In between the installations, the wall sculptures and the video works – the overview exhibition that Marcel Pinas recently presented in the KKF – hang two enormous paintings. Six by one and a half meters. It is as though they are a colorful and lively announcement of the exhibition of paintings which was later held in De Hal. They are more than that. They are proof of the fact that even on a flat surface he succeeds in creating space, in giving cultural elements and symbols movement within that space.
In the latter part of the nineties Marcel Pinas (1971) is already a successful artist who effortlessly finds a public for his drawings and watercolors, when he decides to go a totally different route. As a result of the war in the interior in the eighties, the culture of his birthplace, the district of Marowijne, has been largely destroyed. He considers it his task to give this culture new life through his art. He chooses the Afaka-script, which originated in his region in the beginning of the twentieth century, as a sort of jumping off point for this renaissance. As a contemporary artist he realizes that it is useless to try to simply resurrect that which has been lost. That does not work. He searches for means and opportunities to forge connections between past and present, local and national, national and international. In the large exhibition in the grand space of the KKF he presents the astounding and sometimes overwhelming proof of how this can be done.
In a number of installations that fall somewhere in between an installation and a wall sculpture his memories are given an almost literal shape. In ‘Oso Fesi’ for example he places traditional, richly decorated facades of maroon houses against the wall. He uses several (domestic) objects as a manifestation of symbols from the life in front of and behind those fronts. ‘Kukuu’ shows the cooking utensils of the maroon woman. Neatly installed in an open wooden cupboard, as a direct symbol of pride and hospitality. By placing these objects in a museum-like context, a context which incidentally they do not really belong in, he not only calls attention to them, but also raises a number of questions with them. Amazement, surprise and confusion struggle for precedence.
In other installations he gives all the space to one single symbol. ‘Sanfika’ is a simple yet striking example thereof. Several thousands of spoons hang suspended and move with every little breeze. The sound that they make intrigues and is cheerful. Each spoon is engraved with an Afaka-sign. How playful yet at the same time serious can you give expression to communication?
Namely because of malicious or rather careless water pollution, the destruction of the maroon culture – and sometimes literally the maroon – still goes on. Because this problem is of an international nature, Pinas chooses forms of expression that speak to an international public. It is most noticeable in the installation ‘A Libi’. Against a background of characteristic, wooden maroon decorations he fills the floor, as though haphazardly, with skulls and alarm clocks. In case the message gets lost regardless, then the persistent ticking and ringing of the alarm clocks will ensure that the viewer is kept alert and that the urgency of the message does not escape him.
Beautiful memories, endangered culture and emotionally charged history find each other in ‘Kibii wi koni’. Upon closer inspection an apparently black back wall seems to be composed of hundreds of hanging, slightly moving human figures. White characters upon a sort of blackboard appear from behind as a faint glimmer. Slaves victimized, but against the background of a stable, wise culture. In front of this, hundreds of bottles wrapped in colorful pangi cloths. Traditional wisdom in a protective encasement, but also symbols of optimism. Despite the threats the culture must live on, the culture does live on.
In a number of works the ideas of Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol are brought to life in a new way. ‘Pe We Go’ is in fact made by children from Moengo. They were given new shoes in exchange for their old and worn pairs. The artist has simply thrown them together on a heap, registered the action and placed a few of the shoes invitingly on the foreground. He does not claim authorship.
It is remarkable how Marcel Pinas succeeds in putting across his ‘story’. This is not just because of the striking symbolism, but particularly because of the way in which he makes use of space. It is almost impossible to only look at his work, he makes sure that you experience it, that it is as though you can feel it all around you, that it is almost impossible to get away from it all. That would seem a great deal more difficult to achieve with paintings. Still the exhibition in De Hal in Paramaribo proofs that even in his paintings, he is consciously on the lookout for space.
This exhibition is less heavy, because for his paintings Pinas seems to prefer taking his inspiration from memories that are, and make, more cheerful. The hopscotch-cross is representative of childhood games he used to play, the decorative canoe tips of the adventurous journeys he took, the childishly drawn child figure of the general carefree nature that must have characterized his youth. This carefree nature is reinforced by the bright, contrasting colors on his canvases. On the other hand, these works are also an implicit attempt to keep an endangered culture alive. The Afaka-script reappears in many variations and many colors, sometimes as signs and sometimes as words, traditional decorations fill the playing field of the hopscotch game, the totems are an undeniable visual element in many of the compositions, pangi cloths serve as a canvas in several pieces.
By combining a rigid, clean lined way of painting with one more expressionistic, by consciously spilling drops of paint, by placing visual elements on a monochromatic background and by painting them rather one over the other instead of one next to the other, like a collage, he escapes the risk of the painted anecdote and he creates depth, space. Many of his paintings resemble a play in which the symbols function as gesticulating actors. Because of his enormous production – the De Hal shows only a fraction – he does take the risk of becoming repetitive. Especially his smaller paintings are at risk of becoming ‘just pictures’ of which it is hard to see beyond the mere decorative nature.
Both exhibitions can be seen as convincing proof of the authentic artistry of Marcel Pinas, his largest installation being his Moengo-project. That is where he truly puts his engagement into practice. That is where he offers maroon youths the facilities to express and develop their creative qualities. That is where he gives them pride and self-confidence by exposing their talents. That is where he proves that his artistry has hardly any boundaries. It is especially there that he shows that he is truly unique and that he has developed himself into the most important artist of Suriname.
At the opening of the exhibition of paintings by Marcel Pinas, written by Rob Perrée, Paramaribo/Amsterdam, June 2011
(Rob Perrée is art historian, freelance writer and exhibition maker, editor of ‘Kunstbeeld’. Perrée also contributed to the book ‘Marcel Pinas. Artist, more than an artist’. He alternately lives and works in Amsterdam and Brooklyn. Within the framework of Kibii Wi Koni Marcel Pinas The Event, Rob Perrée was in Suriname to, among other things, give a short workshop on ‘Critical writing about visual art’.)
Translation from Dutch to English: Cassandra Gummels-Relyveld, 2011