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Liminal Spaces

Grace Aneiza Ali

Part II. The Ones Who Leave... The Ones Who Are Left

5. Transplantation

Dominique Hunter

Texte intégral

Figure 5.1 Dominique Hunter, ‘You Will Find Solace Here’ 2016, digital collage.

Figure 5.1 Dominique Hunter, ‘You Will Find Solace Here’ 2016, digital collage.

© Dominique Hunter. Courtesy of the artist. CC BY-NC-ND.

/ˌtransplɑːnˈteɪʃ (ə) n, ˌ tranzplɑːnˈteɪʃ (ə) n/
noun: transplantation; plural noun: transplantations
1. the process of taking an organ or living tissue and implanting it in another part of the body or in another body.
2. the movement or transfer of someone or something to another place or situation.

1This is the result of a Google search for ‘transplantation definition, ’ the first of more than eleven million results to appear at the top of the webpage. It identifies two distinct and seemingly unrelated examples of word usage. There is no overlap in the way they are presented.

2But perhaps they are not as disconnected as we are led to believe. Perhaps there exists a scenario in which the two are sister components, two leaves on the same branch of the same tree. Hearts, minds, souls, eyes, and feet continuously moving through real and abstract bodies and spaces that are both ours and the other. All the while tethered to our individual sources like umbilical cords.

3Broken down to their most essential elements both speak of body and movement. Consider for a moment the many implications of that juxtaposition:

  • What does it mean to be actively engaged in both processes of transplantation?
  • How does it influence the nuances of our migration patterns, if at all?
  • Is it possible to shift around parts of our bodies as needed, reanimating broken organs as we move through obscure places, fending off threats to our wellness and bias for self-preservation?

4Some would call us immigrants, movers across borders that are not our own. We are, each of us, a body and a tree, flexible and fixed. Years of shapeshifting have strengthened the muscles that accommodate our steady transition between these two states of being. So, we persist. We do not give much thought to this back and forth, this act of going and coming, uprooting and transplanting. It is simply what we do. It is what we have always done, all of us, in some way. That is our history and it is our future. Ours is a collection of personal truths forever intertwined with the perplexing tendrils of shifting roots.

A Guide to Surviving Transplantation and Other Traumas

Make a general assessment of the land.

5We imagine fantastic opportunities promising to rip us away from the poverty/ obscurity/mediocrity/lawlessness that threaten to hold hostage our potential. Tangled weeds shoot up, wild and indiscriminate, mocking that twisted nature, pushing past weary fences. We have inherited the impetus to push back long before the water and sun release us from our hardened selves.

Identify a strategic point of entry.

6My own breakthrough to adulthood was marked by a contradictory sequence of hesitation and urgency. Mine was not a shell made of the same substance as my parents. And while this ‘new’ national climate of opportunity that coaxed me out of said shell was far from ideal, it was, in many ways, more sympathetic to my deficiencies. My form being pliable and therefore much more vulnerable than theirs, meant that I had to adopt new ways of strengthening those shortcomings to avoid complacency.

Clear a path with a pair of long boots.

7Like all good nurturers my parents toiled so that I would somehow be exempt from the jabs thrown by life in what we embrace as our ‘third world’ country, despite the growing global debates about this term. Admittedly, many struggles have escaped me. But the challenge of finding and sustaining a creative self was and will always be mine alone to shoulder. Many battles have been fought both on and off the field that never forgets. It was through rigorous trial and error that I came to discover my own footpath, hidden under the darkness of the Georgetown sky.

Prepare the ground for easy transition.

8How much further can a potted plant grow? How many moons until we crash against the impenetrable glass ceiling of that cramped reality? How long until our own roots, too thick to be contained, choke our potential to death? We plateau, before making our way downward, forced deep into a kind of cold and indifferent new ground. We know indifference. But this is, at the same time, familiar and alien, an opportunity and an unlikelihood. Nevertheless, we push through, hoping for a better place than the one we left behind.

Figure 5.2 Dominique Hunter, ‘Contemplating Strategies’ 2017, digital collage.

Figure 5.2 Dominique Hunter, ‘Contemplating Strategies’ 2017, digital collage.

© Dominique Hunter. Courtesy of the artist. CC BY-NC-ND.

Select the healthiest candidates for the highest success rate.

9Our greatest aspiration should be to leave. This is what we are told, even as tiny buds still growing in our mothers’ bellies. Broken sermons recount dismal days gone and predict even darker days to come. That is our oral tradition, an enduring account of desolation perpetuated equally by those who have stayed and those who have left. Everyone knows the single story. How can we not know it when we have grown in its shadow? There is an expectation once you have reached a certain age: pack what you can and leave. I am well past that age, yet I remain, stubbornly rooted in the land my parents spent all of their lives cultivating.

Keep the roots moist before removing.

10I know very little of my parents’ ancestry, the distances they traveled, the places they settled. The few stories I have heard were shared on rare occasions, long after I had reached the appropriate age to engage in ‘big people story.’ It was common knowledge at the time that a child dare not entertain the thought of questioning his/her elders. That was not a child’s place. Regardless, my imagination ran wild with thoughts of the two very distinct lines of African and Indian heritage in my family, and the point of intersection that ultimately led to me.

Remove from the original container.

11Years later I had sensed there might have been a great deal of pain behind the recounting of those stories, so I never probed beyond the bits of information they volunteered. I knew the tension between races was much thicker than it is today but I could not fathom what that meant for an Indian man and his Black wife in those times. I could not imagine navigating a field wired with explosives, ready to burst open and claim lives at any moment. But perhaps it was best not to look back. I suspected, too, that a lot had been inadvertently forgotten in the years since. Most of the persons with concrete knowledge about either side of my family had left this realm years ago, taking with them the answers to questions regarding the history of the people whose DNA I share.

Transfer to new ground.

12I knew there was Dutch ancestry as my maternal great grandmother had traveled from Dutch Guiana (now Suriname) to British Guiana. What brought her here was anyone’s guess, but it could not have been very far off the usual driving force: betterment. Very little else is known about her family prior to her migration to British Guiana. Within Guyana’s borders, my mother and father’s family covered quite a lot of ground. My mother grew up in a mining village known as 111 Miles Mahdia, Potaro (Region 8). My father’s immediate family, on the other hand, spent their formative years in the mining town of Kwakwani in the Upper Demerara-Berbice region. While his mother was originally from Plaisance, East Coast Demerara, his father’s roots extended as far as Skeldon, East Berbice Corentyne.

Careful planting is essential for root development.

13Every chance that presents itself, people would ask, ‘What is wrong with you?’ While most would spring at the opportunity to leave Guyana, I have never felt compelled to move, at least not permanently. This marks the difference between my travel patterns and those of my ancestors. Home is where the metaphorical ‘navel string’ is buried. Mine is buried along Guyana’s coastal plain, deep beneath years of treasured memories and idyllic dreamscapes. I could not imagine leaving entirely unless I felt the cold, hard rock of failure pressed against my back, with nothing and no one left to tie me to the only home I have ever known. Plaisance, Campbellville, Blygezight Gardens, Guyana.

Stake the young to avoid root damage.

14Still, how does one not shrink in the face of ever-present poverty/obscurity/ mediocrity/lawlessness? Those who choose to stay in spite of everything must find ways to circumvent the grinding down of our resolve. We take refuge in the things and places that dull the harshness of reality, forgetting momentarily the blight of our anxieties. There is a kind of mulishness in the way we refuse to buckle under the weight of our choice to stay. We have learned to maneuver comfortably between familiarity and contempt a long time ago.

Figure 5.3 Dominique Hunter, ‘Black Water Remedy’ 2016, digital collage.

Figure 5.3 Dominique Hunter, ‘Black Water Remedy’ 2016, digital collage.

© Dominique Hunter. Courtesy of the artist. CC BY-NC-ND.

Add sugar solution to prevent shock.

15The way we move through various spaces is not something we are conscious of until the enlightened observer mentions it. In fact, prior to this there had been no serious consideration of my own actions, the constant advancing from and retreating to a very specific epicenter. Footprints in the earth extending a bit further each time but, ultimately, always leading back to its place of origin. How far will this magical cord extend before yielding its elasticity to overuse? What will be the coordinates of my final stop when the cord can stretch no more? Will the sun still burn my skin with the same intensity?

Spread compost around the base for additional nutrients.

16It is difficult to imagine the energy required to fuel that kind of regular transplantation. In much the same way, it is difficult for me to describe the mental and physical tax exacted during my weekly retreats to the countryside and less frequent trips overseas. Nevertheless, these ‘mini migrations’ have become central to the maintenance of my overall mental health and, by extension, the integrity of every other faculty of my body. They are equally responsible for the continued growth of my creative practice as well as the expansion of my network. Like vines that crawl along the chain-linked fence of my family’s country home, I will spend the rest of my days chasing the fleeting light.

Water regularly but not excessively.

17This constant extraction process, although exhausting and violent, is a necessary routine for my contemporaries and me. In response, we have learned to steel ourselves against the trauma of that ripping action in an effort to curtail the initial shock of change. Our knowledge of trauma runs deep. How can we not know it so intimately when this land and its peoples have been forged by its ferocity? Our country has survived in spite of violent racism, dirty politics, bloody massacres, and crazed cult leaders who have stained our soil in a most tragic red the spectrum could ever generate. These are hardly new phenomena. We endure. We survive. In a rather perverse way, trauma is one of our more faithful companions.

Make available the right amount of sunlight.

18We challenge ourselves to make those treks daily, weekly, monthly, determined to stave off the lingering threat of disenchantment. How easy it is to lose one’s sense of direction when insularity is the very soil that holds us together. That back and forth movement therefore becomes a crucial component in the way we keep ourselves sane. The bigger picture is always in sharp focus even as we shift temporarily from one place to the next before eventually settling back into this contentious territory we call home.

Wait patiently for it to take.

19In the end it matters not how painful a process it is. This is the price of not leaving. The cost is shouldered willingly if it means we can have it both ways. We wait in the shade of old trees for the next opportunity that would allow for the occasional dipping of our roots in a body of water that is not ours.

20Repeat steps as needed.

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 5.1 Dominique Hunter, ‘You Will Find Solace Here’ 2016, digital collage.
Crédits © Dominique Hunter. Courtesy of the artist. CC BY-NC-ND.
Fichier image/jpeg, 79k
Titre Figure 5.2 Dominique Hunter, ‘Contemplating Strategies’ 2017, digital collage.
Crédits © Dominique Hunter. Courtesy of the artist. CC BY-NC-ND.
Fichier image/jpeg, 75k
Titre Figure 5.3 Dominique Hunter, ‘Black Water Remedy’ 2016, digital collage.
Crédits © Dominique Hunter. Courtesy of the artist. CC BY-NC-ND.
Fichier image/jpeg, 70k


A multi-disciplinary artist who lives and works in Guyana, where she was born. Her artistic practice critiques the (non)-representation of Black female bodies in art history and stereotypical portrayals in contemporary print media. Her recent work has expanded to include strategies for coping with the weight of those impositions by examining the value of self-care practices. Hunter has exhibited both in the Caribbean and in the US. She has been an Artist-in-Residence with Caribbean Linked IV and the Vermont Studio Center, where she was awarded the Reed Foundation Fellowship.


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