Search for DNA of beauty and spirituality

Ruben Cabenda (Paramaribo, 1989) and Annemarie Daniël (Paramaribo, 1975) are not to be underestimated. Although they are both of small stature, somewhat shy, good natured, and have been in the Netherlands for only three years, they know very well why they made the switch from the Nola Hatterman Art Academy (also on Facebook) in Paramaribo to the Gerrit Rietveld Academie (also on Facebook) in Amsterdam. They want to grow in their artistry, are hungry for knowledge and artistic development, and want to transfer these to Suriname once they have completed their studies.

Ruben Cabenda and Annemarie Daniel | PHOTO Bart Krieger, 2013
Ruben Cabenda and Annemarie Daniel | PHOTO Bart Krieger, 2013

Annemarie does not want to speak of completion quite yet. “We are indeed  both in our last year, but we won’t know until January whether we get the green light for the final sprint.” Ruben laughs and adds: “Yes, or you get red or yellow.” These traffic light colors don’t leave you with any doubt. Let it be clear however, that they are both going for green.

Ruben Cabenda working on a series of portraits | PHOTO Courtesy Ruben Cabenda
Ruben Cabenda working on a series of portraits | PHOTO Courtesy Ruben Cabenda
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A cast by Annemarie Daniel | PHOTO Courtesy Annemarie Daniel

It is hard to imagine that just about three years ago, they were only  being trained in the skills of drawing and painting at the Nola Hatterman Art Academy in Paramaribo. There they were scouted by Dutch guest lecturers from the Rietveld academie based on their creative talents and drive. That was not one bit too early, because this program has been discontinued.  Annemarie and Ruben belong to the last of the chosen ones who can benefit from this international talent development program from both academies. Ruben was immediately interested in the trans-Atlantic art adventure. Annemarie initially had some doubts which she discussed with among others, director Rinaldo Klas. Family is very important to her, but ultimately Ruben was able to persuade her.

Annemarie and Ruben have clearly found their place in the new studio building on the fourth floor of the Amsterdam art academy. It is a large, tall, open space, with on the longer side, at about every three meters, a small dividing wall. The air is filled with scent of plastics, not yet dry glue and plaster powders. Left and right several fellow students are working out their own ideas in deep concentration. We take place in the ‘nook ‘ that Annemarie and Ruben have been sharing since their third year.

Work by Ruben Cabenda | PHOTO Courtesy Ruben Cabenda
Work by Ruben Cabenda | PHOTO Courtesy Ruben Cabenda

Across from the studio building stands the old building. They remember well how confusing the first year was. Annemarie: “It took quite a bit of getting used to, the Dutch culture where everything goes exactly by the clock and the curriculum was also quite tough. Everything here is done in English.” Ruben: “You had five different teachers who each reacted differently to a work of art.  Occasionally it would happen that one was very complimentary, while  the other would have preferred that I use a less personal approach.” The duo has bravely fought their way ahead and made the most of the experience. Because the absolute added value of the years they have studied at the Rietveld, is that they have experimented with  all media and every possible material, to their heart’s content. At Nola Hatterman the possibilities are limited to drawing, painting and ceramics, while at the Rietveld ‘the sky is the limit’.

Ruben has delved into all types of religion. On the floor of the studio lies a black, life-sized, plaster doll with protrusions.  Annemarie suggests: “Why don’t you tell about the doll?” He doesn’t give the exact details, but obviously affected he talks about his mother’s death in 2011 and his father’s this year, and of how this has greatly impacted him and his work. In his work he attempts to answer questions such as: “Is there a hereafter?” and “Is there more between heaven and earth?”. The last few years he focuses mainly on making animations.  One of the ‘animation stills’ in which he is seen kneeling beside his bed, stands out. In its center is a crucifix, but it is in this image particularly, that the traditional spirituality of Suriname is tangible. His typical cardboard Surinamese house speaks to the imagination as well. In fact he makes something lasting from the most inexpensive material there is.  The choice to replace plinth blocks with children’s heads, takes the work to the next level, making you wonder whether it is about an ossuary, ancestor worship or if it is perhaps an allusion to the fact that in the city streets of Amsterdam you walk on top of  ‘kinderkopjes’ [children’s heads], as the rounded off cobblestones are often called.

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Work by Ruben Cabenda | PHOTO Courtesy Ruben Cabenda
Work by Ruben Cabenda | PHOTO Courtesy Ruben Cabenda
Work by Ruben Cabenda | PHOTO Courtesy Ruben Cabenda
Work by Ruben Cabenda | PHOTO Courtesy Ruben Cabenda
Work by Ruben Cabenda | PHOTO Courtesy Ruben Cabenda
Work by Ruben Cabenda | PHOTO Courtesy Ruben Cabenda
Work by Ruben Cabenda | PHOTO Courtesy Ruben Cabenda
Work by Ruben Cabenda | PHOTO Courtesy Ruben Cabenda
Work by Ruben Cabenda | PHOTO Courtesy Ruben Cabenda
Work by Ruben Cabenda | PHOTO Courtesy Ruben Cabenda

Annemarie gets her inspiration from her mother (both parents are Saramaccan maroons, originating from the district Sipaliwini). Annemarie: “She is a strong and quiet woman who despite all the setbacks, never lets her head hang low. Of course not everything was doom and gloom, but in Suriname maroons are still looked down upon.  I know how maroons are sometimes treated differently or cursed at.” With this as motivation, Annemarie searches for an artistic translation of the theme. She zeroed in on the scars her mother got in her face when she made the transition from girl to woman. This tradition of ‘scarification’ was brought along with the trans-Atlantic slave trade from  Africa. Annemarie explains: “The scars do not only show that you are of age, but they also prepare you for the pain of childbirth. And finally they are also ‘stimulating’. A touch to the places where scars have been applied, for example in the face, on the lower back or abdomen, provides extra sexual arousal.” Annemarie has lately been working on a latex dress, through which she is researching the beauty and sexual power of women. The latex is not artificially colored and is naturally brownish of color. Because of this you might associate the dress with the much talked about meat dress Lady Gaga once wore. All masks that women wear to emphasize their beauty or their sexuality. Annemarie is in fact in search of the DNA of beauty and how this beauty can be modified.

Work by Annemarie Daniel | PHOTO Courtesy Annemarie Daniel
Work by Annemarie Daniel | PHOTO Courtesy Annemarie Daniel
Work by Annemarie Daniel | PHOTO Bart Krieger
Work by Annemarie Daniel | PHOTO Annemarie Daniel
Work by Annemarie Daniel | PHOTO Bart Krieger
Work by Annemarie Daniel | PHOTO Annemarie Daniel
Work by Annemarie Daniel | PHOTO Bart Krieger
Work by Annemarie Daniel | PHOTO Annemarie Daniel
Work by Annemarie Daniel | PHOTO Courtesy Annemarie Daniel
Work by Annemarie Daniel | PHOTO Courtesy Annemarie Daniel
Work by Annemarie Daniel | PHOTO Courtesy Annemarie Daniel
Work by Annemarie Daniel | PHOTO Courtesy Annemarie Daniel
Work by Annemarie Daniel | PHOTO Courtesy Annemarie Daniel
Work by Annemarie Daniel | PHOTO Courtesy Annemarie Daniel
Work by Annemarie Daniel | PHOTO Courtesy Annemarie Daniel
Work by Annemarie Daniel | PHOTO Courtesy Annemarie Daniel
Work by Annemarie Daniel | PHOTO Courtesy Annemarie Daniel
Work by Annemarie Daniel | PHOTO Courtesy Annemarie Daniel
Work by Annemarie Daniel | PHOTO Courtesy Annemarie Daniel
Work by Annemarie Daniel | PHOTO Courtesy Annemarie Daniel

The two are of great support to one another and they also criticize each other’s work. This is something that they have learned for the most part, at the Rietveld, because reflecting on one’s own work or on that of others is not part of the Surinamese art culture. Of course they miss family and friends. There is therefore also a lot of calling, mailing and skyping going on. When they had to come up with workshop project last year, it quickly became clear that they would do the project in Suriname as guest lecturers at the Nola Hatterman Art Academy. They were overjoyed to once again stand on Surinamese soil and to transfer their knowledge to the students there. When asked what they are going to do after completing their studies, they both answered:  “We are going back to Suriname to teach at the Art Academy.” That seems to be ‘part of the deal’ in return for the exchange, but in their eyes you can see the unbridled  drive to grow artistically and to share their passion and knowledge in their homeland.

Work by Ruben Cabenda | PHOTO Courtesy Ruben Cabenda
Work by Ruben Cabenda | PHOTO Courtesy Ruben Cabenda
Work by Ruben Cabenda | PHOTO Courtesy Ruben Cabenda
Work by Ruben Cabenda | PHOTO Courtesy Ruben Cabenda
Work by Ruben Cabenda | PHOTO Courtesy Ruben Cabenda
Work by Ruben Cabenda | PHOTO Courtesy Ruben Cabenda
Work by Ruben Cabenda | PHOTO Courtesy Ruben Cabenda
Work by Ruben Cabenda | PHOTO Courtesy Ruben Cabenda
Work by Ruben Cabenda | PHOTO Courtesy Ruben Cabenda
Work by Annemarie Daniel | PHOTO Courtesy Ruben Cabenda

TEXT Bart Krieger, Amsterdam, November 2013

TRANSLATION Cassandra Gummels-Relyveld

This article has previously appeared in Dutch, in the Wednesday December 4th edition of the daily Surinamese newspaper De Ware Tijd.

Bart Krieger (1970), once a modern jazz dancer, writes about art and culture for among other things, the digital magazine SAX and newsmagazine Parbode. After his education in art history at the  ‘Vrije Universiteit’, he started as a journalist for Het Parool (art- and city editor). Since then he has written much about art and culture policies. For the past six years he was employed as a policy officer at the art councils of Rotterdam and Amsterdam.

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