Light, shadow.
Life, death.
Past, present.

And future? 

“Moving away is like forgetting the past.” Melia lost two of her daughters, Yakairah and Destiny during hurricane Maria.

Drifted Away (2018-2019) is a multilayered work. It aspires to combine personal and cultural history with ethnobotany while exploring seemingly dualistic elements that are defined by us and present in our lives but what a catastrophic event laid just right in front of the sight. 

It sets in Dominica, an island country in the Caribbean, in conversation by and for resilience in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, with and by the people who might have suffered the most loosing a relative in the storm.

“Yakairah loved taking these flowers home when we walked back from school. She always collected so many. She was crazy about them.” In memory of Yakairah.

“Destiny was always the light in the darkness.” In memory of Destiny.

Daina would pick up bright red hibiscus flowers and weave them into her hair whilst I was working on the portraits in their house. Daina is the sister of Destiny and Yakairah.

“Since the hurricane I cannot look out of the window and look at the river.” Elizabeth lost her grandson, Jerome, during hurricane Maria. Eight more of Elizabeth’s family members died when the river entered the house, that used to sit next to hers and completely destroyed it.

“On the night of the storm I could not go to sleep. In the middle of the night I made myself a bush tea with herbs and smoked.” - said Hilroy, who was buried under a landslide inside his house during tropical storm Erika in 2015.

The leaves of root plants (dasheen, yam, tania) that are widely used in Dominican cuisine can be found in most personal gardens. Due to their everyday presence in local landscapes such plants bear an intrinsic connection to the cultural memory of the country.

These plants became the canvas of my work, while ferns, vines, flowers also featured, intending to pay homage to Dominicans’ broader human connections to the plant world and preserve memory in a fragile way.

After exhibiting this work locally I offered the original prints to the families of those they featured. 

“Of course, I used to have garden behind my house. Now I am too old to tend the land but before I planted ground provisions and all kind of herbs.” Henry, or as everybody calls him, Poly is a paternal great uncle of Destiny and Yakairah.

“Only who knows it, feels it. and will never forget it.” Sylvestre lost his mother Veronica after hurricane Maria.

“Look at this stream. Most of the year it does not reach wider than ten centimeters. You can easily step it over. Look just in front of us. There used to be a house. Now there is nothing.” Cyril and his grandson, Rion. The wife of Cyril, Veronica, died in the aftermath of hurricane Maria.  

Rosevelt, or Ras Osy, is the father of Royston, who died when his house was destroyed by the river during hurricane Maria.

While the premises of domination of nature is spread by Western culture reaches all corners of our planet, Drifted Away attempts to portray a cultural landscape that bears strong feelings of belonging and confidence in nature. Where daily human life is dependent on the immediate natural surroundings; and where nature is considered both a threat to life and a key to recovery after a disaster.


When reason fails to explain only the poesy of life stands valid

My Sister & I Are Picking Mangoes


again in Mum’s debris garden. Our tropical life has been
entropically re-coloured since the hurricane passed. She
came to help us & the hourglass days, turning over & over,
are often sublimely beautiful & surreal; brown pleasuring

to green/yellow/red; starred silver indigo, far too visible.
This beloved mango tree is recovery; she has us in awe
with her constant, almost embarrassing, fruit full giving.
I hold my husband’s green fishing net: I know what it’s

like to fall, bruise, split skin & expose flesh all the way
down to bone-white seed, so I pull down & catch; save
some mangoes from this fate. I imagine though the fruit
innately sense my nonsense; knowing there is no sin in

falling—grow, fall, feed ground/gut, grow again, repeat
infinitely. Brown hands pick up any spoilt grounded fruit,
toss them in the grown green gutter. Our aim? Deter flies

from hovering around; seeding worms into ripening fruit.


by Celia A. Sorhaindo

Dominican Poet

"We saw the worst side of nature, and the best and worst sides of human nature and went through incredible mental and physical challenges."

During the process of creating this work I turned to poetry and that lead me eventually to Celia. We separately but somehow together tried to make sense of our surrounding. She generously offered her ongoing work for exposure together with the portraits in Roseau, the capital of Dominica. Since then, she published the poetry pamphlet with the pieces that were born after Hurricane Maria. To see it and her previous work please follow this or this link.


Besides rivers: abundant life and ecologies of hope

By Adom Philogene Heron

Lecturer in Anthropology, Goldsmiths College, University of London.


Water welled in my eyes that afternoon when I happened across Dóra Papp’s moving visual elegy, Drifted away. “I know this woman! Melia!”, I said, aloud. I know her daughters and sons. I know their home. Rather, I knew their home. Their village. I was their neighbour (‘Adom’) who lived up the hill (‘who come out England to do a research’). We met in the time long after David. Before Erika and Maria. I visited for long hours on their front step, in their kitchen, their yard. I reasoned for long hours with the children’s’ uncles, Ras Albert and Ras Julie, and their father, Star. I recall Melia’s kind smile and words as she we would greet one another as I arrived at their home. I recall Yakairah (the elder of Melia’s departed daughters), and how a friend of her uncles would callout ‘Professor!’ each time he’d see her, celebrating her intelligence and studiousness for all in earshot to hear. Hearing her nickname invariably brought a bright smile to illuminate her face. Destiny (the younger departed daughter) I knew only as a small baby, too small to keep up with her siblings and cousins yet following them with a curiosity as they ran about the yard. Laughter, lessons, cooking, music, carvings, burning herbs and woodsmoke filled and wafted through the family homestead. The children continuously played, talked and moved with a spirited positivity. Their uncles issued advice, shared ideas and introduced flavours to them and to me, as their guest.

That day I happened across Drifted away, I was at a desk in London, but I returned, almost in a vision, to the Zion, Julie and Albert’s provision garden. Here, nestled in a valley above the village, besides another river, grows tania, yams, bananas, plantain, lettuce, cacao. This place- like their homestead - teems with life, a reflection of this family’s hard work and livity[1]. Besides both rivers, at home and in the Zion - abundant life is nurtured. In plants and in kin.

Kamau Brathwaite, a great poet of the Caribbean cosmos (who recently made his passage towards the ancestors) once wrote,

We who are born of the ocean can never seek solace in the rivers: their flowing runs like
our longing...
[2]

I knew the river beside Melia and her family’s home to be a peaceful place: next to which she and Star would sit and watch the sun sink behind an evening sea; besides which the children would prod at a heavy, overhanging mango tree with bamboo poles, poised to catch a sweet reward; and next to which the family might sit as rush-hour traffic passed to and from across the bridge. I also knew the river as a place of refuse, polluted by households further upstream – with soiled nappies, a broken fridge, a dead dog. I knew moments when the river swelled and tested its banks; when it touched the bottom of the bridge than sat above it. But in the time after David, before Erika and Maria: I never met its rage. I never knew all that it could carry. All that it could take. I was not aware of the loss and longing a river can inflict.


Papp’s images - of survivors from Dominica’s south west and the kin they lost to the storm(s) – evoke such sorrow. But more than this, her organic human portraits also gesture towards a slow process of human and ecological healing, a vitality she observed during the time she resided in Dominica. This island was growing green again following the razor winds that had cut her dense forests to a dull brown. Amidst this atmosphere of gradual, exhausting, regrowth Papp presents human faces at peace. The portraits are mounted upon the leaves of local plants that nourished and fed Dominica’s people (dasheen and tania - tubers that survived heavy winds underground, to be harvested days after the storm), herbs used for everyday healing and sacrament (brewed as ‘bush’ or marijuana teas, to sooth working bodies and traumatised spirits). At once a work of humanism and ethnobotany, Drifted away pays tribute to life, loss and regrowth amongst a people and their land/riverscape.


Guyanese writer Wilson Harris once wrote that Caribbean people - despite the violent dispossessions of European conquest, kidnap and forced agricultural labour - learned to commune with the living lands they inhabited:

[We] entered into a dialogue with the landscape. Instead of seeing the landscape as a passive thing. To be manipulated, to have your formulae imposed upon... we entered into a dialogue with it[3].

Waitikubuli, tall is her body, as Dominica’s Kalinago people once new her, has long been experienced as a living and animate world. Papp’s work evokes this dialogue between human life and ecology, towards the hope of healing. To Brathwaite one final time, who, after painful/careful reflection, makes peace with the river:

... today I would join you, travelling river,
borne down the years of your patientest flowing,
past pains that would wreck us, sorrows arrest us...
processioned in tumult, come to the sea
[4].

[1] A way of being that nurtures the Rastafari life force:in naturalist life ways, a selfhood that lives in spiritual unity with the divine (I-and-I) and disavows the (post/neo) colonial social order (Babylon).
[2] Brathwaite, K. (1973). ‘South’, from the The Arrivants: A new world trilogy. London/New York: Oxford University Press.
[3] Harris, W. (1992). The radical imagination: lectures and talks. Riach, Aand Williams, M (eds). Départment d'Anglais, Univ. de Liège.
[4] Brathwaite, K. (1973). ‘South’, from the The Arrivants: A new world trilogy. London/New York: Oxford University Press.

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