Un|Fixed Homeland, Aljira Center for Contemporary Art, 2016 Catalog: Un|Fixed Homeland | Page 60

Kwesi Abbensetts b . Guyana 1976 ; works in United States

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 .”