In a series of three blog posts Sranan Art Xposed will put a special focus on Ken Doorson. In November 2012 Ken Doorson had an exhibition in Fort Zeelandia, Paramaribo, Suriname: The Mothership. To acquaint the audience with his work, he also organized a Prologue, a few months before The Mothership opened. During that Prologue, the artist and two writers, talked about how Ken sees his work, and what inspires and drives him. In this first post art critic Rob Perrée writes about Ken Doorson.
A little over seven years ago Ken Doorson (Moengo, Marowijne, 1978) returned to his home country after having lived in the Antilles and the Netherlands for about fourteen years. He missed his country, but at the same time he had forgotten what exactly it was that he missed. He had to redefine his identity. He had been living in Diaspora for so long that living in Suriname initially felt like living in Diaspora.
His recent work is about rediscovering his own country. About becoming aware of the rich culture of the maroons (Doorson was born in Moengo in the Marowijne-district). About delving into the important and eventful history of Suriname, a history which many people don’t or no longer know much of, a history that many inhabitants have also forgotten or pushed to the background.
In his work Ken Doorson tells stories. He does not do that by painting narrative representations or by converting scenes into clay, but by making portraits of people who find themselves in a crucial, emotional or dramatic phase in their lives. For example a slave who is about to be sold or a priest who realizes the relativity of his mission when he becomes aware of the deeply rooted, traditional religious life of the maroon.
To express emotions, Ken Doorson primarily uses color. “I often translate life around me immediately into colors.” He combines colors, puts the expressionistically painted color planes or color stains against each other, or mixes them with each other, in such a way that they create drama. “The work has to get a soul.” He supplements this method by more or less making up the faces. They are not meant to portray the reality, they don’t intend to be a portrait in the traditional sense of the word – a beautifying portrait or a status raising portrayal – they aim to hint at the circumstances in which the person finds himself. The artist (de)forms the ceramic heads in a similar manner. Occasionally he reduces them to just a fragment of a face, for example just the mouth and a nose. By working on a large scale – the paintings almost literally stare at you – the emotions are intensified. The same is true for the ceramic heads. He presents those as an installation, so that the viewer is inevitably surrounded by it.
Because he hardly ever gives titles to his work and because they almost never have a context, it is almost impossible to discern exactly which story Doorson is telling. Sometimes there is a Dutch coat of arms on a chest and shoulders appear to be wearing braids, sometimes a background is somewhat filled in or numbers turn up, but usually the viewer has to contend with an ‘anonymous’ face. That is a conscious choice. Ken Doorson mostly wants to communicate impressions and emotions. By doing so he awakens curiosity and inspires the viewer to fill in their own story or their own history.
Ken Doorson does not restrict himself when it comes to means of expression. He paints, he draws, he makes installations and ceramic objects. He also writes poems and with great conviction he works along in the so-called Moengo-project, a project initiated by the artist Marcel Pinas, in Moengo and its direct surroundings. The project aims to introduce young maroons to various forms of culture, to make them aware of the wealth and the variety of their own culture and to stimulate their own talent and creativity and put them into practice. In addition to all this Doorson also considers teaching the students at the Nola Hatterman Art Academy, part of his artistry.
Even though returning Suriname is of great importance to the personal and professional development of Ken Doorson, he strives to present his work abroad as well and wants to keep measuring his work against international developments, to thus take it further and to lift it to a more universal level.
TEXT Rob Perrée
Amsterdam, April 2012
Rob Perrée works as freelance writer, art critic and curator, specialized in contemporary (Afro-) American art, African art and art using new media. His work has appeared in countless catalogues, books, magazines and newspapers. He is editor of the Dutch art magazine Kunstbeeld.
TRANSLATION Cassandra Gummels-Relyveld