Inspired – Surinamese Inspiration in South-Africa: the Nature Collages of Jon Daamen

“I obtain the most beautiful colors from flower petals, the most beautiful shapes from seeds and seed pods. The seeds of the African tulip*, a large tree with red flowers, that I brought with me from Suriname, are wonderful to work with. Airy, translucent, filling and at the same time creating space and depth.”

Up
Jon Daamen, ‘Omhoog’ [Up]. Jon Daamen: “This collage is made with flower petals from roses and bougainvillea from my garden here and also with flower petals from the flamboyant that stood in our garden in Togo. Coming from Suriname are the ‘fayalobi’-flowers, the Spathodea-seeds and the ‘speldeknoppen’. And then there are also ‘fijnbos’ flowers from the most Southern part of Africa in it.” / PHOTO Niels Bastiaensen

In her studio in Tuinplaas on the South African Cape, Jon Daamen is busily experimenting. She makes two-dimensional collages from natural material and thus portrays landscapes with great atmospheres. The type of creations for which she became well known when she lived and worked in Suriname. Because of her move to South Africa, her artistry was put on the back burner for many years, until an unexpected visit to her former home country rekindled the spark. Halfway through 2014 she was briefly in Suriname for the first time in 17 years. She left with a bag filled with seeds and pods. And with a heart filled with inspiration to start making art again.

But picking the thread back up after such a long hiatus is a struggle …  She has explored Surinamese nature as few others have during the 25 years that she lived there. She is not as yet familiar with African plants; she has never before worked with them.

Zon’ (Sun) Jon Daamen: “A collage from the Surinamese days. The butterflies are from Spathodea-seeds. I found the two other materials at the Costerie creek. The collage Jon Daamen, ‘Zon’ [Sun]. Jon Daamen: "'Zon' was made years ago in Suriname. By now too old to remove the glass from it, because the leaves have become extremely fragile and brittle.”
Jon Daamen, ‘Zon’ [Sun]. Jon Daamen: “‘Zon’ was made years ago in Suriname. By now too old to remove the glass from it, because the leaves have become extremely fragile and brittle.” / PHOTO Niels Bastiaensen
“I struggle with Cape landscapes, Surinamese skies and two kinds of light. And because my work is often suggestive, a mixture of accents and emptiness, it has to be just right to be recognizable for others. The images in my mind’s eye cannot be compared to the reality of here and now. Light in Suriname falls totally different from the way it does here, because here the sun sits much lower and throws much longer shadows. In the early mornings it often looks as though everything is bathed in silver and as night falls we have a more orange-tinted light. The long shadows give a lot of depth to the landscape.”

For her African work she uses, just as she did in Suriname, seeds, pods, dried leaves of shrubs, trees and flowers.  But also ‘kapok’, tufts of horsehair that she finds in the barbed wire around her farm, feathers and insect wings. And sometimes also fish or turtle scales and the sloughed off skin of snakes, but only those that she finds, she doesn’t kill anything for it.

Jon Daamen, 'After the fires'. Jon Daamen: “This work is made with kapok in front of the clouds and termite wings in front of the water around the reeds in the foreground, both from Togo. From Suriname are the ‘speldeknoppen’ (Syngonanthus umbellatus, Eriocaulaceae-family), a Savannah plant. The stems are the fallen tree trunks, the heads are the sheep or brushes in the background, and the young whole plants stand like reeds in the foreground. For the burned down trees on the mountain face I used the tops of protea-stamens and for the mist flurries, the middle part of those same stamens. The smoke is horse hair that got stuck in my barbed wire. It is called ‘After the Fires’ because the whole has an atmosphere of a morning after the rains that extinguished the large fire of Hermanus. Two years ago, after a weekend on the farm, we drove away in the early morning completely bewildered by a fascinating landscape of blackened mountains, wisps of smoke and white clouds against a background of a lagoon flooded in silver morning light. The image is engraved in my memory and when I began working with black, silver and white, it came out automatically.”Work in progress: 'After the fires'  / PHOTO Courtesy Jon Daamen
Jon Daamen, ‘After the fires’. Jon Daamen: “This work is made with kapok in front of the clouds and termite wings in front of the water around the reeds in the foreground, both from Togo. From Suriname are the ‘speldeknoppen’ (Syngonanthus umbellatus, Eriocaulaceae-family), a Savannah plant. The stems are the fallen tree trunks, the heads are the sheep or brushes in the background, and the young whole plants stand like reeds in the foreground. For the burned down trees on the mountain face I used the tops of protea-stamens and for the mist flurries, the middle part of those same stamens. The smoke is horse hair that got stuck in my barbed wire. It is called ‘After the Fires’ because the whole has an atmosphere of a morning after the rains that extinguished the large fire of Hermanus. Two years ago, after a weekend on the farm, we drove away in the early morning completely bewildered by a fascinating landscape of blackened mountains, wisps of smoke and white clouds against a background of a lagoon flooded in silver morning light. The image is engraved in my memory and when I began working with black, silver and white, it came out automatically.”Work in progress: ‘After the fires’ / PHOTO Niels Bastiaensen
Work in progress: 'After the fires' / PHOTO Niels Bastiaensen
Work in progress: ‘After the fires’ / PHOTO Courtesy Jon Daamen

Because of her residence on three continents, she recognizes forms and landscapes from all over, in all kinds of natural materials, even in stamen and cauliflowers. Only the surroundings are different. In South Africa everything is easy on the eye and arranged in planes and groups. Is that why the experimental collages that Jon Daamen currently makes are much fuller than what she previously did? She thinks this is indeed the case. “The images I make now are abstracter, wilder and fuller. Maybe because I do in fact miss the fullness, the messiness, the colorfulness of  Paramaribo.”

Baardskeerdersbos  Art Route
Baardskeerdersbos Art Route
Baardskeerdersbos  Art Route
Baardskeerdersbos Art Route
Baardskeerdersbos  Art Route
Baardskeerdersbos Art Route
Baardskeerdersbos  Art Route
Baardskeerdersbos Art Route

On April 18 & 19, 2015, the collages of Jon Daamen were part of an exhibition in the Baardskeerdersbos  Art Route, an attractive and much visited initiative from the artist village of the same name, where the painters, photographers, sculptors, ceramists and guest artists open their homes for the public three times a year. Incorporated in the work that Jon Daamen has shown there, are seeds obtained from the pods that she picked up under the Spathodea at the Van ’t Hogerhuysstraat in Paramaribo.

* Spathodea campanulata, better known as African Tulip

Jon Daamen / Courtesy Jon Daamen
Jon Daamen / Courtesy Jon Daamen
Jon Daamen / Courtesy Jon Daamen
Jon Daamen / Courtesy Jon Daamen

TEXT Chandra van Binnendijk

Chandra van Binnendijk (Paramaribo, 1953) is editor and publicist. From 1977 until 1988 she was part of the news editors of various newspapers and radio stations, and was a correspondent for various Caribbean media. After ten years she said goodbye to active journalism and is since focusing mostly on culture, art and history. She has co-written several art publications amongst which Twintig jaar beeldende kunst in Suriname 1975 – 1995 (Amsterdam, KIT Publishers,
1995) and she was author and compiler of the art catalogue Zichtbaar (Paramaribo, 2005) about the art collection of De Surinaamsche Bank. Recent publications in which she was involved as co-author and co-compiler are Bouwstenen voor een betere wereld. 250 jaar vrijmetselarij in Suriname (Paramaribo, 2011) and TOR. A People’s Business (Paramaribo, 2012).

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4 thoughts on “Inspired – Surinamese Inspiration in South-Africa: the Nature Collages of Jon Daamen

  1. Well well I do Remember that smile and the great work she did in Paramaribo. Spend some time with her in the savanna of Surinam to collect stuff for her work.
    Good to see she is still at it.

    Like

    1. Thank you Henk, for your comment. I have forwarded this comment as well to Jon. We from Sranan Art Xposed love her work too!

      Like

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