The Assaulting Caribbean Sea: Climate Change Resilience and the Region’s Endangered Cities


This summer Prof. Lisa Paravisini and I conducted research on climate change, rising sea levels, and the environmental efforts that bring attention to these impending dangers across the Caribbean. She is currently working on a book that describes and expands upon the discourses put forth by artists and activists who denounce or realize the contemporary tension between growing cities and infrastructures, and their unsustainability in a world that is responding to the myriad ways in which we have harmed it.

Lisa chose key locations in the Caribbean that are estimated to be significantly underwater by the year 2050.

Throughout our travels to Cuba, Miami, and Puerto Rico, we contacted artists, journalists, environmental engineers and documented our conversations which continuously magnified the web of associations between their works and efforts to speak to environmental pressures, and their threats to survival. Lisa’s vision of the book fluidly embraces the spectrum of experiences we got to share and learn from, taking shape with every new finding.

We spoke to Alejandro Durán, Mexican and Brooklyn-based artist who has made the Sian Ka’an peninsula the focus of his latest work. He gathers, documents, and later on modifies, the trash that washes up on the shores of this UNESCO World Heritage site. His installations and photographs are also in conversation with previous earthworks such as Smithson’s. The manifestations of this project are many-fold, making community involvement and awareness an integral part of his work.

In Havana, we headed to galleries, workshops, artist’s studios; then travelled to Trinidad (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and Casilda. As coastal cities, they are affected by tourism, rising sea levels, fluctuating biodiversity, and the factors that fuel the impact of these phenomena. However, these are one of the few places where tangible changes are being made in order to reach sustainability in the face of rapid environmental shifts. Among the conversations we had, we met with an environmental engineer and journalist who described the Cuban government’s intervention of the coast in restoring it to have less environmentally harmful structures/edifices. She shared with us documents from the archives of these actions, statistics and reports.

In Miami, we surveyed galleries, museums, and met with Haitian artist Edouard Duval-Carrié. His latest series is in conversation with the Hudson River School’s crafting of American landscapes, by reimagining these spaces as ridden with the unspoken and the invisible. He perceives these depictions as nuanced versions of ghostly or hidden histories of the colonizing project. He applies glitter and select colors to a metallic surface and delivers these interwoven narratives, using both their association to landscape painting in the American imagination and the unearthing of all that was strategically removed from those depictions. This description of the colonizing forces entering the Caribbean landscape inevitably quotes the seizing of the physical land and its potential for production as the beginnings of exploitative practices at the expense of its inhabitants, damaging ecosystems, causing erosion, exacerbating soil depletion, deforestation, and basically rendering a geographical space unfit to sustain any sort of life.

Finally, in Puerto Rico, we spoke to artists Teo Freytes, MariMater O’Neill, and Dhara Rivera. They shared perspectives and speculations about environmental issues in the Caribbean, invited us to their studios, and gave us more materials to work with and people to be in touch with.