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Charlotte Amalie
Monday, July 15, 2024


St. John artist Janet Cook-Rutnik is about to set foot in new artistic territory, traveling to Cuba to take part in an international exhibition in Havana with the theme of "Myths of the Caribbean."
Participation in the exhibition, from Aug. 7 to 11 at Havana's Casa de las Américas, is by invitation from the Centro de Estudios del Caribe (Center for Caribbean Studies) based there, Cook-Rutnik said.
She got her invitation indirectly as a result of the solo show she had last November at the Museo de las Américas gallery in Old San Juan.
She will be exhibiting two mixed-media assemblage pieces from her Goddesses Series, "Persephone" and "Portia." Five other works in the series are on permanent display in the promenade leading to the ballrooms at Marriott's Frenchman's Reef Beach Resort on St. Thomas.
Both of the nearly life-size mixed-media/collage images of female figures were in her solo show in Puerto Rico. "The organizers of this show saw my catalogue from that one," she said. As a result, "We've been e-mailing each other since last December."
On the mundane level, Cook-Rutnik noted that it was "really great being able to correspond by e-mail." In the pre-Internet days, she recalled, she had tried on occasion to communicate with people in Cuba by faxing, "but the numbers were not always good, and you could not always get a good line."
It's not surprising that the Cubans solicited Cook-Rutnik's participation in the exhibition they were putting together. In the catalogue for the November show, Marianne de Tolentino, president of the Dominican Republic's Association of Art Critics, writes that the St. John artist's paintings "don't deconstruct reality but transform it with an infusion of spirituality, resurrecting the myths, regardless of their origin, establishing an order among nature, the emotions and the arts."
"Persephone" was the subject of an article in the January/February issue of International Artist magazine. In the article, Cook-Rutnik is quoted as saying of the work, "I have always identified with the idea of the artist as an alchemist, a shaman or a ‘conjur woman' who acts as a conduit between the physical world and the spiritual. Much of my work is produced long before I can find the words to express the deep-rooted impulses and instincts from which it springs."
Noting that "identity" is a major theme in contemporary Caribbean art, she states in the article, "My work seeks to address this issue through a search for the meaning in memory and history. Through the use of poetry and history, old and new symbols, I seek to create subtle visions that reflect both a personal and a universal viewpoint."
The Havana art exhibit is just one aspect of a week-long colloquium being presented by the Center for Caribbean Studies on the "Myths" theme. Writers, scholars and some of the visual artists will be presenting papers on the topics of how myths emerge, survive and change in the region and what their impact has been on the history, art, literature, mass culture, power and rituality of Caribbean culture and society.
"They invited me to present a paper if I wanted to," she said, but she declined. "I think I speak better in images," she explained. "My voice is stronger on paper or canvas."
Last week, she noticed in the exchange of communications that she would need a special Cuban visa. "I panicked and said there was no way," she reflected. But there turned out to be no problem. "They've taken care of it," she said of her Havana hosts. "They will meet me at the airport with the special visa."
To get to Cuba, Cook-Rutnik will be traveling first to the Dominican Republic, visiting both for the first time. Because there are just two flights a week from Santo Domingo to Havana, she will spend a couple of days visiting artist acquaintances and one of the top curators in the Caribbean in Santo Domingo's Old Colonial City section that dates from the arrival of the early Spanish explorers.
Less than a week after she gets back from Cuba, Cook-Rutnik will be off to Puerto Rico again, to participate in a colectiva,, or group show, of artists represented by Galerías Prinardi in Hato Rey, from Aug. 17 to 31.
Her works in that show will include art from her November exhibition plus "a couple of new pieces – paintings, acrylic on canvas." The new works, she said, represent a continuation of established themes.
She will be transporting "Persephone" and "Portia" with her from San Juan to Santo Domingo and then on to Havana. "I'll be doing this terrific exchange," she explained. "My gallery in San Juan is going to meet me there with those two pieces all packed." Arriving from St. Thomas, "I'll probably hand them work for the group show the following week."
A broad sampling of Cook-Rutnik's work, including a larger image of "Persephone," shown above, can be seen on her web site at www.cookrutnikART.vi. "Persephone" is designated as work #10 under Galleries/Painting at the site.

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