This essay explores the visual arts for models of an archipelagic way of thinking that is endemic to the Caribbean and yet obscured by nationalist frameworks. Unpacking the ways Caribbean studies is imbricated within and articulated through a number of discourses—area studies, the trope of the isle, visuality, and creolization—and investigating the ways these four approaches to the Caribbean are articulated to each other clarifies some of the issues at stake in defining Caribbean studies as a contemporary epistemological field. In contrast, the essay poses alternatives: maritime studies rather than area studies, given the former's focus on the geography rather than culture; the notion of a repeating, fractal island form rather than the isolated desert isle of colonial discourse; relationality rather than difference in defining Caribbean identities; and the visual traces of these alternative modes of expression and knowing in the work of contemporary artists.

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