Version classiqueVersion mobile

Liminal Spaces

Grace Aneiza Ali

Part III. Transitions


Texte intégral

  • 1 Epigraph from Meena Alexander, The Shock of Arrival (Boston : South End Press, 1996), p. 1. Used by (...)

What we were in that other life, is shattered open. But the worlds
we now inhabit still speak of the need for invention, of ancestors, of faith.
In a time of literally explosive possibilities, we must figure out how to
live our lives.
Meena Alexander, The Shock of Arrival1

1In Transitions, Grace Nichols (United Kingdom), Suchitra Mattai (United States), Christie Neptune (United States), and Sandra Brewster (Canada) reflect on how Guyanese women unfold a life in a past land to construct a new life in a new land. In these essays, poet Nichols and visual artists Mattai, Neptune, and Brewster detail the transition from citizen to immigrant. As the essays’ titles suggest, each of their narratives has the acts of making and fashioning at their core—revision, weaving, embroidering, transferring, tracing. The women written about in Transitions struggle hard to get to their new lands, to be there, to belong, and to stay. We hear of Guyanese women who took on jobs and identities that required them to put themselves aside to be in service to others—other people’s families, other people’s homes, other people’s empires. And, other people’s dreams. In these essays, we witness how, through migration, Guyanese women are made, unmade, and remade again.

2The space between departure and arrival is a terribly fragile one. As Grace Nichols pinpoints her first flight—her precise moment of leaving Guyana—she unravels how that singular moment of departure changed the course of her life forever. Her essay, ‘So I Pick Up Me New-World-Self, ’ punctuated with poems ignited by her early years after her arrival in England, details the days when she embarked on the work of inventing the woman and writer she hoped to become. Within both her poems and her reflections, is a similar refrain for women who migrate: our acts of leaving are rarely, if ever, about desire. Instead, they are acts of necessity. Nichols likens her departure to a kind of rupturing, a severing. And then she is confronted with the shock of arrival and the stain of unbelonging thrust on her. As a Guyanese-born woman who has now lived in the United Kingdom longer than she has lived in her homeland, Nichols charts how we leave our old-world self to fashion, in her words, our ‘new-world self.’

3Throughout her oeuvre, artist Suchitra Mattai artistically reimagines and disrupts idealized landscapes. Her migratory path through three countries, Guyana, Canada, and the United States, informs her artistic practice, characterized by what she deems ‘disconnected “landscapes” that are unreal but offer a lingering familiarity.’ In the selection of work featured in her art essay, ‘Revisionist, ’Mattai uses landscapes as both a symbolic device and a canvas to illustrate the liminal space of disorientation when one transitions through multiple cultural spheres. Mattai invokes a migration story started long before she left Guyana—that of her Indian ancestors brought by the British from India to the Caribbean, beginning in the 1830s and throughout the early 1900s, to work as indentured servants on British Guiana’s sugar cane plantations. Mattai’s landscapes, used to explore her relationship to the idea of homelands in transition, teem with texture, materiality, and laborious detail. To make this work, Mattai utilizes a bounty of objects and processes that are hand-done. They are a nod to the Guyanese women in her family who are experts in crocheting, weaving, embroidering, needlepointing, and sewing. With each puncture of embroidery, each woven thread, Mattai centers Indian women and the essential role they have played in three centuries of migration movements in and out of Guyana.

4In her art essay, ‘Memories from Yonder, ’ American-born artist Christie Neptune mines childhood memories of her mother, a Guyanese immigrant in New York, and her love of crocheting—a craft popular among Guyanese women (as we also see in Mattai’s essay) and passed down through generations. For Neptune, the art of crocheting becomes a metaphor for the necessary acts of unfurling a life in a past land to construct a new life in a new land. Neptune unpacks her artistic process in making her multi-media installation. She portrays Ebora Calder, a fellow Guyanese immigrant and elder. Like the artist’s mother, Ebora migrated to New York in the late 1950s and represents a generation of Guyanese women who in the past sixty years have been part of the mass migration from Guyana to New York City. In the installation, Neptune features a diptych of Ebora that has been distorted and obscured as well as a pixelated short video. In both photograph and video, Calder can be seen quietly engrossed in the slow, methodical, rhythmic act of crocheting a red bundle of yarn. ‘The gesture serves as a symbolic weaving of the two cultural spheres, ’ writes Neptune, ‘to reconcile the surmounting pressures of maintaining tradition whilst immersed in an Americanized culture.’

5In ‘ATrace | Evidence of Time Past, ’ Canadian-born artist Sandra Brewster elevates the voices of the matriarchs in her family. Brewster’s family history of migration from Guyana beginning in the 1960s—a decade in which the country saw a tremendous exodus to Canada—parallels the emergence of Toronto as a prominent node in the Caribbean diaspora and one of the largest and oldest Guyanese populations outside of Guyana. As a daughter of immigrant parents, Brewster grew up hearing her family’s stories of life in Georgetown—stories that simultaneously gave her a connection to Guyana as well as left her with questions. In her art essay, she generously mines those questions and offers us the stories, memories, and language of her grandmother, mother, sister, aunts, and cousins whose words simultaneously trace a rupture and chart a chronology: What did it take to leave a beloved Guyana and build a life in an uncertain Canada? As Brewster documents that process, what is revealed is that it takes generations, it takes a whole family, it takes the driving force of women to get to a place of not merely surviving and adapting, but thriving.

6The essays in Transitions implore us to ponder: How do we hold steadfast to our dreams, when in order to survive we must diminish parts of the self? As Nichols, Mattai, Brewster, and Neptune continue to center Guyanese women in their poetic and visual art practices, they reaffirm their laudable commitment to using their artistic practice as spaces for women of the Guyanese diaspora to speak, to be heard, and to be seen.


1 Epigraph from Meena Alexander, The Shock of Arrival (Boston : South End Press, 1996), p. 1. Used by courtesy of David Lelyveld.


Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.


Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search