A Sea of Faces: Peoples and Cultures of the Caribbean, 1400-2000
An Exhibition at
The Historical Museum of Southern Florida
On February 23, 2006, the University of Florida proposes to open an exhibit at the
Historical Museum of Southern Florida (HMSF). Tentatively titled A Sea of Faces:
Peoples and Cultures of the Caribbean, 1400-2000, the exhibition will draw on the
extensive holdings of rare books, maps, posters, manuscripts, and three-dimensional
objects that are included within the University of Florida's collections. We also propose
to invite participation by other institutions in Florida that have significant holdings
relating to the Caribbean basin.
The holdings of the Department of Special and Area Studies Collections at the George A.
Smathers Libraries include rare books, maps, manuscripts, photographs, charts, theatrical
ephemera, etc. from the 15th through the 21st centuries. The Department also includes the
Latin American Collection, which houses upwards of 300,000 volumes and additional
examples of ephemeral materials. We plan to supplement these materials with three-
dimensional objects from the Florida Museum of Natural History as well as consult our
colleagues at the University of Miami and the Florida International University to present
a comprehensive array of objects to help tell our story. The objects on display will not
only document/elucidate the peoples and cultures of the islands of the Caribbean, such as
Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic; we also plan to include materials from the
circum Caribbean areas, such as Florida, and Central America.
While an image may be worth a thousand words, the story of the peoples and cultures of
the Caribbean is complex, and we plan to provide the viewing public with narrative that
will elucidate the complex relationships of the area as witnessed through image and word.
A Sea ofFaces: Peoples and Cultures of the Caribbean will continue the story begun by
the Historical Museum of Southern Florida's exhibition Visions of the Caribbean. As
with the earlier exhibition, many of these materials have never been on display before
and certainly not in such a contextual setting. We plan to present their documentary
evidence in a series of theme-based components that will be organized chronologically
with the emphasis on portraits and images of people at different times and in different
places. As will have been demonstrated in the earlier exhibition and will be further
developed thematically in the proposed exhibit, perspectives on the peoples, cultures,
geography and politics of this region changed significantly over the five centuries
covered by the project. The following proposal highlights the major areas of focus:
First component: The Caribbean as pre-contact culture. The prehistoric, ideally with
early prints and with stone, wood, and ceramic images depicting the inhabitants of Cuba
and Hispaniola, perhaps Jamaica and Puerto Rico, at the height of the Taino cultures of
Second component: Old World meets New. Early exploration and conquest. The world
through European eyes. Change in native motifs. Miniatures of En Bas Saline and La
Isabela from Columbus' First and Second Voyage? Perhaps the story of Concepcion de
la Vega? European rivalry and the Drake raids? Bartolome de las Casas?
Third component: From Slavery to Black Republic. The story of Haiti.
Fourth component: Down to the Sea in Ships. Materials spread over time illustrating
relations to the sea and commerce.
Fifth component: The Face of the Land. The natural history of the Caribbean as
illustrated in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Sixth component: King Sugar, Queen Coffee. Economics in the Caribbean in the 19th
Seventh component: Faces Looking Away, Faces Looking Back. Emigration and out-
migration. Examples of the emigrant experience.
Eighth component: The Face of God. Religion in the Caribbean.
Ninth component: One Sea, Many Peoples. Focus on the emergence of the modem
Caribbean and the struggle for social justice.
In the exhibit we plan to display both static and non-static objects to illustrate the themes
noted above. The displays of objects (books, illustrations, maps, three-dimensional
objects) will be matched with virtual counterparts to form seamless transitions that
illustrate and document our increasing knowledge and appreciation of the many levels of
individuality and congruence to be found in this very diverse region.
We propose to the HMSF that the museum mount the exhibit (since the museum staff are
professionals in this area) and we would also like to take advantage of the museum's
excellence and expertise in exhibit design. The chief curator for the exhibit will be Dr.
James Cusick, Curator, P.K.Yonge Library of Florida History with administrative
assistance of Dr. Robert Shaddy, Chair, Department of Special and Area Studies
Collections. Additional staff at the University of Florida will contribute their areas of
expertise as Dr. Cusick completes the project.