Un|Fixed Homeland, Aljira Center for Contemporary Art, 2016 Catalog: Un|Fixed Homeland - Page 52

Michael C. Lam b. Guyana 1973 Michael Lam’s ongoing Oniabo series, 2013 to present, takes the viewer to Guyana’s coastlines and shorelines. The photographer, who is first trained as a biologist, states, “The Oniabo series is centered around the sea and its effect on the land and the people, how we see it and how we use it…From the rivers, creeks and waterfalls of the interior to the mighty Atlantic Coast, we are the land of many waters…waters that feed us and drive commerce.”  The artist is intentional in his naming of the series: the word oniabo comes from the language of the indigenous Arawak people and means “water.” Here, the visual image and the literary naming both become symbolic. These stark black and white seascapes, and the sense of timelessness they embody, implore the viewer to meditate on the nation’s historical and pivotal relationship with water: A sacred natural resource for the country’s first people, the Amerindians, the means by which European colonizers first arrived, the traumatic Trans-Atlantic Middle Passage that brought enslaved 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.” As much as these images harken to the past and allude to ancestral histories, they equally remind the viewer of the ubiquity of water—three mighty rivers and countless creeks, canals, gutters—in the present-day lives of the people. In Seaward Bowline, 2014, shot in Kingston, Georgetown, Lam captures a tranquil scene, in an otherwise usually vibrant entrepreneurial culture of fishing, where a fisherman’s boat is battened down for the night. In Devotion Point, 2013, taken in Bushy Park, Parika, Essequibo, Jhandi flags planted on bamboo poles—a repeated visual element also seen in Seaward Bowline— indicates that an Indian Hindu religious ceremony has been performed. On these shores, survival and the desire for the spiritual meet, they share space. In its centering of water, Lam’s Oniabo is a poetic reminder of why Guyana translates as, then and now, the “land of many waters.” Michael C. Lam Contemplative (Thomaslands, Georgetown, Guyana) from the series, Oniabo, 2013–2016 Archival pigment print on canvas 20 x 30 in. Courtesy of the artist 52 Seaward Bowline (Kingston, Georgetown, Guyana) (next page) from the series, Oniabo, 2013–­2016 Archival pigment print on canvas 30 x 20 in. Courtesy of the artist 53