Meanwhile in Moengo – An Amazing Experience

The Tembe Art Studio project in Moengo, Marowijne district, Suriname, is an initiative of visual artist Marcel Pinas, who wants to share his experience and knowledge with the Surinamese community. In this way Pinas wants to motivate and stimulate especially the youth, to develop their talents.

One of the pillars of this project is the  Artist in Residence-program which is discussed on the Sranan Art-blog in the contributions from Charl Landvreugd and Wouter Klein Velderman. Today Charl Landvreugd shares his “amazing experience” with you.

Moving the finished sculpture ‘MOVT nr.3’ / PHOTO: Charl Landvreugd, 2011

When Marcel Pinas spoke to me about the Tembe Art Studio project two years ago he was so exited that his enthusiasm jumped out to me. As I came to understand it, the idea was to engage national and international interest for the area and it’s inhabitants through dialogue with the Caribbean and the rest of the world. The vehicle through which all of this was to happen was an Artist in Residence program in the mining city of Moengo. Aside from the experiences the artists would bring back home, the dialogue involved getting together with the children in the surrounding villages in a creative exchange. This exchange is mutably beneficial because knowledge is being shared on a variety of levels. Part of his plans was to create an art park in the Marowijne District in Surinam where Moengo is located. The invitation to be part of that great project was too good to miss. So two years later, there I was, ready to be a part of Marcel’s vision.

The Kibii Foundation, which is the overarching body that oversees the Tembe Art residency, acquired a two story house in the center of Moengo. It is here where there is space for seven artists to live together and work. During my time there (January-February, 2011) we were the first batch of four artists to actually live in the house. Particularly the balcony, with view on the primary school opposite the house, became the sanctuary after a hot day in the sun.

I usually started working around 08:00am. This is not because I am such an early bird, but by 2:30pm it really is too hot to do anything. You only find out about this after trying to work through the heat once or twice, at least when you work outside. In my case the idea of ‘studio’ moved from an enclosed space to the vastness of the Moengo landscape. On rainy and stormy days this meant having compulsory breaks due to heavy rainfall. The good thing about that was that those days were cool enough to work until 05:00pm. Another thing is that coming from the West, trying to materialize something in a country like Suriname is a whole different ball game. The idea that any thing you want may be ordered online, or the thought that the hardware store actually has everything you need must be abandoned straight away. In Suriname, all depends on knowing who you know to get what you need. Any preconceived idea of what to make will crack under the newness of the situation. Not only is the environment totally different, but you are forced to rethink your attitudes in relation to the pace, space and the people.

Initially the intention was to make a large ceramic sculpture to be placed in the public space. However, this proved to be unfeasible in the amount of time that was available unless I made it in Paramaribo. The form of the intended piece stayed intact, but the execution needed to be altered in such a way that physical and mental attachment to and involvement with Moengo was maximized. The idea came up to make it out of aluminum. Seeing that Moengo is the bauxite city that provided the raw material for aluminum since the beginning of last century, this idea did not seem bad at all. Having felt the sweeping view of the surroundings there was no other choice but to go much larger then I am accustomed to. I shall spare you the details of the intensity concerning the physical and mental exertion involved. But to give you an idea, after finishing the sculpture it took my hands a week to stop hurting.

While making the sculpture there was time to visit Offia Ollo, Ricanau Mofo and Dantapu to work with the kids between 3 and 14 years old. The deal is that on a set day in the week one of us goes to the village and gives an art class. So every week they meet a different person with different interests. Due to this construction the kid’s idea of what art is, or could be, expands and they get to meet people from all over the world. In my class we picked a leaf, made a drawing of it, colored it (including other colors than green) and then I sewed the whole thing together making a wind sculpture. The whole class only lasted an hour but encouraged the kids to have a closer look at the leaves and colors and show that a drawing could become something else.

Besides that we had the opportunity to give a presentation at the local high schools. Through these presentations the local teenagers got to know that we are in town and gave them a look behind the realization of the objects that are placed in their environment.

All in all, being part of this program has been an amazing experience that I would not have wanted to miss. I think that with this program, Tembe Art Studio is one step closer to putting Moengo, Marowijne and Suriname on the regional and international art map. I am happy to have been invited to be part of this great becoming.

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TEXT Charl Landvreugd is a visual artist of Surinamese descent, who grew up in the Netherlands and who presently lives in New York.  In 2009 he participated in the Wakaman drawing lines – connecting dots project. Charl used a blog to share his residency in Moengo.  And of course there is his website for additional information.



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