From Guyana with Love
By Brandon SwardDecember 6, 2023
CARIBBEAN TELEVISION, Commonwealth and Council, Los Angeles, November 11–December 23, 2023.
Adam revealed his life to me in slivers over the course of our brief romance: his Muslim faith, the scars on his shoulder to ward off witchcraft, his wife and daughter back in Nigeria. Who Adam was able to be, the possible lives open to him, were profoundly influenced by migration, as is true of many queer people across the Global South. It is tempting to think of modernity as liberating us from the shackles of moralism or of access to global markets as bringing prosperity, but the truth is far more complicated—and far more interesting.
In his sophomore presentation at Commonwealth and Council, a gallery of contemporary art with locations in MacArthur Park and Mexico City, Vishal Jugdeo wanders around, below, and through these knotted questions. Deo’s Moon is the first installment of Jugdeo’s ongoing Caribbean Television documentary video project, which draws upon the artist’s family history in Guyana, on the northeastern coast of South America. Like much of the Caribbean, Guyana has weathered wave upon wave of European colonization, “discovered” by the Spanish and subsequently occupied by the Dutch and British. During their reign, the British began to import Indians as strikebreakers to undercut the wages of the Black laborers who tilled the fields of the planation economy.
Fast forward a couple centuries and we’re brought face-to-face with the titular Deo, the artist’s uncle and the audience’s guide. From the beginning, Deo is at once frank and mysterious, weaving both his and Jugdeo’s lives through the dense tapestry of Guyanese history. Land, it becomes clear, is central. Deo is involved in some property dispute with a relative, a struggle whose contours we only get a vague sense of. While driving Jugdeo through the countryside, Deo discusses the impact of rice on Guyana, a risky gamble for its farmers that could either leave them penniless or pay them handsomely.
Upon this terrain, strands of culture connect those who might otherwise be separated by time and space. Deo shows us the small statue of Shiva in his bedroom and gives us tours of the Hindu temples that link these diasporas to homes that lie oceans away. Throughout, Jugdeo is forced to confront his own queerness, fielding countless questions of “do you like women?” and “why aren’t you married?” Through his work with these men, Jugdeo is shoehorned into their compulsory heterosexuality, even as he sees glimmers of queer desire erupting at inopportune moments.
Overall, this pilot of Caribbean Television evokes a memory, a dream, a night on the town. At one point, Jugdeo references the alcohol he’s compelled to drink while filming, and this substance might offer a metaphor for the piece. Like alcohol, Deo’s Moon seems to lower the boundaries that separate us from one another, loosening tongues to speak truths that might remain hidden. In this case, the unspoken truth might be how intensely the past shapes the present, how much our lives are determined by great social forces, as silent as they are powerful.
Photo by contributor.
LARB Short Take live event reviews are published in partnership with the nonprofit Online Journalism Project and the Independent Review Crew.
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