On the evening of February 5, 2004, 23 Chinese migrant workers, who were gathering cockles in England’s Morecambe Bay, drowned to death after they were trapped by the rising tide. London-based painter and filmmaker Isaac Julien will never forget the moment he caught wind of the tragedy.
“It was a real shock,” says Julien, a Turner Prize nominee of Caribbean descent. “For me, the story became about workers’ rights, or their lack of rights.” Julien’s requiem for the loss, Ten Thousand Waves, had its American premiere during Art Basel Miami Beach at the Bass Museum of Art as part of Puma’s Creative Caribbean Network, an initiative dedicated to spotlighting an often-overlooked group of minorities in the art world.
Ten Thousand Waves, a nine-screen video installation that weaves together sweeping greenscreen cinematography and grainy documentary film footage, is the centerpiece of Julien’s eponymous gallery show, which spans 10 years in the artist’s career and runs until March 6. “Who should be canonized? Who shouldn’t?” asks Julien, who collaborated with actor Tilda Swinton on 2008’s Derek, a documentary he directed about the late filmmaker Derek Jarman. “The Creative Caribbean Network is important because it asks these questions on a global scale.”
“It all began with the Rubells’ show and the Creative African Network,” says Puma chairman and CEO Jochen Zeitz about Puma.Creative, which he launched in partnership with the Rubell Family Collection’s “30 Americans” exhibition in 2008. Each of the featured artists was black and, yes, American. “Then I started thinking about what region Puma should focus on next. Given our heritage—with athletes from Jamaica and other parts of the Caribbean—the Creative Caribbean Network seemed like the next logical step.” It made sense for the curators at the Bass Museum, too, who will partner with Puma.Creative to host an ongoing series of exhibitions, performances, and other live events over the next three years.
Silvia Cubina, the gallery’s executive director and chief curator, says, “When you look at Isaac’s earlier pieces, which we installed in our Renaissance and Baroque collection, it’s about who writes the history, who’s allowed to be in museums, who’s allowed to be in the Renaissance, who’s allowed to be in contemporary art. What’s interesting to me about the Creative Caribbean Network is that it invites artists to get involved, to create, and to collaborate.”