Civilization has experienced countless trends that have set the foundation for cultural progress. The Caribbean Arts Movement (CAM) was one of these efforts. It is unique in that it was brought to life by Caribbean authors living in Britain who sought to create a place of honor for literature, the arts, academia and theatrical performance.

This arts movement grew out of the turbulence of the 1960s and 1970s, in a setting of racial discrimination and immigration, and brought together young artists and critics. The Harlem Renaissance was also an inspiration for the founding members of CAM. Among those founders were poet and historian Edward Kamau Brathwaite of Barbados, writer Andrew Salkey, of Jamaican and Haitian origin, and political and cultural activist John La Rose of Trinidad. The movement sought to bring Caribbean cultural heritage to the vast audience of exiles from the West Indies who were living in London.

Another precursor to CAM was the program Caribbean Voices, broadcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC, London). The program promoted the work of artists and built a bridge between British and Caribbean societies from 1938 to 1958.

Life and legacy

CAM led to a dynamic and public proliferation of fiction, history, criticism, poetry, art exhibitions and theatrical activities in the London area. The movement consolidated its position with contributions from outstanding Caribbean members such as cultural theorist Stuart Hall, journalist C. L. R. James, sculptor Ronald Moody, linguist and anthropologist Ivan Van Sertima, artist Aubrey Williams and poet James Berry, among others.

Despite the fact that the group has been overlooked in Caribbean and British cultural histories and that it is often referred to as predominantly male, Anne Walmsley, one of CAM’s affiliates, argued in her book The Caribbean Artists Movement 1966-1972: A Literary and Cultural History (1992) that the movement included a handful of women among its founders, such as Merle Hodge and Althea McNish.

In addition to encouraging the emergence of future Caribbean writers, CAM was influential in establishing book stores in Britain that specialized in Caribbean topics, such as New Beacon Books, founded by John La Rose in 1966. CAM’s legacy was seen in the specialized magazine Savacou, a vehicle that brought works to public attention from 1970 to 1980.

Efforts to establish CAM in the Caribbean were unsuccessful. CAM’s end, in 1972, was a result of the difficulty of keeping London as the heart of the movement, as its members were scattered among Europe, North America, the Caribbean and Britain.

One of CAM’s greatest contributions is that its members’ work stimulated, in some ways, the attention that Caribbean literature receives in academia today. Many organizations of today model their structures and their desire to validate the Caribbean aesthetic and perspective on CAM.

Author: Carmen Graciela Díaz
Published: February 21, 2012.

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