From March 20th thru 24th, Razia Barsatie presents her first solo-exhibition Anxious in three separate spaces at the Nola Hatterman Art Academy. Her invitation announces it as an exhibition of Video Art and Installation and as I am not yet very familiar with her work I am curious about that which she is about to present.
As I walk up to the exhibition space on the last Sunday of its opening, I am initially surprised by the closed off, dark and deserted look I am confronted with as I approach the front of the Nola Hatterman Art Academy. Am I too late? Is there anybody here? Should I start getting …uhm…anxious?? But the exhibition flyer stuck to the front door confirms that it is still a few hours until the exhibition is about to close. And then I also remember that Razia who often works with video is doing so again for this exhibition, and would most likely have to keep doors and windows closed to get the desired effect. Walking around the porch towards the back of the building, I see the first signs of life. Razia Barsatie and fellow artist Ravi Radjcoomar are talking near the place where guests enter and come upon the first part of Razia’s exhibition. The young artist welcomes me to her show and since I am at that time the only guest, I get treated to a personal tour. She shows her work in three different spaces of the academy and I marvel at how she has managed create an entirely different look and feel to this space that I am otherwise so familiar with. The title of her exhibition becomes doubly significant to me…’Anxious’…. I can easily imagine myself, or other visitors, getting slightly anxious indeed, had I or they, been walking through the presentation all alone.
And that’s basically what Anxious is all about. All those little or large anxieties, whether self-imposed or not, that we as human beings deal with on a day to day basis. First Razia takes me to the old (though recently renovated) ‘kookhuis’ [cooking house] adjacent to the art academy. In it I am surprised to find an installation that takes up the entire space. Called Trapped, it consists of a series of wrought iron doors set in iron frames, each incorporating another decorative design inspired by familiar things around the house.
The sparse, yet deliberate lighting in the space is directed towards the work in such a way that the installation is continued in the interesting shadows that are cast upon the walls. It is not difficult, especially considering the title of her exhibition, what Razia is getting at with this installation. Although most of us in Suriname have become desensitized to the ever-present iron bars on the windows, doors and balconies of homes throughout our country, many an outsider finds this a disturbing, if not downright ugly sight. “After having lived in Holland for a few years (Razia has just returned to Suriname this past November after studying at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in the Netherlands for four years) I was once again struck by all the ironwork on the windows and doors in Suriname. People feel threatened by the high rate of burglaries and add the ironwork in the hope that it will make them feel more safe in their own home. But the sad thing is, that despite it all, many people still live in a state of constant fear, or anxiety.” She leaves the doors of the pieces in her installation open to symbolize that we should not shut ourselves off completely. We should not allow our anxieties to go too far. We should remain open to some extent, feeling free at least in our minds.
Next the artist takes me to the darkened main hall of the Nola Hatterman Art Academy, in which a fascinating video installation of neon lights and shadows is projected on one of the walls. The center stage is a simple white chair placed in the middle of the room, on which a projector is beaming a moving and constantly changing play of neon lights and illustrations on and around the contours of the chair, which becomes an elaborate lighted animation on the wall behind it. For example, what looks like rope of bright white light slowly coils itself around the legs of the chair and off again, an animated figure walks towards and climbs upon it, butterflies flutter all around, while all the time bright colors light up the contours. The illustrations develop in tune with the rhythmic music that fills the space and the whole is to me almost like a hip psychedelic choreography of light, sound and constant motion. It is without a doubt captivating. Again, Razia uses simple everyday objects -in this case the plastic chair- to play on the subject of anxiety, this time reflecting how she -or anybody else for that matter- uses her imagination to free herself from her own anxieties. Watch a video recording of the installation here
Last but not least, we head back outside, where she has erected a large projection screen in the garden on which yet another animation plays. It is already nighttime, so the big white screen lights up the dark garden and I am glad I choose this time to visit the exhibition, as I am sure the effect is not quite as good in daylight. Images in this animation jump from one subject to the next, varying from a little kid’s anxieties regarding potty training, a mother comforting a child, people whispering in each other’s ear and not being sure whether they can trust what the other is saying, to an animation about mehendi patterns (traditional henna tattoo like art applied mostly to hands and feet of women from certain cultures in the Middle East, India and Africa), symbolizing the cultural significance and rules related to this tradition. Some animations take shape gradually, as though they are drawn directly onto the screen, and just as in the previous installation with the chair, there is also sound and music to accompany the images that keep changing continuously.
The work that Razia makes is highly conceptual and obviously for the most part not sellable art, but this is not an issue the artist is concerned with at this time. “I have my job as a teacher here at the academy and with my art I just do what I enjoy doing. I want to show people, especially young artists that there are other things that you can do as an artist, aside from painting or sculpting.” Since her return from the Rietveld Academie and starting her work at the Nola Hatterman Art Academy, Razia has also started another initiative called Nola reunion. The reunions are open to all students, current and previous, from the academy and are meant start discussions about specific works of art. With this initiative she hopes to inspire open, critical dialogues and conversations amongst artists about their work. Artists are encouraged to explain their work and motivate their choices, and to challenge those of others in a healthy, productive style and setting. She does the same with her students at the academy where she teaches art communication, a subject that I believe is of significant importance in this global community we are a part of today. Artists need to be able to present themselves and their work in a professional and confident manner if they want their careers to progress on an international level, and this is something Razia emphasizes in her classes.
Although video art is not new in Suriname -several artists, such as Kit-Ling Tjon Pian Gi, Marcel Pinas and others also incorporate film and video in their work-, the animated productions in Anxious, present a different take on the art of video projection and on the endless possibilities that this medium offers to the artist who is willing to explore it further.
Below a translation of the text that Razia included on her invitation, which basically sums up the essence of the work she presents in Anxious:
”We are all bound by something that restricts or blocks us.
The cause of these restrictions or blockages is fear.
Fear to live. Fear to love.
Fear to come up for yourself. Fear to be yourself.
Who or what is it that makes us afraid?
And why do we hold ourselves captivated by our own fear?”
(This text on the invitation was written by Nancy de Randamie for Razia Barsatie)
TEXT Cassandra Gummels-Relyveld
Cassandra Gummels-Relyveld is a freelance writer. Aside from her work for Sranan Art Xposed, she writes primarily for the Readytex Art Gallery http://www.readytexartgallery.com in Paramaribo, Suriname. She writes press releases, website texts and takes care of the publicity materials surrounding the exhibitions and other activities of the gallery.