At the request of Monique NouhChaia SookdewSing, managing director of Readytex Art Gallery (RAG), Alida Neslo is leading a number of conversations with the artists affiliated with the gallery. She’s had talks with all of the artists individually and has subsequently given them a questionnaire to fill out, of which the answers are discussed in group sessions. Included in the group sessions with the artists are various other members of team RAG: Cassandra Gummels-Relyveld, Ada Korbee, Lygia Matawi en Monique NouhChaia SookdewSing.
The idea is to come to a joint concept, or manifest as Alida calls it, to define/explain Surinamese art to the broader art world (and of course to define it for ourselves first as well). What makes us and art from Suriname, so special? It is this that we are trying to put into words. Alida her favorite subject ‘Alakondre’ is an important element of these conversations. Because that is exactly where our strength lies. But what does Alakondre mean to everyone, and do we even understand how unique and valuable it is that we live (for the most part) according to this principle? What is, or seems, so matter of fact to us, is completely strange and unusual in many other countries around the world. And why is it possible here, and not elsewhere? Ultimately, the conversations must lead to a united ‘story’. And that ‘story’, concept/manifest will give the artists the tools to present themselves effectively at for example biennials or other important international exhibitions. What it ultimately comes down to, is that we have to be the ones who make our own definitions of what it is that we stand for and represent, instead of having people from the outside deciding how to ‘label’ us.
The group conversations are, as you may well imagine, very interesting. The theme in itself leads to many lively discussions and the participants share countless experiences and anecdotes. It’s a process, but what’s most important: the kick off has been given.
So, it’s partly because of these conversations that Monique asked Alida to write an essay for the RAG portfolio.
We have now translated Alida’s text for our SAX readers. In the previous blog post we posted the Dutch version.
TOWARDS AN ID FOR THE FUTURE: FROM ALAKONDRE SANI TO ALAKONDRE FASI
TEXT Alida Neslo
Suriname’s position in the world can easily be labeled extraordinary: we were global before the word actually became popular … The utterly diverse and at the same time rather small population, naturally triggers knowledge of cultures ‘other’ than one’s ‘own’. The Surinamese speak/think in more than one language. They have a notion of the music, the dances, the religion of the ‘other’ and even incorporate elements of them into their own lives, WITHOUT FEAR of losing their ‘own’ culture. Although the initial colonial situation was negative, the different cultural expressions- especially in the city- have ultimately gone through an organic development. In multiple cases one culture was even embraced by another, after a marriage for example. A rather remarkable feat in these polarizing times we’re living in.
Even within the diversity of South-American and Caribbean communities, Suriname is unique: due to the official language -Dutch- and the significant Eastern influences from India, China and Indonesia. Sranantongo, the country’s ‘lingua franca’, is composed of more than 20 local languages, and is as such ‘everyone’s language’. It navigates like a ‘ferry’ between the cultural communities, which is perhaps the most amazing fact.
A frequently used expression in Sranan is ‘Alakondre’, which means ‘complete inclusivity, plurality of truths’. Essentially the Surinamese thus describe their social ideal in one word. With the emphasis on ‘ideal’, because we aren’t quite there yet. An Alakondre attitude requires courage and a generosity of spirit, which truth be told, is not always lived up to in everyday life.
In today’s Europe on the other hand, immigrants from the former colonies are currently having a hard time… It’s easy to judge the unseen. But what if the ‘far away’, the ‘foreign’, suddenly reveals itself right in front of your door, and your own point of view no longer seems as definitive as before? Sometimes, such confrontations cause entire communities to falter. This happens especially if one party slams the doors shut, and turns itself against ‘those responsible’ for the ‘confusion’, sticking to its own point of view, preferring the status quo. In a world that is constantly on the move!
What stops you from opening up the door? Even if just a crack, to take a look outside. And please … do not focus your sight on the stock market, the minister, or the policeman, but keep an eye out for the artist, who translates the hidden truths for us. “The artist”, an African griot once said, “is the one who remembers where to find water in the desert. He makes sure that the people stay alive, that they do not perish with thirst. He ensures that they keep their sense of wonderment, that they remain curious for more.”
Must I now talk about North and South, black and white, rich and poor, power and powerlessness, knowledge and ignorance, Art and ‘world art’, Music and ‘world music’, Classic and authentic? Where are the boundaries of these ‘boxes’ and categories? In our heads, or in the world, the reality in which we live? Sometimes people think they know it all, but then something happens that causes them to put their ‘knowledge’ into perspective …
The encounter with an artist, with every artist, is like drilling a well in the desert … He is like the original source, in a very precise sense, namely that his thoughts are his works, that the origin of his work lies within himself. If in addition to that, he also thinks interculturally, in various languages, he’ll be at the same time a solitary creator who conceptualizes Alakondre sani, and simultaneously in an Alakondre fasi humane, universal, and, more than any other person, brother of all people. Expressions of identical meaning can also be found in the Vedas from India, in the South African Ubuntu concept, etc. He who seeks finds!
The meaning of the word ‘original’ is noteworthy. The artist considers himself a very ordinary man, not an ‘übermensch’, nor does he search for a similar concept. However, he does want to convey a common idea, in a rare, unique and very individual way. Common, because he is going to speak to all: Alakondre fasi. The work of Surinamese artists can therefore best be understood through the following expression: “Alakondre na wan, wan na alakondre”: a work in progress, admittedly, but in our vision the ‘odo’ of the global future.
So … go out and discover those Surinamese artists. Marvel at their creations and acknowledge that perhaps your point of view no longer holds up. So what! Make it a ‘point-in-motion’, fit for global times! Change your direction, change your space, become a Hindu, Muslim or Jew, it doesn’t matter, dó something instead of sticking to your comfort zone bitching about QUA-LI-TY. Dó something, but by no means close the door, because these very artists carry within them the identity of the future. Unconsciously, consciously and purposefully.
Explanation of Sranantongo terms:
Alakondre fasi: Alakondre way
Alakondre sani: Alakondre object
Alakondre: complete inclusivity, plurality of truths
Alakondre na wan, wan na Alakondre: unity in diversity, diversity per unit
Odo: view, compact wisdom
Explanation of terms used:
Griot: A griot is a story teller in the traditional West-African culture, who has the role of preserving and further disseminating the history of his village or tribe, which has been handed down orally, to the following generation; a griot embodies the collective memory of a tribe or a village, and can sometimes talk, tell stories and sing for days. (Source: www.ensie.nl)
- The Readytex Art Gallery artists: Reinier Asmoredjo, Paul Chang, Leonnie van Eert, Kenneth Flijders, Shaundell Horton, Soeki Irodikromo, Sri Irodikromo, Rinaldo Klas, John Lie A Fo, Kurt Nahar, Sunil Puljhun, Dhiradj Ramsamoedj, Xavier Robles de Medina, Kit-Ling Tjon Pian Gi, Roddney Tjon Poen Gie, René Tosari, Steven Towirjo, Wilgo Vijfhoven and Hanka Wolterstorff.
TEXT: Alida Neslo (Paramaribo, 1954) studied theatre and dance in Belgium (Studio Herman Teirlinck) and Senegal (Mudra Afrique, the sister institute of Mudra Bruxelles of Maurice Béjart). During her career in Belgium and the rest of the world, she acted in grounbreaking intercultural and political theater productions (among others with TIE-3 led by Tone Brulin). In Belgium, she presented television and radio programs for many years. She subsequently became the artistic director of the first Dutch/multicultural theater company De Nieuw Amsterdam (DNA) and later also of DasArts: the masters course for theater and dance of the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten in Amsterdam. She had countless additional functions, amongst which vice-chairman of the Amsterdamse Kunstraad and council member of the Commissie Cultureel verdrag Vlaanderen-Nederland (CVN). After living and working in 4 continents for many years, she returned to Suriname in 2006, where she currently works as freelance theater producer and teacher in theatres, schools and prisons. She maintains her link with Vlaanderen and the Netherlands as advisory member of the Taalunie, through lectures and occasional publications. She is also developing, together with among others a dynamic team of Surinamese musicians and artists, a new engaged art curriculum for young professionals at the Conservatorium of Paramaribo, Suriname.
INTRODUCTORY TEXT: Cassandra Gummels-Relyveld works as freelance writer, who in addition to her work for Sranan Art Xposed, works primarily for Readytex Art Gallery (RAG) in Paramaribo, Suriname. She writes press releases, website content and is in charge of all the publicity content for the exhibitions and the other activities of the gallery.