Blurred Vision

Three of the exiled Cubans included here contribute some of the strongest work in the show. Paintings by Luis Cruz Azaceta, Tomas Esson, and Jose Bedia are also among the largest items in the exhibition, and they effectively obliterate the lesser works around them. Azaceta's two raw canvases use paint and Polaroid photographs to comment on criminal and political violence. Esson's Dos Deseos (Two Wishes) invokes both political criticism and a personal search for identity; a mutilated self-portrait, it also depicts Fidel Castro's decapitated head oozing a sea of blood. In three works, Bedia offers his interpretations of Afro-Cuban spiritual themes.

Other artists' work stands out from the crowd: Trinidadian (now Miami-based) Francisco Cabral's two sculptural installations -- Horse Power and Zebra Crossing -- are forceful comments on the inherent conflicts that exist within colonial cultures. Albert Chong is represented by two of his wonderful "Thrones for the Ancestors" -- a chair covered with codfish skins and Joshua tree spines, and another with cowrie shells -- tactile works in which the materials serve to tell stories of the artist's Jamaican childhood. Trinidadian Shenge Ka Pharaoh's intricate compositions layer images of spirit figures, mythological beings, and animals in powerful paintings that have elements in common with those of the best contemporary Nigerian Yoruba painters.

It is in the works of these artists and several others that the potential of a well-funded traveling show such as this one can be found (it moves to the New Orleans Museum of Art next). Formally polished as well as innovative, they explore personal and social territories, providing us with a complex view of the Caribbean culture and psyche.

"We have made a special effort to consider this art from a point of view of those who produce it rather than from within the context of our own perspective," Samella Lewis and her co-essayist Mary Jane Hewitt write in the exhibition catalogue. But by jamming an uneven, incongruous selection of work into so tight a space, Lewis hasn't done anybody any favors. Caribbean people now living in Miami still might welcome this show as an event that represents often-ignored members of the city's disparate ethnic communities. Very well. But in Miami, the most Caribbean of American cities, we should know better than to use political correctness as an excuse for bad art.

Caribbean Visions: Contemporary Painting and Sculpture.
Through November 5. Center for the Fine Arts, 101 W Flagler St; 375-1700.

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