Marcel Pinas recently celebrated the end of his exhibition Kibri wi koni [Preserve our knowledge] in a special way. Going out with a bang, not a whimper. I like that.
The exhibition offered a balanced selection of Marcel’s work from the past years, paintings, installations and videos, as well as an overview of what Tembe Art Studio has been up to, the project Pinas started in Moengo to offer young people an art education. The location was perfect and really did justice to the art. It was held in one of the buildings of La camp de la transportation, a former prison building complex, in Saint Laurent du Maroni, La Guyane Française.
Spending three days with the artist and the exhibition offered me a few “new” thoughts.
An art critic who has written in depth about recent art developments in Suriname, Rob Perrée, said to me about Marcel Pinas that all the work Pinas does at Moengo actually seems to have become one big gigantic installation: the town as the artist’s work – in progress. When I visited these last days of Pinas’s exhibition Kibii wi koni in Saint Laurent du Maroni, this way of looking at Marcel’s work made more and more sense. Everything Pinas does, every detail of every work, all those projects “on the side”: everything is somehow connected. I like and admire the way he speaks with the same amount of pride and joy about his use of tembe motifs (woodcarving motifs) as he does about the happy faces of the children who exchange their old shoes for new ones, to enable Pinas to one day make an “old shoe installation”. To him both things are an equal challenge to his work as a visual artist. This is what “kibri a kulturu” is all about.
One of the other things I noticed was the fact that his main theme “kibri a kulturu”, meaning “preserve our culture” – culture referring to the N’Dyuka culture, or Aucan culture of the Maroon community where Pinas’s roots lie – seems to be applicable to much more than just this one culture. Although the artist is very dedicated to his own ancestry, when one experiences his art it also “talks” about culture in general, about heritage. At least, it “speaks” to me. What it says? That it is important to at the very least know about your culture, and in the case of Suriname -and also in the case of the globalizing world-, that means that you should get to know many cultures, to move around freely within those systems, traditions, rituals, ways. From this rich well you should feel free to obtain those ingredients to give structure and meaning to your daily life, instead of just passively adopting the modern culture which is inevitably almost forced on you by the mass media, and by life itself.
Marcel Pinas said in his presentation on January 6th that he wants his work to first, make a big impression, and second, to let the viewer after the initial feeling of awe then start to think, to wonder, to make his own interpretation. In short: with his work he wants to trigger a stream of thoughts, he wants people to become more aware about culture.
The people who visited the presentation were impressed, touched. But again and again I noticed that they wanted to get more tangible explanations. “What do these Afaka symbols mean?” and “What is the message you are sending by using those tembe motifs?” and “What is the meaning behind those colors?” A man from Saint Laurent once bought a silver bracelet in a jewelry shop in Paramaribo. The jeweler had said that it was inspired by his contact with Marcel, and that they had communicated about the Afaka script. The bracelet symbolized a solitary person. Marcel was asked to look at it and to tell whether the jeweler had spoken the truth or not. So Marcel looked at the bracelet, recognized the hand of the jeweler, but couldn’t really pinpoint which Afaka sign was used. It seemed to me that the man was now somewhat disappointed, although Marcel ensured him that the jeweler had exactly done what he himself does: he uses cultural heritage to intuitively create something new. It seems difficult for people to trust their feelings, to trust their intuition. They need to be reassured that they are on the right track over and over again.
A personal revelation to me came when I watched slides from an installation Marcel had done in The Netherlands. Fife thousand bottles wrapped with textile stand on a floor, symbolizing the knowledge and wisdom of the forefathers. In the back against the wall, hundreds of figures, silhouettes are hanging: the men and women as they were shipped from Africa, in symmetric patterns, behind metal frames. They signify that this is a dilemma, a source of many problems which still is having a huge impact on today. It’s something which will not be going away for a long time. A situation in which the descendants are somehow imprisoned. As I was looking at the images I noticed that somehow the light fall, the point of view, caused some of the figures turning white. Without the artist had meant to establish this effect he had depicted it so truly: black and white are both trapped in this history.
Back home, I show my children the pictures I made. My son loves the “boto ede”, the tips of the boat, in a circle, surrounding a ball of pipe clay. He says it reminds him of a divali celebration and it makes him happy. More than this simple explanation he will not give me, he is six years old, and he is “kibri a kulturu”, according to his own ways, creating new connections, new dimensions, new interpretations.
Text: Marieke Visser, Boxel, 2011
Note: Karin Lachmising’s impression of Kibii wi koni can be read on her blog. A report was also published on DevSur, as was a short piece. And an interesting read is this article by Nancy Hoffmann in Small Axe.