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16 Guyanese Artists Explore the Impact of Migration

Migration is one of the defining issues of our time, and few feel it quite like residents of the small South American nation.
KEISHA SCARVILLE, Untitled #5, from the series, Mama's Clothes, 2015 Archival digital print 24 x 36 inches. All images courtesy of the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute.

Popular images of undocumented people crossing the borders of Mexico, Syria, and Northern Africa is evidence enough that migration is one of the most defining issues of our time. It seemly impacts everyone and everything. Liminal Space, curated by Grace Aneiza Ali at the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute, explores how migration has impacted Guyana. Featuring 16 artists of Guyanese descent, the group exhibition of painting, photography, collage, and installation explores how migration has shaped the economic, social, and cultural history of the small South American country and Guyanese communities in America.


"Guyanese people have long known the experience of migration," Aneiza Ali explains to Creators. "It's perhaps been the defining narrative of our country." In the 1960s, Guyana began to see a mass exodus of its citizens, who largely immigrated to the United States for economic and educational opportunities. Today, more Guyanese live outside Guyana than within its borders."

ARLINGTON WEITHERS White: Crossing, 2017 Acrylic polymer emulsion, pigments and glass beads on canvas 10 x 16 feet (unframed).

"Liminal Space looked to sixteen Guyanese and Guyanese-American artists to examine the relationship between migration and the idea of the 'liminal,'" says the Guyanese-American curator. "The word itself 'liminal' is from the Latin word limens, which means 'threshold,' a place of transition, waiting, and unknowing. It served as an entry point to venture into challenging conversations on both spectrums of the migration arc: the ones who leave and the ones who are left."

KARRAN SAHADEO Untitled (blue), 2014 Archival pigment print on canvas 24 x 34 inches Courtesy of the artist and Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art, Newark, New Jersey

The art in the exhibition does not tell a single story about Guyanese migration. The artists offer nuanced narratives that pull from personal migratory paths and experiences of living in the Guyanese diaspora. The artists range in age from 30 to 82-years-old, which allows the exhibition to document the history of Guyana from when it was a British colony to its present day independence. The exhibition frames the Guyanese experience of migration as symbolic of larger pressing universal concerns captured in daily headlines which illustrate how, as Aneiza Ali points out, few of us remain untouched by migration. "For those who have left one place for another," she says, "fueled by choice or trauma, sustaining the vulnerable threads to homeland is at once beautiful, fraught, disruptive, and ever-evolving."


VICTOR DAVSON Jhandi Flag #5, from the series, Jhandi Flags, 2017 Glitter, sequins, acrylic on canvas 28.25 x 27.75 inches (unframed)

"Mason Richards's film The Seawall examines the toll migration enacts on families," says the curator. "Karran Sahadeo's self-portrait Untitled, (blue) investigates our reliance on technology to keep fragile bonds connected; and Keisha Scarville's photographs in Mama's Clothes allows us to examine what survives and what is mourned when a daughter loses her mother, her deepest connection to her homeland." Christie Neptune's multi-media installation Memories from Yonder features a poignant conversation between a young woman and an elder Guyanese immigrant. The video shows her crocheting, which according to the artist, functions as a metaphor "to reconcile the surmounting pressures of maintaining tradition whilst immersed in an Americanized culture."

In mounting Liminal Space, during a moment of fraught debate around migration, Aneiza Ali wanted to show that the act of migration is not finite. It is full of encounters, departures, returns, absences, and reunions. "While the artists' works engage the hard truths of a country defined by constant departure and deemed 'a disappearing nation,' they equally offer restorative narratives of why their homeland is loved," says the curator. "One of the things that we all share, as curator and artists, is a deep profound love for our homeland. It's perhaps for many of us, including myself, one of the great loves of our lives." She adds, "For us it's a love for a whole country, for others it might be a deep love for a neighborhood, like Harlem, or love for a city. But what we understand is that with that love always comes a deep responsibility to that place."


DOMINQUE HUNTER We Meet Here, I to XII, 2017 Digital photography collage 8 x 10 inches (12 pieces)

Liminal Space opens June 17 through October 26 at the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute. Click here for more information.


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