Maya Mackrandilal

Published On


Page Range

pp. 189-202

Print Length

13 pages

14. Keeping Wake

  • Maya Mackrandilal (author)
To create the body of work ‘Keeping Wake’ featured in her art essay, American-born artist Maya Mackrandilal journeyed to Guyana in 2011. She returned to the rice fields where her Guyanese-born mother grew up, until she too left as a young woman. We find Mackrandilal in the midst of loss and death as rituals and preparations are made for her grandmother’s funeral. Water is a key symbol throughout ‘Keeping Wake.’ Mackrandilal paints vivid scenes that mirror the crossing of the kal pani—Hindi for ‘dark waters’—conjuring the traumatic voyage of Indian indentured laborers from India to British Guiana. We are reminded that the history of the Indian crossing into Guyana is a dark one. Indeed, contributors Suchitra Mattai and Maria del Pilar Kaladeen also poignantly link their migration stories to their Indian family legacies. Between 1838 and 1917, over 500 ship voyages deposited more than a quarter-million men and women from India to British Guiana’s Atlantic coast. They would spend over eight decades toiling on sugar plantations and rice fields. Mackrandilal connects generations of those who ventured into the kal pani two centuries ago with those who embark on symbolic crossings of their own twenty-first-century dark waters. The rupture created by the initial crossing of the kal pani remains pervasive. It now haunts a second wave of migration, this time from Guyana to the United States. As she contemplates the past, questioning why the majority of the indentured laborers never returned to India, Mackrandilal draws comparisons to the distance she and her mother now experience with Guyana and reflects on their absence in their homeland. She ponders an important question for us all in the poignant narration of her 2014 video work, Kal/Pani, ‘Acres of rice farm in a country we rarely visit […] what are we, the generation that exists in the wake of estrangement, to make of the pieces?’


Maya Mackrandilal