In present-day Dutch society art and religion seem to be at odds with each other just as much as the mixing of church and state. Such matters should remain strictly separated, was taught by the ‘enlightened’ Europe after the French Revolution. But does that way of thinking still apply after all those centuries? With titles such as: ‘Matthew 14:18/21’, ‘Psalms 91:4’ and ‘Leviticus 9:24’, Avantia Damberg (also on Facebook) dispels all doubt about this. Damberg, who lives in Curacao, gains her inspiration from texts from the Bible and calls herself a ‘Christian artist’. Her work was recently featured, along with that of others such as Remy Jungerman, Hamid El Kanbouhi and Ida van der Lee in the exhibition Bezield at CBK Zuidoost (also on Facebook), Amsterdam in the Nederlands, until June 28th, 2014. With new artworks, each artist shared his or her vision on religion and rituals. The work of Damberg stands out in the sense that her religious engagement is almost tangible. In an interview with her she elaborates on her purpose, sources of inspiration and her driving force.
“My religion is an important anchor in my life’’, said Damberg. “From a young age, bible stories came to life for me.’’ In this regard Damberg makes a clear distinction between the Gospel on the one side and the Roman Catholic Church on the other side, the latter of which she rejects because for that church it has been all about earthly enrichment. The Gospel is the center of her life and therefore also the center of her art.
The same is true for her installation ‘De Trap’ (the stairs), a series of eleven mixed media collages, framed in black. The images are powerful, visually appealing and constructed from among other things, graphical material, graph paper, wrapping paper and written or printed texts. The style and the use of color can be traced back roughly to the proper fifties; a time when everything was much simpler than now and when everyone would still faithfully go to church. The work can be labeled as ‘cheerful’ and exudes a certain degree of craftsmanship. What is striking in ‘De Trap’ is that there is a cloud in several collages. The diamond shape is also a recurrent image. Damberg explains that the cloud represents a Godly presence and that the diamond shapes symbolize the rewards for virtues such as kindness and mercy. With this in mind, various other bible stories can be recognized, such as the miraculous multiplication of the fish and the bread (Matthew 14:18/21) and the birds we should take an example from because they don’t worry about tomorrow, but blindly trust in the care of the Heavenly father (Matthew 6:25/34). An important detail, is that the installation of the collages form the steps of a staircase, which literally and figuratively allows visitors to reach higher up. That is indeed what Damberg aims at: “the highest achievement for me, is that I can touch people through my art.’’
Damberg has no problem whatsoever with being referred to as a ‘visual evangelist’. Just like in the early Christian art period, in which artists enriched the inside and the outside of churches with art that celebrated all aspects of Christianity, Damberg can dedicate her artistry to ‘the message’. She also makes non-religious art on themes such as slavery, but she is also inspired by religious artists such as the American artist Andrew Breitenberg. The symbiosis between art and religion is not a common one. At the prestigious Rietveld academy, Damberg had to thus pay a high price for this. It was not made easy for her to incorporate her much loved Gospel into her art. This resulted in such an inner struggle, that after only a half year Damberg exchanged her spot at the ‘Fine Arts’ department for one at the ‘Audiovisual’ department. Here she was free to pursue the subjects close to her heart and wasn’t pushed into the corner of ‘Curacao = Happy Colors and beautiful (naked) women’.
Damberg seems to have found the subtle balance between religion and art. Her work with graphical layering, also hits home without any knowledge of the bible. Still, Damberg can’t resist to put down hand-outs with mini posters or explanatory bible texts at her exhibition, so that visitors can take the time to go through them at home. By doing so Damberg proves to be a true evangelist.
TEXT Bart Krieger, Amsterdam, May 2014
TRANSLATION Cassandra Gummels-Relyveld
This article has previously appeared in Dutch, in the Wednesday July 30th, 2014 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.
In a previous Sranan Art Xposed blog post Avantia Damberg (also on Facebook) was also mentioned with this work, ‘Map of Curacao’, mixed media installation, 2014, part of the exhibition Exploring the Past to Envisage the Future:
For an exhibition in Amsterdam called Inspired or in Dutch Bezield a special animation was made about the thoughts and hopes Christian believers have about the theme after death. These friends of the artist live in each continent of the world. They took a picture of their favorite space where they pray and also recorded their voice with their mobile phone or laptop.
Is your life in balance?
Inspired by Frank Martinus Arion’s famous novel ‘Dubbelspel’ (1973). Commissioned by Cindy Kerseborn and Stichting Cimaké Foundation. Avantia Damberg’s animation was part of the exhibition ‘Dubbelspel’ at CBK Amsterdam, within the framework of the project ‘Hommage aan Frank Martinus Arion’ (2013). More information here.