Leonnie van Eert – “Giving form to something that is unformed”

Leonnie van Eert (Leende, Noord-Brabant, the Netherlands, 1961) was once again present at the Nationale Kunstbeurs 2012 [National Art Fair] with her ceramics.  As one of the regular participants of the last few years, hers is a booth that I am always looking forward to. As usual she exhibited a number of special pieces, all in her typical style.  No refined and polished ‘common’ work, but a bit ‘rough’, as though it comes straight from nature. Her theme for the NK 2012 was ‘the snake’. And although the work was quite striking, it did not attract any potential buyers.  Contrary to previous years, the ceramist sold nothing.

Leonnie van Eert, title unknown, 2012 |  PHOTO Leonnie van Eert, 2012
Leonnie van Eert, ‘Nyun libi’, 2012 | PHOTO Leonnie van Eert, 2012

Leonnie van Eert: “I did get a lot of reactions. A lot of students at the Nationale Kunstbeurs liked my work. That feels good. ‘It’s a bit different, it’s exciting!’ is something I heard for example. A number of colleagues said: ‘You have grown, you are more daring, and the work is nicely finished’. But people did keep asking: ‘Why did you choose for snakes?’”

Leonnie van Eert, title unknown, 2012 |  PHOTO Leonnie van Eert, 2012
Leonnie van Eert, ‘Sranan sneki’, 2012 | PHOTO Leonnie van Eert, 2012

In Suriname people generally have negative associations when it comes to snakes. Will she take this into account the next time she chooses a new theme? “No. I will stay true to my own process. I am not all of a sudden going to start making things because they sell.  It is what it is. If I had known this in advance, I would still have chosen for this theme. The year before, I had bird-like elements in my work. Working with ceramics is a step by step process. I saw a snakeskin hanging in the branches of a tree in my garden.  That is something I can then look at in pure admiration. It made such an impression me! Or, as I once saw in an obé tree: a snake that was completely encircling the trunk which is covered with leaf stems. The pattern, the shapes … I hold my breath and watch that, mesmerized … I am not afraid. When I saw the snakeskin, I made a sketch. I was also working with bamboo, and you know that snakes love bamboo as well.  That was when the idea was born: snake and bamboo, to combine them. I know that people have such a fear of snakes; snakes are often portrayed so negatively, but a snake can also represent healing, think for instance of the esculaap sign. The playfulness, the flexibility of the snake is what I tried to express: an embrace of snakes, a snake that comes out of a ‘prapi’ [Indian earthenware bowl, MV].”

Leonnie van Eert, title unknown, 2012 |  PHOTO Leonnie van Eert, 2012
Leonnie van Eert, ‘Prapi sneki’, 2012 | PHOTO Leonnie van Eert, 2012

“I truly make my own thing of it. I don’t know how the viewer looks at it, but I feel as though I’m making forms that can be found in nature or amongst ancient peoples. Take for example that prapi. I give it my own shape. Previous themes were ‘Amazonia’, ‘symbols’, ‘bamboo’, now ‘the snake’ and I don’t know what will come next.”

Leonnie van Eert, title unknown, 2012 |  PHOTO Leonnie van Eert, 2012
Leonnie van Eert, ‘Brasa’, 2012 | PHOTO Leonnie van Eert, 2012

“I started with ceramics at Soeki in 2008. I have always been involved with creative projects and also followed a course in watercolors for example. Right from the start I liked working with clay. With the earth. To give form to something that is unformed. That is my way of bringing things that live inside of me, to the outside. I think that I like going into depth, that I dare to do so. When you work with clay, it can conjure up a lot. I was working on a piece for the NK and experienced a lot of pleasure from it. If it got sold in October, it would have been too soon. That was Dansi, a relief with a snake in the middle. It was as though I was very close to the spiritual world. That is just about the best thing that I can feel. I even went to Humphrey Tawjoeram to get the colors clearer and better.”

Leonnie van Eert, 'Makandra', 2012 |  PHOTO Leonnie van Eert, 2012
Leonnie van Eert, ‘Makandra’, 2012 | PHOTO Leonnie van Eert, 2012

Leonnie keeps developing herself. “Now I started batik lessons at Sri. Ceramics will stay my main material. I am not finished with it. The clay is just Surinamese clay, which I clean by myself. But I like to also work with other materials, such as raffia.”

Although she was born in the Netherlands, Leonnie has been living in Lelydorp, in the district Wanica, with her family for fifteen years now. “I think that if I had stayed abroad, I would probably be making different work. My work in the indigenous community of Kwamalasamutu, with the people and especially with the children, had a great influence on me. I integrate that into my work. The maroon culture upstream of the Suriname River is also inspiring to me. Or the maluana’s [decorated round disc with symbols, which is placed in the top of the roof of the community hut of Wayana-indians, MV], the symmetry of them, is something that you can recognize in my work.  The shapes of my work are nature shapes. Do you know the term ‘Tribal Art’? That feels a lot like it’s mine”

Leonnie has also been inspired by fellow artists. “Someone like Winston van der Bok, or Rinaldo Klas, the way in which Rinaldo puts his shapes on canvas.  Roberto Tjon A Meeuw, especially the masks. Marcel Pinas, the work that he does in the districts. Sri, and in particular her work for Paramaribo SPAN: Ingiwinti. Ruben Makosi exhibited in 2008 with the work Slangenmoeder [snake mother] at the NK. A work with a strong individualism and which was not per se intended for commerce.  I have to keep feeding myself!”

Ceramics have for now been placed on the backburner, but that is purely for economic reasons. At this moment Leonnie works at the Kangoeroeschool http://www.kangoeroeschool.com/, where she is responsible for the development of creative art-related activities for the after-school care.  She also works as freelance educational coach for a private owned kindergarten in Lelydorp and she also organizes creative art-related activities for Stichting voor het Kind [foundation for the child]. There was previously a post about this on the Sranan Art-blog.

Please feel free to contact Leonnie van Eert to see her work at leonnievaneert  @  yahoo.com (leave out spaces before and after @). A series of small ceramic discs with symbols is available at Readytex Art Gallery, Maagdenstraat 44-upstairs, Paramaribo. For more work please visit the Sranan Art Flickr Photo Account.

TEXT Marieke Visser, 2013

Marieke Visser (Bennekom, the Netherlands, 1962) studied journalism and language and literature in the Netherlands. As publicist she writes a lot about art, culture, history and tourism from her own news agency Swamp Fish Press. The three most recent large art projects to which she has contributed are: Wakaman Drawing lines, connecting dots, Paramaribo SPAN and Kibii Wi Koni Marcel Pinas The Event. She is currently editor in chief of Sranan Art Xposed.

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