Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs?
Where is your tribal memory? Sirs,
In that grey vault. The sea. The sea
has locked them up. The sea is History.
-Derek Walcott, The Sea is History
They called the sea kal pani, black water. To cross it was a rupture, a separation from the land, from culture, from caste, to be forever outside, forever a nomad. This was the journey of my ancestors, as slaves and indentured laborers, from India and China and Africa. Even as farmers, intimately connected to the land, their descendants’ feet would wander. This wandering became another rupture: my mother and her siblings’ migration to the United States. What are we, the generation that exists in the wake of estrangement, to make of the pieces? Acres of rice farm in a country we rarely visit, a creek, and in between: a farmhouse my grandfather built by hand.
Motion sickness: a disconnect between what is seen and what is felt. A cognitive dissonance, a type of metaphor that exists in the body, viscerally. Perhaps this is a sickness we all feel as we carry the legacy of pasts that exist in fragments, in erasures, volumes locked in the sea. Perhaps we can find solidarity in our un-moored-ness, as we stand side by side, casting our nets, examining the flotsam that returns.
Kal Pani is this casting, this examination. The video footage and images in this installation were shot in 2011 in my mother’s native country of Guyana, a former British colony in South America that borders the Caribbean both geographically and culturally. The spoken text of the video was gleaned from writing projects over the past few years, exploring the connections and ruptures of place, treating the fractures within personal histories and marginal traditions as generative spaces to explore larger historical, political, and cultural issues. The final element of this installation is a floor drawing that references the South Asian tradition of rangoli (floor decorations made during festivals) and mirrors the rippled sand shapes that appear in the video.
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