Roy Lawaetz
by Roy Lawaetz

Theoretical Writings

Theoretical Writings


This paper provides an example of artistic theory formulated in the Caribbean Diaspora, specifically St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. It  negotiates for more informed  measures of alternative art practice and  variation  of stylistic preferences in art critical analysis as well as a direct example of  a local artist's developed  contribution. And it serves to illustrate how indigenous cultural appendages in the archipelago can relate to a post modern art identity that brings forward  fresh perspectives for creative portals. While its principal  point of departure begins chronologically with the inclusion of the pre-Columbian story it also connects  the early beginnings of  the area with later defining moments of the Conquest  and  subsequent slavery  and colonialism  influences which have shaped  the Caribbean's  common composite evolution.

This paper  also includes The Modular Triangular System's  MODI MANIFESTO with its derivative dialectical  postulation,


The Caribbean with its unique cultural heritage possesses rich roots capable of sustainable alternative directions. This historical wealth of the Diaspora has its tragic side but it speaks eloquently to voices of resistance which aspire to protect, engender and develop cultural bulwarks against globalization super-trends which over ride a weakening local integrity of its own cultural/historical base. Unfortunately cultural institutions in the Virgin Islands lack the financial resources to capitalize on existing cultural breakthroughs  and  localisms which  exist today which benefit the tourism industry and society as a whole. Lack of support for  these initiatives  continue despite considerable achievement by local artists.


"The Modular Triangular System" empowers as its fountainhead linchpin the zemi stones  of the Taino Indians---fertility objects known in archaeological archives but which were once significant cultural and daily  objects of adoration and esteem  on islands strewn across major and minor islands such as Jamaica, Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, St. Croix  and the Lesser Antilles. The ever-present existence of these objects in  post Conquest societies as exclusively archaeological artifacts restrict their power to influence and redeem. This paper posits that these anthropological representations by earlier peoples require a broad-based investigation that projects beyond fundamental archaeological research. Their significance for indigenous recall, affiliation (no matter how remote) connections and projections for the future study of  connectivity to cultural heritage significance together with increasing interest of  individuals in a DNA  sponsored era  dictates action equivalent of unearthing the findings of the Ancient Pyramids for the Egyptians. There are substantial indications available now, ( in academic research, books, website affiliations) to reward accumulated efforts organized to establish fruitful cultural harvesting for descendants of  indigenous Caribbean  peoples tracing or seeking to reaffirm  their blood lines within  an ancestral  and cultural context. Many of these direct indigenous links exist within the Hispanic population of our own  islands as already determined by the University of Ponce in its DNA research.


Neglect of the indigenous Caribbean traces (whether in archaeological or human terms) only contribute to existing current dislocation sensitivities, identity crisis, unknown parameters of  human existence, basic root/lineage structure deprivation etc. In addition it relaxes attitudes instead of  inspiring motivational action to  surmount hurdles in governmental practice or bureaucratic attitudes of disinterest. And yet millions   of  peoples of  primarily  Hispanic origin (but not all inclusively)  in the Caribbean can arguably trace their ancestral roots to the indigenous pre-Columbian conundrum when seen under the DNA perspective. (1) With the modern applications available for enquiry and confirmation this should then suffice to reinforce this  argument in its entirety.


Governments of the Caribbean Diaspora should from a cultural/historical perspective initiate, offer  and sponsor DNA testing on a voluntary basis ( One cannot and should not impose mandatory compliance) to highlight and  promulgate their complex  existence relative to pre-Columbian roots. This does not to overlook the Afro-Caribbean factor  but rather  brings forward emphasis on this issue of  Pre-Columbian inclusion in the complete saga of  the Caribbean. The Caribbean story can never be complete without this inclusion. With proper guidance this author posits that substantial grant funding for such project engineering might become available from a contributory consortium of  sponsors and grant donors. In particular those world cultural organizations such as the UN should view this initiative with positive acceptance.


This author puts forth the proposition that in addition to a DNA observatory a specific set of initiatives to promote    indigenous-inspired art in the Caribbean should be undertaken at once to level the playing field of globalization's timetable which is swift and often at odds with a unique Caribbean branding. The identity of a people should not be over-marginalized more than it has to be in the wake of so called progress; other counter cultural measures should be put in place to fortify, reaffirm, and reestablish an identity principle. This is valuable for its people who live there as well as for the tourism industry which thrives  more on sustainable authenticity than copied  marketing accessories from the exterior. An identity-based  society  provides major benefits economically as well as socially as compared to one that has allowed its  roots to be eroded or substituted by urban-driven influences of the Art Establishment. The absence of the pre-Columbian legacy in current cultural branding  initiatives deprives the region of its holistic cultural legacies.


"Nature does not conform  to one shape; neither should art." This is the  philosophical  credo of  this art theory developed in the Caribbean  with alternatives to the hegemonic rule of the rectangle which is a relative new and adoptive introduction to the Diaspora  when seen from an historical/art perspective. Columbus's arrival must therefore be accepted as the pinnacle benchmark date for this introductory event of the new hegemony. With a degree of reflection (which weighs the "primitive" and the "classical" as two major streams in the history of the world's art ) we now witness a crucial shift towards the classical as a result of  the newcomers, the Europeans. As a consequence, the Taino foundation was disrupted in its evolutionary model and a new model introduced. And from this point on and up to the present the pre-dominant cultural role models in the Caribbean do not draw on its own  root sources; thus  bedrock sources--- rich in potential for artistic insight and new discovery---- remain dormant,  inactive.


The major developments in art of the 20th Century such as Cubism, Expressionism etc. drew heavily on the root sources of other non-European cultures for renewal and fresh perspectives. These artists showed appreciative response and marvel  at  alternative concepts of art that existed elsewhere from outside their circles of influence. As a consequence they assimilated, borrowed, and educated themselves in aesthetic qualities that were heretofore unknown to them in academic environments. It was rather from  different world  zones  that these impulses historically originated, whether in artifact objects or sculptures from remote places like Oceania, Africa and Mexico.  Yet in the Caribbean where  the population lives amidst repositories of cultural wealth there is a passive sentiment for cultural heritage exploration and the growing  inclination to embrace the new refinements of digital technology as if to indicate that  the one must necessarily contradict the other.  It is thus the most recent example of  trendsetting  Caribbean acculturation  whereby the imposition of directly forcing one culture upon another takes place notwithstanding the absence of violence and conquest.


As the Digital Age  and Urban phenomenology impose new acculturation dynamics to the Caribbean it remains implicit for cultural organizations and governments to ally effectively with artists and culturally-engaged groups;  to negate the existence of  a new hegemony that already reinforces the old one---a hegemony  formatted exclusively in  traditional perspectives. The indigenous thrust of the pre-Columbian  ancestral legacy still remains unexplored within the context of inclusive legacy for Caribbean branding.

This consensus relates directly to current population statistics   and  reigning political direction rather than to indelible historical truths. Thus any conscious and cultural or artistic recognition of this existing vacuum and subsequent initiatives such as "The Modular Triangular System "to include the pre-Columbian legacy in chronological importance for the Caribbean  with artistic and theoretical  formulation can only  serve to implement valuable focus  that is  currently  a proportionately deficient  issue in the face of  the Diaspora's history.

2.  The Modular Triangular System


That nature does not conform to one shape, neither should art

That in this consciousness role MODI art breaks away from the conventional rectangles towards triangles to form the basis of MODI thinking

That MODI has the innate ability to structure, to combine and create proto-type status

That MODI can operate between blurred lines of painting, sculpture and installation and still be MODI

That MODI is attachable and detachable, like life

MODI can add or subtract, multiply or divide, but it is not arithmetic, it is art

MODI can select, combine to create individualistic shapes

MODI is in its infant stage of existence like a new born baby but its pictorial DNA is ancient

The history of painting is the celebration of the rectangle. MODI is the rebirth of the triangle

MODI is an approach to Art that embraces cultural overlays and different civilizations

MODI utilizes the universal shape of the triangle as its cornerstone thus it breaks down barriers, builds monuments  to lost legacies

The MODI triangle symbolizes spiritual concepts whether of pagan belief or Christian such as the Divine Trinity.

MODI is a flexible vehicle of Art, not rigid with pictorial stereotypes determined by the manufacturing industry

MODI is invention, exploration, substance, visionary not academic and predictable

MODI is ancient but it can also embrace modern technology

MODI is Art with a designer attitude

MODI is not photography no matter how artistic

MODI is not sick art though it might sometimes rupture the senses

MODI is cultural art. It builds on cultural heritage but re-invents the story in fragmentary dimensions

MODI does not exist to feed the industrial framing industry. It strives to feed the soul

MODI liberates whereby manufactured frames confine like prison cells

MODI rejects frames for its own aesthetic conclusions and  distinct vision

MODI believes frames are accessories that often compete with the intention of the art work, sometimes even suffocating its premise

MODI is organic not static

MODI is shape ready for flight launch like a space rocket

MODI is angle Modi is dangle

MODI stretches, steps over boundaries, dances where the grass is always greener and the horizon brighter

MODI is one brick at a time, it is slow, and it is constructive reasoning

MODI is digging, excavating into the collective strata of human experience

MODI believes in fragmentation as the essence of existence

MODI can be taught in schools to infants but it is not geometry despite its angularity

MODI is cellular, it has structure, it can adapt to visual situations and physical spaces

MODI is the heightened celebration of the proto-type in Art

MODI assimilates, it includes more than it excludes, what it excludes has always been included

MODI has montage features that are extraordinary

MODI can create or break rhythms

MODI is the spirit of the ancients but it is the handiwork of the living

MODI is gesamtkunstwerk or total art

MODI when passive can be like a hidden Jack in the box or Russian dolls

MODI when active can be exotic and passionate

MODI statements are like statements in a Chinese fortune cookie but they only affect the artist's fortune

MODI is the realm of diversity

MODI teaches the artist, the artist does not teach MODI but he can pass on its inherent principles to others

MODI is still in its infant stages and so is the critique of its true significance

MODI is not formulaic each new proto-type challenges

MODI is risk art it seeks innovation

MODI is not commercially strategic but it can be bought and sold

MODI is a Caribbean aesthetic NOT influenced by Urban phenomenology

MODI is a structural visual language based on fragmentation

MODI exists in the realm of ideas

MODI leads to unpredictable sources of fantasy, energy and construction

MODI believes that the electric drill is just as important as the paint brush

MODI can fuse antiquity and technology in artistic coexistence

MODI's triangular family of shapes provide a vast resource that is capable of triggering the subconscious as well as the formal

MODI can transcend the limits of Western culture and embrace a vast multi-cultural horizon

MODI recognizes that in the development of one's signature art often rejection is the best teacher

MODI like nature assumes diverse shapes in its repertoire of proto-types

MODI can be a weapon, it can defend

MODI is practical and impractical every coin has a flip side

MODI's angularity mobilizes a dynamic factor into the art equation

MODI's diversity with multiple applications gives the Support a wide range of options

MODI's flexibility provides the artist with a wider support base for innovation

MODI's alternative design is independent of pre-manufactured configurations

MODI's interactive options with technological integration gives the Support a new participatory role

MODI's interlocking features combine individual fragmentary elements for optimum versatility

MODI's modularity provides a more organic-like quality in the Support

MODI's mutative qualities on canvas elements can be expanded to include other distinct formats

MODI's sculptural qualities and tri-dimensionality can be interpreted into the art form if desired

MODI's void-fullness and its respective relation between them can be dramatically increased

MODI is where the classic departs to join the Caribbean exotic ( It is not like David's Documenta)

MODI is symbolic compression; symbols compacted for a greater visual strength

MODI is living and depicting life enthusiastically

MODI dances with paint and does not walk rigidly as if to guide a blind man across the street

MODI understands that the value of an accomplished painting is in its intensity

MODI can be an element in isolation then evolve into harmony



"The Modular Triangular System" is an alternative approach to painting on canvas, a departure from the western "window" aesthetic that has been universally accepted for support systems in Art. It has had its primary origins and formulation in the Caribbean but it anticipates the multi-cultural trends of the Tri- Millennium which will strive more and more to assert hidden claims in a complex global village. None of the works  to be presented in the slideshow rely on the rectangle as a window onto the visible and imagined world. Instead the triangle is utilized as the exterior structure, the creative element for pictorial activity. It is the supreme catalyst - one that offers a greater degree of flexibility than its traditional counterpart the rectangle.

"The Modular Triangular System" acknowledges that Art has been dominated by the rectangular form for centuries thus resulting in a remarkable and triumphant over-shadowing of the triangle – the form that gave birth to perhaps the world's most majestic wonders: the Pyramids. But it is not to these ancient monuments that "The Modular Triangular System" obtains its inspirational material. It turns to a less likely source, the Zemi cult stones of the lost Taino Indians from the Caribbean. These historical relics are rather discreet in size. They usually measure not more than several inches, and are certainly almost obscure when compared to Egypt's colossal Pyramids.

The Caribbean Taino Indians carved these triangular images out of raw rocks choosing this universal shape above the rectangle, circle or oval. It was an Antilles civilization's calculated decision, a preference in design and function. Unobstructed by the western world's architectural influence, this ideal was created by the free imagination of the primordial artist. It was Columbus' arrival in 1492 that introduced diverse rectangular objects to the Caribbean: the charts, table tops, western architecture and the Bible. For the Spaniards the triangular-shaped Zemis only symbolized an abomination, pagan idols of a non-Christian people. Zemis were often lost during the Conquest by the merciless destruction of artistic treasures and relics of Pre-historic Antilles culture.

Columbus returned to Spain, however, with some Zemi exemplars. Those triangular objects had been viewed by Europeans as artistic curiosities. The Indians' preference for Zemi idols over gold apparently only instilled more religious fanaticism in the Spanish intruders' fervor to destroy as many of them as possible. Hence more than 500 years after the Conquest, the world's exposure to Taino culture continues to be relatively minimal. The miniature idols that have miraculously survived are in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, The Heye Foundation in New York, the Museum of America in Madrid, the British Museum in London, the Ethnographic Museum in Copenhagen, The Museum of Man, Paris other public and private collections.



But could the Zemi myth serve a similar purpose for image-making on canvas as it had done on stone for millions of Taino Indians? And the three points on a triangular canvas? Could they be effectively utilized to produce serious Art? Could they by themselves generate enough sustaining interest upon which to build a large body of work for an artist?

These questions posed not only challenges to this artist but also to his own understanding of the rectangular conformity of the art world. One of the most basic and stable conventions of Western Civilization was the two dimensional representation of a three dimensional space as seen through an enclosed frame. The rectangle's universal usage and status remained undisputed. Its principal shape consisting of a four-sided object supported a large framing and manufacturing industry, art suppliers, galleries, museums, mass- produced print work and auction houses. Wooden stretchers upon which canvas was stretched were sold in pairs, thus creating a manageable and practical solution to determining size. There was a wide range of interchangeability and convenience - a global rectangular system was already in place. To be sure, it would not be an easy task to abandon the rectangle. It had existed for centuries providing artists with practical formats to paint on. In short, this feature of its standard configuration meant that at least one aspect of the work was already universally endorsed and predetermined by the general public.


The factor of emulation, the desire for artists to follow one another, and continue a grand creative legacy as they have done for centuries has provided the rectangular shape with a consistent role from which the work developed. There was wide appeal for its continuity. It was broadly accepted even if the artist's style remained obscure or ridiculed in his lifetime. This was the format upon which the artist's work was judged, for better or worse, by Posterity. The shape of the painted rectangular object was seldom questioned. It was never in conflict with prevailing tastes. In some cases it was even painted over by another artist at a later date to be given new life as a modified rectangular work.

The basic shape of the canvas was also natural progression of the artist's sketch on his drawing pad. It was as predictable as the sun's early rise on the horizon. It was used by millions of artists, art students and schoolchildren the world over. Already in kindergarten children were taught how an empty piece of paper could be filled with colorful crayons. It was the introductory receptacle what could be instantly transformed from nothingness by the infantile imagination. This practice in its evolved states, also led later to the rectangular canvas experience. But what happened if the canvas surface suddenly departed from the accepted norm to that of the triangle for instance?

  • Would new visual perception demands be placed on the art viewer?
  • Would the triangle appear as a weird freak if it started to mutate?
  • Would the triangle be too impractical?
  • Would it lead to alienation?
  • Would it risk being called empty and decorative by art critics?
  • Would it be worthless?
  • Would it be Outsider Art if the artist turned his back on the "window"?


Man has been conditioned through time and space to evaluate and perceive painting within the rectangular guideposts of art history. The four corners of the rectangle are essential to this perception. They play a key role in the construction of the principal image and its related subject matter. Optically they define area limitations and depending on their vertical or horizontal exaggeration they either suggest repose or action.

5. Key features of "The Modular Triangular System" But what are the specific advantages of utilizing the triangle in terms of pictorial language, if any? Why should any artist consider the triangle? If the triangular work of art is to be judged on its own merits (apart from espousing a cultural discrepancy) then these questions are valid. It is not sufficient to assume that multi-cultural considerations alone should justify the extremist position of "The Modular Triangular System". There should be other qualifying and dramatic reasons to warrant a serious investigation by artists of the three pointed canvas for the Support in painting and in this regard there are choice of interesting propositions to consider:

A list is provided below with the key features of "The Modular Triangular System":

  1. Angularity :   Mobilizes a dynamic factor into the art equation.
  2. Diversity :      Multiple applications give the Support a wide range of options.
  3. Flexibility:     Provides the Artist with a wider support base for innovation.
  4. Formats:        Alternative design independent of pre-manufactured configuration.
  5. Interactive:    Technological integration gives the Support a new participatory role.
  6. Inter-locking: Combines individual fragmentary elements for optimum versatility.
  7. Modularity:    Provides a more organic-like quality in the Support.
  8. Mutative:        Canvas elements can be expanded to include other distinct formats.
  9. Sculptural:      Three dimensionality can be integrated into the art form if desired.
  10. Void-Fullness:The respective relations between them can be dramatically increased.


Europeans worked for centuries to promote their own rectangular aesthetic along the guidelines of order, balance and traditional values to recorded superhuman achievement. From Leonardo da Vinci to Pablo Picasso and others, the world has witnessed a steady stream of masterpieces. But with each singular investigation of the rectangle by Protean geniuses and their followers the chances for triangular inclusion has concurrently decreased. As a consequence this developed aesthetic has pre-supposed historical transitions for the Caribbean within a Judeo and Christian context. The Caribbean's triangular aesthetic, in contrast, perished rapidly with the persecution of the Taino civilization and thus its potential and long term development never evolved in the last half a millennium. Subsequently all chapters in the Archipelago's history confirmed its former existence as essential archaeological material but not as a vital artistic continuity. This phenomenon is quite in contrast with the considerable interest in Aztec, Inca, Maya and Olmec civilizations which have served to influence countless artists worldwide. From an MTS point of view the rectangle is currently the principal and almost exclusive form upon which to paint. It helps to preserve a certain range of world culture and history. Considering the two non- uropean legacies of the Caribbean, the Pre-Columbian and the African, it is quite unlikely that the rectangle can always best serve the spirit and authentic legacy of these two cultures within the human experience. What has occurred, in fact, is that the European legacy has provided the format upon which almost all the world's artworks on canvas are produced including the Caribbean's. Viewed from a multi- cultural perspective this might appear quite limiting, especially so when mirrored against specific global events.

When black slaves from Africa were introduced to the Caribbean once again the triangle was very much in vogue - this time, not in the form of  Taino Zemis, but in the concept of the Triangle Trade associated with shipping and slavery. Thus the triangle has strong associations not only with the Caribbean's ancient art but also with the phenomenon of black slavery. In a curious historical context the fates of both the Tainos and Africans were thrown together in the Spanish quest for gold, expansion and cheap labor. The triangle recalls an important part of Caribbean history that is provocative to understanding its past. It offers a symbolic gateway for depicting a particular legacy specific to the Region as well as a liberating path to self-identity.

From the vanquished indigenous culture to the inhumane importation of Africans, this form whether in the appearance of sculptural idols or in global logistics, has deep roots in the Archipelago. And added to this is the Christian ideal of the Divine Trinity introduced by Europeans, another important triangle in the Caribbean's network of symbols. The Caribbean's unique background, geography and complexity are quite capable of producing the stimulus for an art style that draws from the rich sources of its own cultural and historical fragmentation. 


This art genre includes the pre-Columbian traces of the Diaspora without restricting it exclusively to a white and black racial experience. The shape repertoire in this expanded tool box of the Modular Triangular System reaches further into the area's historical roots to include the early Caribbean's aboriginal roots. This is as it should be. Visitors to the Caribbean islands experience the sounds of steel drum music, reggae meringue and salsa to a balmy climate. But these cultural innovations are relatively new to the Caribbean's history ---a filtering of new introductory cultures as a result of slavery and post colonialism. Only in silent DNA laboratories, conducted by research teams interested in anthropology and remote traces of ancestral lineage, does the shadow of the Taino history glimpse through the cracks of today's 21st Century Caribbean.

With a delicious rum cocktail in one hand and a sunny beach to explore it is easy for the visitor  to forget a pre-Columbian population  once inhabited these islands except for visits to archaeological museums. It is easy to view the surface of the Caribbean without exploring its depth. But protruding through these remote openings of  background information  is the emergence of a genre of painting called  the "Modular Triangular System." While it is a direct contribution from St. Croix to the art world it might just as well be a stronger  testimony to the man's test of survival in the Caribbean. And it has been increasingly gaining interest in artistic quarters around the globe for its authenticity. Thus it   has served to promote the island of St. Croix and the Virgin Islands  on A global scale in the broader cultural showcase as a place where original art can occur.

This   Caribbean art theory does not overlook the sources of   archaeological wealth to arrive convincingly at a fundamental pictorial truth: the power of shape." Nature does not conform to any one shape; neither should art." Indeed this philosophical mantra of this Caribbean art theory that includes the Pre-Columbian drama, its heightened awareness of nature, its cultural heritage, reduces its art objectives to that of a modern standard bearer for those who have indigenous links. The supremacy of the fixed four-cornered format is substituted for relational flux---triangles that connect together to create improbable and sculptural sequences. The ninety degree angle underpinnings of traditional canvas formats used for centuries become invisible, as if totally abandoned or forgotten. As its alternative offer, dynamic relationships in fragmented progressions combine in illustrative methodology. Some are more resisting, some more predictable in rationale, others seek beyond reason to disjoint and surprise. But their common denominator is always indefatigably the constant modularity of the triangle in compositional focus; a springboard theory at work in its evolutionary stages. And its origins derive from a multi-cultural environment where the arts should be considered as a vital part of society and be vigorously supported.