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Guyanese Artists Examine Relationship to “Homeland” in Photographic Exhibition

Newark, New Jersey— Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art is pleased to present Un | Fixed Homeland organized by Guest Curator Grace Aneiza Ali.  An opening reception will be held on July 17, 2016, from 2—5pmThis landmark exhibition brings together an inter-generational roster of thirteen emerging and established Guyanese artists who, via photography and photography-based art, examine the complex relationship to “homeland.” A special private dinner party will celebrate the exhibition on September 24, 2016, from 6—9pm. In this intimate event, guests dine in the gallery among the exhibition's artwork and enjoy both traditional and nouveau Guyanese cuisine, especially prepared by Guyanese-born chef Marilyn Lawrie-Rogers, to complement the exhibition's vibrant themes. 

In recent years the artists have been working in four countriesCanada: Erika DeFreitas, Sandra Brewster; Guyana: Khadija Benn, Michael Lam, Karran Sahadeo; United Kingdom: Frank Bowling, Roshini Kempadoo, Hew Locke; United States: Kwesi Abbensetts, Marlon Forrester, Donald Locke (1930-2010), Maya Mackrandilal, Keisha Scarville. They explore how a “homeland” can be both fixed and unfixed, a constantly shifting idea and memory, and a physical place and a psychic space. The exhibition’s title reflects the emergence of the Caribbean diaspora in metropolitan cities around the world and speaks to what has become the defining global movement of the 21st centurymigration.

In Un | Fixed Homeland, the artists employ innovative use of the photographic mediumthe archival image of British Guiana, contemporary photography on present-day Guyana, self-portraiture, studio portraiture, painted photographs, passport photos, family albums, selfies, photography in video installations, and the documentary format, among othersto unpack global realities of migration, tease out symbols of decay and loss, and envision the experiences of, as well as pathways out of, displacement and dislocation. 

Guyana, the only English-speaking South American country and former British colony, celebrates its 50th anniversary of independence this year. The past five decades have been marked by an incredible exodus of its citizensthe country has a population of approximately 750,000 living within its borders and over one million living in the diaspora. In other words, more Guyanese citizens live outside the nation than within it. To reflect this reality, featured in the exhibition are artists living and working in Guyana as well as in major diasporic cities throughout Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In New York, in particular, Guyanese are the city’s fifth largest immigrant population.

Among the works included is Amalivaca (featured above), a self-portraiture piece by Khadija Benn who lives and works in Guyana. She exploits the exotic by inserting her body in a painterly landscape as acts of agency and ownership of place. Hew Locke, who was raised in Guyana and now lives and works in London, has painted photographs of houses, titled Rose Hall and Mt. Sinai, which are reminiscent of the ones familiar to his childhood. In his rendition, they are falling apart and symbolically flooded. Keisha Scarville, a New York City-based artist born to Guyanese immigrants, reinterprets her father’s passport photo as a young boy in British Guiana in the mixed-media Passport series. The Toronto-based artist Erika DeFreitas elicits her Guyana-born mother in a series of documented performative actions where the two hand-fashion face masks out of green, yellow, and purple icing in the portraiture piece, The Impossible Speech Act. Frank Bowling, who was born in British Guiana in 1934 and now lives and works in London and New York City, screen printed an archival 1966 photograph of his mother’s house onto his canvas Mother’s House with Beware of the Dogan artistic gesture charged with the memory of homeland.

While specifically focused on the visual culture and new modes of viewing Guyana, the exhibition also frames Guyana, “fixed or unfixed homeland,” as symbolic of larger pressing global concerns of our 21st century—the tensions between place and placeless-ness, nationality and belonging, immigrant and citizen. 

Un | Fixed Homeland will be on view at Aljira July 17September 24, 2016.  Tickets to the Un l Fixed Homeland Dinner Party are $125 and can be purchased on Eventbrite. The ticket includes: traditional rum cocktails, seven dishes served family style curated by Chef Marilyn Lawrie-Rogers of Sisters Caribbean Cuisine in Harlem, wine pairings and a meet and greet with the artists and curator Grace Aneiza Ali. 


About the Curator

“This project is deeply personal,” says curator Grace Aneiza Ali, who is Guyanese-born and currently lives in New York City. As an Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts Curatorial Fellow, Ali has spent her fellowship researching the canon of contemporary Guyanese artists, which still remains largely unknown on the world stage. Instead, what the global public often sees of the visual culture of Guyana centers on the exotic, the tropical, the colonial, and the touristic. “In Un | Fixed Homeland we’ve brought together artists who share a collective agenda to counter this historic malpractice by challenging, disrupting, manipulating, and, at times intentionally exploiting, the ‘picturing paradise’ motif often associated with the region,” says Ali.

Grace Aneiza Ali is a faculty member in the Department of Art & Public Policy, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University and the Editorial Director of OF NOTE —an award-winning online magazine on art and activism. Her essays on contemporary art and photography have been published in Nueva Luz Journal, Small Axe Journal, among others. Highlights of her curatorial work include Guest Curator for the 2014 Addis Foto Fest; Guest Curator of the Fall 2013 Nueva Luz Photographic Journal; and Host of the ‘Visually Speaking’ photojournalism series at the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center. Ali is a World Economic Forum ‘Global Shaper’ and Fulbright Scholar.  She holds an M.A. in Africana Studies from New York University and a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Maryland, College Park.

About the Mission of Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art

Founded by artists in 1983, Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art fosters excellence in the visual arts through exhibitions and educational programs that serve as catalysts for inclusiveness and diversity, promote cross-cultural dialog, and enable us to better understand the time in which we live. Public understanding and support of the visual arts are strengthened through collaboration and community-based educational programming. Aljira seeks out the work of emerging and underrepresented artists and brings the work of more established artists to our community. Through the visual arts Aljira bridges racial, cultural and ethnic divides and enriches the lives of individuals. 

Aljira’s operations and programs are made possible, in part, by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, New Jersey Cultural Trust, The Kenneth Aidekman Family Foundation, Bank of America, The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Edison Properties Newark Foundation, The Fidelco Group, Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, James Douglas Family Foundation, Joan Mitchell Foundation, MCJ Amelior Foundation, Merrill Lynch, Newark Downtown District, Newark Museum, The New York Community Trust, Pharmachem Laboratories, Inc, PNC Bank, Prudential Financial, The Prudential Foundation, PSE&G Foundation,  Newark Celebration 350, Rutgers University-Newark, The Schumann Fund, Spire Group, The Turrell Fund, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and many generous individual contributors. 

Aljira is located at 591 Broad Street in downtown Newark. For directions visit our website at www.aljira.org. The Center is open Wednesday through Friday, 12–6 pm and Saturday, 11 am–4pm. Phone 973 622-1600, fax 973 622-6526, Website: www.aljira.org. On Instagram: @aljiraart. On Facebook: www.facebook.com/aljira. On Tumblr: www.aljirablog.tumblr.com. On Twitter: @aljiratweets.