The abolition of slavery is commemorated in many ways and in many places in the Netherlands. Rightly so. It is necessary to reflect on those events in our history that are likely to be forgotten, because they are a blot on that history. The exhibition Post Slavery Documentary is an initiative of Galerie Nola Hatterman, part of the Amsterdam Association ‘Ons Suriname‘. That association dates back to 1919 and has as its goal, to promote social contact amongst Surinamese. An understandable aim. The result however is, that their activities, such as this exhibition, remain ‘hidden’ to the larger public. Too much ‘amongst-us’ does injustice to the artists who in fact strive to reach a larger, and even more international audience.
Post Slavery Documentary shows three large canvases by Ken Doorson (Moengo, 1978). He tells the history of the maroons by painting portraits of people who have played a role therein. Who those ‘heroes’ are is most of the time unclear. This probably doesn’t even matter. The viewer has to make do with suggestive clues which could possibly direct a train of thought: an orange lion, tresses, dates etc. Their emotions do come across. Doorson does this mostly by making effective use of color. The colors represent the state of mind. They communicate emotions. They take the place of drawn or painted facial expressions. With color he also places his heroes within the space.
It is not his intention to provide a blueprint of reality, he intends only to hand the viewer the ingredients to create his own story. He especially succeeds in doing so with the work Je Maintiendrai from 2013. I would not be surprised if that became just as iconic as his Boni from 2010.
Carla Kranendonk (Steggerda, 1961) makes mostly large collages in which black women have a central role. It is not her intention either to create a careful portrayal of reality. For her it is all about the context. That consists of dozens of small photographs of black figures who have played a role in international black history. The Surinamese viewer will be able to recognize many, while the regular art lover will have to make do with the images as they are. Many have never made it to his or her history book or history lesson. A statement in itself. It is also striking that most are men, which makes it all the more understandable that the beautifully dressed, proud woman in the foreground steals the show. An underexposed aspect of an underexposed history?
The works are loaded with details. Shoes and bags especially stand out. They function in the first place as symbols of femininity, but just as much as a representation of the luxury of freedom. It is amazing that Kranendonk manages to shape various techniques and media – painting, drawing, texts, embroidery, photography – into a natural and cohesive whole.
The work on paper of Michael Wong Loi Sing (Suriname, 1968) lags behind that of the others. With regards to subject, there seems to be very little relation to the theme of the exhibition. They are primarily odes to women or to love, executed in white outlines on a colorful, expressionistically painted surface. Short texts in the works – a kind of titles in the work – complete the whole. The imagery is not very original; the symbolism (sunny flowers for example) is too obvious. Corneille meets Struikelblok, that was the association that immediately came to my mind. In all fairness I have to add that the responsible curator also carries some of the blame. It is impossible for a small ‘drawing’ to compete with large, dominant paintings and collages.
In the introductory speech at the exhibition the complaint was made that the art of many Surinamese still gets too little attention. It would help if Galerie Nola Hatterman itself opened her doors wider and spent more time focusing on her mailing list and on her PR.
The exhibition was open until June 30th 2013. Galerie Nola Hatterman, Zeeburgerdijk 19-A, 1093 SK Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
TEXT Rob Perrée, Amsterdam, June 2013
The original Dutch version of this article previously appeared in the local Surinamese newspaper de Ware Tijd of Saturday June 30th 2013.
NOTE: In a reaction on a personal Facebook page, a remark was made that Michael Wong Loi Sing’s work Vrouwen Geur was inspired by the work of John Gabriel Stedman (1744-1797). As soon as we hear more details about this we will let our blog readers know.
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 by Cassandra Gummels-Relyveld