The Other Side of the Diaspora. Ken Doorson’s ‘Prologue to The Mothership’ – III

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, from the 21st until the 24th of November 2012The Mothership. This last post in the series is an interview Cassandra Gummels-Relyveld did with Ken Doorson after the exhibition: ‘The Mothership of Ken Doorson has landed’. 

Invitation Front
Invitation Front
Invitation Back
Invitation Back

The Mothership of Ken Doorson has landed

Visual artist Ken Doorson (Moengo, 1978) spends a significant part of his life in Diaspora. First on Curacao and then in the Netherlands. Although he is not consciously preoccupied with this theme during those years, Ken consistently becomes more curious of his home country. “I was in a critical stage of my life in the Netherlands. I was in search of my own identity and in my work I was searching for a form.” The turning point arrives when while living in Holland, he paints a typical Dutch scene featuring a windmill, shows this to a friend who then replies thus: “If you are going to start painting Dutch windmills, then things are not looking good for you…” This puts Ken to thinking. Indeed, he is doing something that has nothing to do with his own identity, nothing with his own history or heritage. From that moment on the artist delves deeper into the history of his own country and in 2005 he returns to Suriname for good.

Ken Doorson, himself a descendant of the maroons, becomes fascinated with the Surinamese slavery past. His interest in the Surinamese slavery history receives another impulse when in 2009, the return of the head of the Ghanaian former King Badu Bonsu (executed by the Dutch in 1838) takes place in an official ceremony in the Netherlands, receiving  great public attention. Ken starts reading up on his country’s history and talks with many people.  He finds inspiration in the stories of the slave and freedom fighter Boni, in that of Kodjo, Mentor and Present, of Alida and many others.

'Kodjo, Mentor & Present', 2012 | PHOTO Cassandra Gummels-Relyveld, 2012
‘Kodjo, Mentor & Present’, 2012 | PHOTO Cassandra Gummels-Relyveld, 2012

Familiar stories from the 18th and 19th century history of our country, but in his art Ken Doorson tells them in his own way, a way that brings them back into the present; In a way that belongs to this day and age. The work has a modern, contemporary look. The theme is not literally depicted in the work, but the emotions are. And with them, also the heaviness that is inherent to the theme. Ken Doorson searches for the right relationship between color and emotion and succeeds rather well in finding it.  The work that he exhibits in his first solo exhibition Mothership is large and imposing. On canvas he paints larger than life heads, inspired by figures from Surinamese maroon history, with intense expressions and in sharply contrasting colors. It may sound contradictory, but they emanate strength and vulnerability at the same time. Because although the work has a strong physical presence, there is something quite fragile and intensely personal about it as well.

'Mea Culpa', 2012 | PHOTO Cassandra Gummels-Relyveld, 2012
‘Mea Culpa’, 2012 | PHOTO Cassandra Gummels-Relyveld, 2012

Especially striking is the installation the artist has named Mea Culpa. On a table covered by a black cloth lie approximately twenty whole or fragmented, ceramic heads. They look into the space with dead, empty stares. Behind the heads, directly above the table, hangs a large painting of a church leader, a priest, with eyes closed and face raised up towards the heavens. Could it be that he is asking his Lord for forgiveness for his deeds?  With this work Doorson raises questions about the role of the church during slavery and if and how this still effects the subject of Diaspora. It is not the artist’s purpose to present viewers with a clear-cut answer to any of those questions, but to inspire the public to give the subject more thought. And just as with the other paintings he presents, Ken Doorson succeeds in doing just that.

Ken Doorson is curious. The history of his country fascinates him and it is this which he tries to convey to his audience. And when you talk with him, it is quite obvious: he feels good about what he is doing. Seven years ago he returned to his home country without any specific plan, and today he can already look back on his first solo exhibition, he runs fascinating tours to Moengo and the Cottica area in cooperation with Waterproof Tours Suriname , works together with artist Marcel Pinas on the latter’s Moengo project, is a teacher at the Nola Hatterman Art Academy, and ‘last but not least’  he is enjoying fatherhood and his “brand-new” son Liam. After a short journey his ‘mothership’ has landed. Ken Doorson is home.

Opening night 'Mothership' | PHOTO Ada Korbee, 2012
Opening night ‘Mothership’ | PHOTO Ada Korbee, 2012
Opening night 'Mothership' | PHOTO Ada Korbee, 2012
Opening night ‘Mothership’ | PHOTO Ada Korbee, 2012
Opening night 'Mothership' | PHOTO Ada Korbee, 2012
Opening night ‘Mothership’ | PHOTO Ada Korbee, 2012
Opening night 'Mothership' | PHOTO Ada Korbee, 2012
Opening night ‘Mothership’ | PHOTO Ada Korbee, 2012

TEXT Cassandra Gummels-Relyveld

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