Abigail Lucien, a Haitian-American artist, educator and writer, challenges the stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding Caribbean culture through her captivating artwork. In her pieces, Lucien invites viewers into a world where the complexities of Caribbean identity are explored through a mix of sculpture, poetry, and video. Her creative endeavours not only celebrate her multicultural immigrant experience but also advocate for equality for Caribbean people, reflecting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for Reduced Inequalities.
Her solo exhibition Face Tan/Night Swim at Vox Populi Gallery, Philadelphia, is a sensory experience with mixed-media sculptures and ready-made objects. They are arranged in installations that transport visitors into a "post-tropical" habitat, a term that the exhibition champions to showcase an image of the Caribbean that goes beyond the tropical paradise it is often portrayed as in conventional media.
This sentiment is palpable within artworks such as Second Wind, an installation piece where visitors are invited to walk into a neon pink vinyl-covered metal awning. Inside the pink tarp, an oscillating fan blows on a Caribbean-Colada-scented air freshener. It’s as if this piece is playfully stating that the exoticization and commodification of Caribbean culture, often perpetuated by mainstream media and tourism industries, is but a cheap and fake rendition of what the Caribbean is—an identity and region that cannot and should not be summarized as Pina Coladas and tropical beaches.
Caribbean-American travel blogger, Franny the Traveler, shares how the Caribbean stereotype of being a resort paradise is harmful. It creates a polarized view of the archipelago that dehumanizes Caribbeans as friendly and accommodating resort carers, giving people an excuse to exploit their natural resources.
Furthermore, Lucien's use of materials and imagery is deeply rooted in her upbringing and cultural heritage. Drawing inspiration from the architecture and spirituality of Cap-Haitien, Lucien creates artworks like Half Full and Knee Deep that pay homage to the rich history and traditions of the Caribbean. Half Full and Knee Deep is an ironwork fence made to replicate motifs that diaspora African ironworkers embedded into their work as a means to honour their loved ones who lived afar, serving as a stark reminder of the resilience and strength of Caribbean culture in the face of colonialism and oppression, which tore families apart.
In her companion zine, This Winter Could Be Your Wettest Ever, which she placed on top of her piece Limehead which takes the form of a neon green bench, Lucien addresses the lack of diverse representation of Caribbean people in Western media and advertising. By intentionally erasing human faces in the zine, except for that of a single black server, Lucien highlights the marginalization and erasure faced by Caribbean communities. This piece advocates for inclusivity and challenges the dominant narratives that perpetuate inequalities based on race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status.
Outside of the exhibition, Lucien's commitment to social justice and community empowerment is evident in her choice of materials and subject matter. Through installations like Holding Your Name Like Butter in Your Palm, Lucien addresses the collective trauma and grief experienced by communities of colour, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and incidents of police brutality. By using cocoa butter as a central material, Lucien not only references the healing properties of traditional remedies but also emphasizes the importance of self-care and resilience in times of adversity.
As a full-time faculty member at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Lucien also plays a vital role in shaping the next generation of artists. By fostering an environment of inclusivity and creativity, Lucien empowers young artists to explore their own identities and narratives while challenging existing power structures and inequalities within the art world.
Overall, Abigail Lucien's artworks serve as a powerful catalyst for change, challenging stereotypes and advocating for equality for Caribbean people.