribbean as an exhibition can be. And yet it is everywhere warm and colorful and lush — from the orange glow of Tavares Strachan’s monumental neon wall text in the entryway to the perfect blue sky and sea of Álvaro Barrios’ installation of hundreds of square prints from the ceiling of the atrium. Firelei Báez’s dozens of little paintings burst with magenta and ultramarine and yellow, brilliant even in the shadow of Teresita Fernández’s 16-foot-tall copper and wood palm tree.


But don’t be lulled by the beautiful view: the neon spells out “In broad daylight,” and it means violence, especially as committed against people of color, many of them from the Caribbean. The blue silk-screens, seen from the other side of the atrium, hang blood red and bear the title “El Mar de Cristóbal Colón.” Those little paintings are reproduction historical documents, bursting into flame and being devoured by female tricksters.


And that palm tree? Look carefully, it’s hanging from a noose.

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