Un|Fixed Homeland, Aljira Center for Contemporary Art, 2016 Catalog: Un|Fixed Homeland - Page 30

The Plates Quotations from the artists in the texts are from artist statements and correspondence with the curator, unless otherwise noted. Kwesi Abbensetts b. Guyana 1976 Kwesi Abbensetts’ roots in Guyana stem from both city-life in Georgetown and country-life in the East Berbice-Corentyne coast of Guyana—an impressive stretch of miles spanning the entire eastern border of the country with the Atlantic Ocean to its north, Suriname to its east, and Brazil to its south. It is from both of these crossroad-perches, the bustling capital and the provincial countryside, that as a child Abbensetts became an early witness to constant acts of emigration. He recalls how friends and family left for “another land, for gain and training… good dollars and education.” In Pieces of Land, From Where I Have Come, 2016, Abbensetts embeds into a series of nine small mixed-media canvasses key objects or what he calls, “helpers of memory” to aid him in conjuring a homeland he has not seen since 2001. The artist is now based in New York City, where coincidentally, Guyanese immigrants make up the city’s fifth largest immigrant population. Abbensetts wields a color palette on the canvas both familiar to and intentionally nostalgic of his homeland—deep, bold reds, blues, and greens, as well as softer, lighter hues of yellows and pinks—to frame the photographs of his family and friends. Collected from that last visit to Guyana fifteen years ago, the analog photographs capture both public and private spaces: a snapshot of a visibly nervous young bride being escorted by her father, against a backdrop of a street dotted with Guyana’s quintessential wooden stilt houses; family members posing at weddings and parties; and a line-up of mini-buses awaiting passengers in front of Georgetown’s Stabroek Market. Layered onto and around the photographs are abstract lines, handwritten notes featuring the artist’s personal reflections, brown mud, white rice, and brown sugar. In some pieces, torn strips of paper towels are soaked onto the canvas by a baptism of acrylic paint—a symbol of “an identity immersed by all things Guyana,” states the artist. This trifecta of paint, photograph, and objects function literally and figuratively as remnants, “pieces of the land” Abbensetts poetically references in the work’s title. In its layers and complexity, lies a simple desire: to reconnect, to reclaim homeland. The impulse to reclaim space is one that goes beyond that of a son of Guyana, a migrant, or an artist. It is a compulsion that is human and vulnerable at its core. “I am distant and removed,” the artist states. “The paintings are a contemplation of space…a forgotten space.” 30 31