As a whole, Royaume de lumière, which takes its title from a Magritte painting, thinks about place, belonging, migration status, legal documentation, and the language of ‘native’/’invasive’.
From 2009 until 2018 I lived or spent a good deal of time in rural Belgium. When I left, and lost my legal right to remain, I realized how much more that loss entailed than public conversations about migration acknowledge. As an immigrant the landscape had become deeply engrained in me; nevertheless, at the moment of turning my green card over to the authorities, in the eyes of the people I knew I stopped belonging to it, and it stopped being my place.
This work is my attempt to reclaim some of the actual places I lived—the garden I built, the landscapes I memorized, the language I came to live inside. It is also my way of refusing nativist views of who can be deeply and meaningfully attached to a given landscape or site.
I use images of plant materials, animals, objects, and views alongside field recordings taken in my last summer as a documented immigrant there to reconstruct a region and a landscape I no longer have a “right” to know so well or claim a place in.
This work has five parts.
Royaume de lumière x 144 comprises 144 small panels (twelve for each month), each depicting an element of the garden I built and left in Belgium. The panels are installed in a grid with empty spaces to represent the impossibility of capturing a complete landscape. A soundscape composed by Matthew Houston from field recordings I took in and around that garden is installed to play in the gallery.
F_l_o_r_a_l_i_e_n is a specimen table containing drawings of each species of plant I included in the garden I made. These are complemented by drawings of “native” and “invasive” wild plants from the garden. The title refers to the Floraliën Festival, a longstanding horticultural event in Ghent, Belgium, and is also a play on the fact of my ‘alien’ status. The below is a partial maquette of the planned work, which is currently in progress.
Begin the begijn is a self-portrait in a style borrowed equally from the Flemish Primitives and from manga, depicting me as a begijn with my animals, fruit trees, wild and cultivated plants, and the village of Machelen-aan-de-Leie.
We are not nameless will be a collection of ten three-color screenprints, each in an edition of 12, depicting wild and cultivated plants from gardens left behind by immigrants along with the plants’ common names in the language of the speaker and in English, and their scientific names. I plan to conduct interviews with immigrants to the US, conduct botanical research, and then produce the editions. Each print will be accompanied by a sheet with information about the plant and the speaker. This body of work will give a picture of diverse experiences of migration, and document the landscapes and gardens that immigrants leave behind—and build when we arrive.
The fifth element of this body of work is a series of small paintings (acrylic, plaster, gouache on panel) of elements of the landscape of gemeente Zulte, where I lived. These will be installed with a second soundscape composed by Matthew Houston from field recordings I made in summer 2018.