FEW OF US REMAIN UNTOUCHED by the sweeping narrative of migration. For those who have left one place for another, fueled by choice or trauma, sustaining the vulnerable threads to homeland is at once, beautiful, disruptive, and evolving.
In the past five decades, migration has defined Guyana. Liminal Space brings together sixteen Guyanese artists living in Guyana and the United States who explore the relationship between migration and the idea of the “liminal” — from the Latin limens, which means “threshold,” a place of transition, waiting, and unknowing. Working in a variety of mediums, they bear witness to what drives one from a homeland and simultaneously keeps one tethered to it.
Today, more Guyanese live outside Guyana than within its borders — an exodus that began in the 1960s as they looked to the United States for economic and educational opportunities. Guyana now has a population of 750,000 and over one million living in its diaspora. Here in New York, Guyanese are the fifth largest immigrant community. Affectionately known as “Little Guyana,” the city has emerged as home to the most significant Guyanese community in the diaspora.
The artists in Liminal Space represent both spectrums of migration: the ones who leave and the ones who are left. They tease out symbols of decay and loss, avoiding trappings of nostalgia by envisioning avenues out of displacement. While their work engages the hard truths of a country defined by constant departure and deemed “a disappearing nation,” they equally offer restorative narratives of why this homeland is loved.
In these works, Abbensetts transforms vinyl wallpaper into his canvas. Vibrant in his use of deep colors, lighter hues, and dominant blacks, the artist employs the bold gestural nature of Abstract Expressionism in conjuring a homeland not seen since 2001. Layered onto the wallpaper are newspaper clippings, abstract lines, and a blueprint-esque white outline etched with a table fork of “House #64”— the Berbice home he grew up in.
The artist bridges the two canvasses with a series of re-purposed wooden crates and also hangs them in a ladderlike construction from the ceiling. On them he handwrites the names of towns, villages, and former plantation sites familiar to Guyanese people as a way to signify the ubiquitous presence of the country’s British colonial past.
In Songs for the Mighty Sparrow: The Ballad of Monkey Mountain, Locke layers the canvas with magazine advertising, snapshots of his bronze female nude sculptures, and a monkey in its natural habitat, alluding to the work’s title “Monkey Mountain,” a remote terrain in Guyana’s Potaro-Siparuni region.
Locke also adds photographic imagery of Guyana’s past sourced from its newspapers: black and white passport portraits charged with notions of both belonging and displacement. A weave of meandering gestural black forms rests on the grid of images. The canvas is punctuated by red, green, yellow, and gold colors and two blue upward facing arrow shapes.
By 1998, when The Ballad of Monkey Mountain was completed, Locke had settled in Atlanta. His encounters with a canon of African American artists catalyzed for him a breaking away from a European colonial legacy of artmaking, what he called “an alien inheritance.” In a 2003 interview, Locke remarked on his migration story, “You can’t escape from what is imprinted in you . . . I had to leave to do this work.”
Davson examines the history of Indian indentured servitude in Guyana through the performance of ritual, noting his intention for the work as “A countermeasure to the despair of colonial rule and the indenture experience. These objects occupy a liminal space fraught with uncertainty, shifting boundaries, loss of identity, and desire.”
Invoking her own subjectivity as a first-generation Guyanese-American, Neptune digitally presents visual and textual narratives from a conversation with Ebora Calder, a fellow Guyanese immigrant and elder who migrated to New York in the late 1950s. Calder represents generations of Guyanese women, like the artist’s mother, who in the past sixty years have been part of a mass migration from Guyana to New York City.
Their hybrid bodies are set against magazine cutouts of dreamy landscapes where outer space, ocean, and land all meet. The imagery of non-linear and otherworldly narratives reflects “a space of liberation for the Black imagination that rejects tragedy and trauma as the dominant narratives of the Black experience,” states Abrams. These beautiful bodies against beautiful dreamscapes of night skies dressed in shimmering violets and blues require us to examine love as a political act; a space “where happily ever after includes social justice.”
The stark black and white seascape of Devotion Point, and the sense of timelessness it embodies in its aesthetic, implore the viewer to meditate on Guyana’s historical and pivotal relationship with water as a great threshold: A sacred natural resource for the country’s first people, the Amerindians, the means where European colonizers first arrived, the traumatic Trans-Atlantic Middle Passage that brought Africans to toil its soil, and a visceral reminder of precarious indentured immigrant crossings for Indians and Chinese.
As the notable Caribbean poet Derek Walcott wrote in his 1930 poem of the same name, “The sea is History.” In the tranquil scene of Devotion Point taken in Essequibo, jhandi flags planted on bamboo poles indicate that an Indian Hindu religious ceremony, a puja, has been performed. Here the image and title of “devotion” are both symbolic — it is where ancestral histories, trauma, survival, and spiritual desire all share space.
Via digital collage, Hunter layers organic imagery reminiscent of Guyana’s lush vegetation found on the seawall of its Atlantic Coast. Within each individual work, two things are a constant presence: a white silhouette self-referential figure and a green morning glory plant that thrives amidst extreme elements of temperature wind, water, and sand. Questioning what it means to navigate the space between being rooted in one land and transplanted to another, Hunter states, “The morning glory plant could be likened to those of us who, while rooted in a very particular space, find relief and discomfort at the cusp of both here and there.”
The work teems with texture, materiality and laborious detail. Mattai weaves onto a large-scale seaweed rug a bounty of objects and materials via processes that are hand-done and domestic — a nod to the women in her family who are experts in weaving, embroidering, needlepointing, and sewing. Mattai is concerned with the liminal space of disorientation when one transitions through multiple cultural spheres. It is important to note that she created this work while on a short-term stay in France. With each puncture of embroidery, each woven thread, Mattai attempts to de-center fixed ideas of history.
Benn’s training as a cartographer informs much of her digital photography practice and leads her across remote places, like the Rupununi grasslands featured in Amalivaca, a work that confronts the underlying histories that have created this complex space and the contemporary framing of it as exotic. While Amerindians have called the Rupununi home since the 18th century, this landscape has seen much loss: disease epidemics brought on by early European arrivals devastated populations of indigenous peoples.
In Benn’s act of (re)claiming space and ownership of this sweeping vista, Amalivaca becomes an image bridging the land’s past and present. The subject’s face is pseudo-hidden, her posture is captured mid-turn, begging the questions: Is she running away from or returning towards homeland? Is this a site of terror or beauty? Or, both?
Weithers employs the experimentation of form, material, and technique of Modernism to create White: Crossing, part of his series of large-scale white paintings. The surface of the work is richly textured, defined by its grandiose play with light, shadow, and the luminosity of acrylic paint. A glorious white dominates the top half of the canvas, becoming both receptive and reflective of light and shadow.
Here, the white allows for a response to the movement of the world around it. Yellow, punctuated with blue, red, green, purple, and pink, form a terrain on the bottom half of the canvas, suggestive of a Pangea landmass. Their fissures and ripples reveal the painterly gestures of the artist and the “coloristic intensity and textural complexity” he identifies with the tropical landscape of his homeland Guyana. Two narrow horizontal lines just below the canva’s center, their colors faintly visible, allude to liminality as a “creative crossing” into unknown spaces, an idea referenced in the title. Weithers states that in his desire as an artist to move past limitations of abstraction, White: Crossing is itself a “threshold work.”
Time lapse installation of Arlington Weithers' "White Crossing" by Peter Mercedes-Phipps.
In G741 Drawing Structures, a painted green rectangular plywood sheath with the bottom edges diagonally cut out is decorated with Lyght’s freehand drawings of white geometric shapes influenced by Amerindian “Timehri” rock carvings in Guyana. Drawing from his childhood days of constructing kites, Lyght creates an illusion of a floating sheath, noting how the work is meant to “flow through space, lightly touch the plane of the wall, and appear to have no fixed boundaries.”
The plywood is held in place by a visible crossbar on the front and a partially hidden lightweight oak stick framing system behind it — a reference to the stick-frame houses in Guyana that first ignited the artist’s attraction to line and structure. Of this visual vocabulary, meant to elude notions of confinement, Lyght states, “I wanted to create a sense of being in a landscape, a sense of space around real things, a feeling of the near and far distance and of the horizon line, the place that you never get to.”
The simplicity of the imagery in Sahadeo’s photograph belie its disruption. In the self-portraiture work Untitled (blue), the artist is photographed in his bedroom, illuminated by the glow of multiple digital screens: a tablet rests on his lap, a phone lies under his hand, a laptop is on the dresser.
The wealth of technology visible in the frame is juxtaposed by visual codes of an impoverished nation that continues to grapple with a struggling infrastructure — the artist is enclosed under a mosquito netting and photographed in a city blackout. In exploring the reliance on devices to stay connected, Sahadeo comments on what he sees as the “disconnection between Guyana and myself.” Within the quiet stillness of the moment, there is a sense of transition. The subject of Untitled (blue) is physically present in Guyana and engaged in digital spaces outside its borders.
In response to the act of migration as a liminal space, Hazlewood grapples with the “unsayable,” drawing from the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke that “Most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space that no word has ever entered.” Armed with a range of materials both pedestrian and exquisite, the artist elevates objects that are often invisible or trivialized: pushpin, tape, a piece of string to construct Demerara Song.
In this “wall painting,” informed by the scale and curve of the wall, Hazlewood folds, drapes, pins, pleats, cuts, and layers the materials as he plays with negative and positive space. While the work relies on set of formal and minimalism techniques, Demerara Song is a conversation on temporality, “an attempt to rescue something out of nothing, pinning down a moment,” states Hazlewood. The viewer will never see the work in this iteration again as the artist will dismantle its parts when the exhibition concludes.
Employing the aesthetic of French Surrealists painters, Greaves draws from his boyhood growing up in an impoverished Georgetown tenement yard in creating the self-referential painting Bread Man. Two dark, unclothed figures border the canvas: one carries a loaf of bread, the other has an empty board. What the figures carry is a commentary on “hope and despair” states the artist.
The artist hints at migration as a movement through physical, psychological, and spiritual spaces, noting that one implication of the hole in the ground is an “emerging from the bowels of the earth or descending into it, or even both . . . an illustration of duality, forms of paradox, and the surreal that pervades our existence.”
Told uniquely through the perspective of Malachi, the film’s young protagonist, The Seawall explores the rupture migration enacts on families. The time has come to leave Guyana, and a beloved grandmother who has taken care of him, to join his mother in the United States. Their experience is common for many Caribbean parents who migrate to other countries and leave their children with family members or caregivers. Often, the parent works to acquire the funds and visas to have their children join them — a process that can take years. On the eve of leaving, a time usually filled with undeniable tension, anxiety, and chaos, The Seawall is meditatively quiet. Gestures largely take the place of dialogue. In this moment, the space of departure is defined by silence and absence.
Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, President and Founder
Melody Capote, Deputy Director
Dan’etta Jimenez, Director of Education
Kadrena Cunningham, Senior Educator Manager
Suhaly Bautista-Carolina, Director of Programs
Janet L. Sackey, Communications and Social Media Coordinator
Regina Bultrón Bengoa, Digital Projects Manager Consultant
Grace Aneiza Ali
360 Video Experience:
Michael Shawn Cordero