Surinamese art with magic powers

The turning point was a visit to the family altar of his mother in the Surinamese rain-forest. That was in 2005, tells Surinamese-Dutch artist Remy Jungerman (on Facebook) in a video in his exhibition. The reason for the visit was the passing away of his father. But that altar, that physical location with its winti-rituals, right at that moment, meant so much to Jungerman, that he decided to break with his earlier work. ‘This is what I really am,’ he says in the video, ‘Something I have been initiated in’.

Remy Jungerman, 'FODU. Composition 24', (detail of a wall installation consisting of 24 panels for the Projects Room, 410x270x35cm, wood, textile, kaolin (pemba), 2015 / PHOTO Femke DIx, 2015
Remy Jungerman, ‘FODU. Composition 24’, (detail of a wall installation consisting of 24 panels for the Projects Room, 410x270x35cm, wood, textile, kaolin (pemba), 2015 / PHOTO Femke DIx, 2015

Video shown in the exhibition Crossing the water:

What that turning point led to, can be seen in his exhibition in the Haags Gemeentemuseum: six sculptural installations, of large geometric shapes. It is mostly squares that can easily go along with the art history further down in this museum – Mondriaan, Rietveld. But they also have patterns that Jungerman, who himself grew up in a Maroon community, borrowed from the rich visual traditions of the Maroons in the interior. In the 20’s of the previous century, these descendants from the run-away slaves, developed fabric with all kinds of geometric patterns. They are beautiful and Jungerman collected them in his studio. But he wanted more. He thus enrolled at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam. He studied there with the objective to bring winti-traditions together with those other cultures that excelled in graphic abstractions in the 20’s: the European avant-gardes. Subsequently he named his exhibition Crossing the Water. About bridging oceans.

Mixing cultures is no mathematical formula and Jungerman knows that. His sculptures therefore represent primarily himself, his aesthetics, and his graphic predilections. According to his own insights he combines wood with checkered cloths, tablecloth plaids, Dutch Wax patterns, Maroon designs. A monochromatic blue panel à la Yves Klein hangs next to frames that are reminiscent of how Daan van Golden elevated ordinary handkerchiefs to art. A type of Mondriaan at the kitchen table.

But that perspective by no means makes it insignificant. Because what Jungerman especially does also, is approach his work with the ritualistic point of view from the winti-religion. The white that he paints with is kaolin, a type of clay used by winti to cover their skin and their African sculptures to guard against evil influences. Covered with this, his art works are protected. They are as a matter of fact, named after rituals: Fodu, Initiands, Obeah. He alternates the flat squares with cubes, one of which holds a jar that is wrapped in red thread, which clearly shows the meticulous way of working. An abstract work of art indeed, but also a small altar. And for a moment Jungerman takes us along, in our thoughts, to the altar of his mother.

He continuously brings elements together. On occasion, in an altar block with stoneware gin bottles next to rum bottles, it looks somewhat contrived – a bit too Benetton, colors hand in hand – but for the rest the combinations come together naturally in his unique sense of beauty, with reverence and spirituality. And the beauty is: spirituality is exactly that which Mondriaan and his associates strived for. Many visitors will forget that when seeing those solemnly hung abstract works of art in the strict museum halls, but therein lays a cosmic aim for higher things as well. With color and life Jungerman brings back that look of Mondriaan’s aesthetics. Bridging oceans, that mission has been completely successful.

Exhibition: Remy Jungerman (also on Facebook), Crossing the Water, April 11 until August 16, 2015, in Haags Gemeentemuseum. Stadhouderslaan 41, the Hague, the Netherlands. Tuesday-Sunday 11:00 am-7:00 pm.

More information about this artist can be found on his website: www.remyjungerman.com and on his Facebook-page.

Invitation 'Crossing the Water'
Invitation ‘Crossing the Water’
During the opening of 'Crossing the Water' Remy Jungerman had an art conversation with Mondriaan-expert Hans Janssen, Haags Gemeentemuseum, April 11, 2015 / PHOTO Femke Dix, 2015
During the opening of ‘Crossing the Water’ Remy Jungerman had an art conversation with Mondriaan-expert Hans Janssen, Haags Gemeentemuseum, April 11, 2015 / PHOTO Femke Dix, 2015

From May-July 2015 Remy Jungerman was invited by Marc Straus Gallery for a residency in New York City. On July 19, 2015, from 11:00am-18:00pm you’re cordially invited to the Open Studio (on Facebook) to see the result from the three months residency. Where: 286 Grand Street, New York, NY 10002, USA.

Open Studio Remy Jungerman / PHOTO Courtesy Remy Jungerman
Open Studio Remy Jungerman / PHOTO Courtesy Remy Jungerman

TEXT Sandra Smets

Sandra Smets (Haarlem, 1970) is an art historian, and writes mostly about contemporary art, including art in public spaces. She has worked at the Centrum Beeldende Kunst Rotterdam for over ten years and is, since 2006, a visual arts employee at the NRC Handelsblad. She also writes for various magazines, artist catalogues and publications, about the art of the reconstruction and developments in the twentieth century. Website: www.sandrasmets.nl

This article was previously published in Dutch as ‘Surinaamse kunst met toverkracht’ in NRC Handelsblad, April 23, 2015.

NRC Handelsblad, April 23, 2015
NRC Handelsblad, April 23, 2015

PHOTOGRAPHY Femke Dix

Femke Dix (Paramaribo, 1989) is a student at the University of Applied Photography in Amsterdam. She started making photographs in 2005 and after studying something else it became the job of her dreams after all. In a year’s time she will finish her study and she will enter the field as a freelance photographer. She established Femfoto (on Facebook) in 2010 and it exists for 5 years already. She is most interested in documentary photography and she is currently working on a photographical documentary about the burial customs of the Afro-Surinamese community. Website: www.femfoto.nl 

TRANSLATION Cassandra Gummels-Relyveld, June 2015

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