Miguel E. Keerveld (Paramaribo, 1982) and Kurt Nahar (Paramaribo, 1972) visited Kurt Nahar‘s installation ‘The Zong’ (this installation is a sequel to ‘The Nene Rituals’) in Readytex Art Gallery, Paramaribo, Suriname. Miguel E. Keerveld wrote the following text about this.
TEXT Miguel E. Keerveld
The art form of installation does not distinguish between ‘producing’ and ‘presenting’. According to Professor Boris Groys (Berlin, Germany, 1947), the installation offers us an aura of the Here and Now. In his essay Politics of Installation in the catalog of the Oncena Bienal de la Habana of 2012, this art critic, media theorist and philosopher wonders how to differentiate artist and curator. He poses his question in the context of contemporary art, in which ‘making art’ coincides with ‘presenting things as art’. To investigate the question, visual artist Kurt Nahar (Paramaribo, 1972) and I meet. Our dialogue takes place in the space of the installation entitled ‘The Zong’.
Architecture of the artwork
I hear jazz music. When I enter the room, I am immediately stimulated. I feel like I’m stepping into a late medieval Gothic church. Is this experience triggered by the long narrow doors in the installation? A visitor standing in front of the same doors experiences the entry of a ship. For the artist, the doors are a reference to The Door of No Return.
More questions arise: What does the distortion of a symbol tell? Why is the image of Jesus on the cross above the altar replaced by that of the Sankofa? What promise is hidden in the central place in this installation? The powerful image of two cords in the middle of the installation evokes something in me. Something that sounds loud in my head and I notice that the cords are in dialogue with two door frames. Why are the frames a child size? What does the future hold for the descendants of the enslaved?
A black cross floats at the back. From there, with the Sankofa behind me, I realize that I am on the altar. My thoughts draw the conclusion: “Here the spectator stands in the Now, and without a priest in connection with God.” With my gaze toward the door, the altar tells me a different story than the one that comes to mind upon entering. A painting with the text ‘THE LAST BATH’, which hangs opposite The Door of No Return, looks me straight in the eye. Is the installation elevating spectators to their own priesthood?
Back in time
We went back in time for a moment. The artwork landed us on the British slave ship Zong. With more than the maximum allowed capacity, this ship departed from Accra (Ghana, West Africa) to Jamaica in 1783. Research brought Kurt Nahar face to face with the suffering of the enslaved. A situation that equated people with animate things, cargo and codes. To take advantage of insurance profits, 132 of the 442 African prisoners on the Zong were thrown overboard in cold blood. Was their drowning a release from a lifelong misery that would have awaited them on arrival?
Achille Mbembe (Otélé, Cameroon, 1957) takes me to an archive beyond the black person. In the introduction to the book Critique of Black Reason, Mbembe describes the process he calls “the Becoming Black of the world”. According to this Cameroonian philosopher, there are three key moments in the biography of this unlikely construct: the transatlantic human trafficking; the late eighteenth century when black people claimed to be fully-fledged beings of the living world; the beginning of the twenty-first century when the neoliberal markets take on a global character. Mbembe proposes “the Becoming Black of the world” as a new generalized and institutionalized standard of existence. For the first time in human history, the name “N****” no longer merely refers to the fate of people of African descent in early capitalism, says Mbembe.
With the eyes of a curator
Boris Groys puts it this way: ‘to curate is to cure’. His argument is that curating heals the powerlessness of the image, the inability to show oneself. It is no coincidence that cure is the origin and history of the word curator. I see Mbembe’s premise as a framework for the course on which Kurt is heading by installing this metaphorical sacrificial space (kra-tafra). In this imagination, in which horns have an emphatic place, Kurt communicates with the Other. An invitation to the spectator to sit down at the table.
This installation is cross-border. Through the connections that the artist makes, gives Kurts focus on the Kromanti language’s deeper layers, allowing the installation to function as a vehicle for traveling in and outside the human world. At least between Suriname, Jamaica and New Orleans. I ask the artist: what nourishment do you provide through this work to the victims of the ship and to the result of such historical inspirations?
Perhaps Kurt will install a door to a ‘new world’? Or is his installation a bath? The layering of this work tells me that it is at least both. Again I look at the text ‘THE LAST BATH’ and express my sincere thanks for the contribution to the rewriting of the black archive.
TEXT Miguel E. Keerveld
Miguel E. Keerveld (Paramaribo, 1982) works in conjunction with the brand EdKe and the performance persona Tumpi Flow. Educated in civil technical engineering, ‘he’ operates with focus on visual language and creative writing. As a hybrid-intuitive concept, ‘she’ performs political interventions related to social practice. As researcher ‘it’ is focused on activating performative politics and manifesting rituals, both related to creative counseling and civic engineering of a cyborg feminist project.