Creativity beyond the individual

Kurt Nahar & Sri Irodikromo, ‘Obatalá’ & ‘Éndhang’, installation, 2021

TEXT Miguel E. Keerveld, Curator-in-Residence for the art project ALAKONDRE: A space in time in association with Readytex Art Gallery (RAG).

LUNAR can be seen in Readytex Art Gallery (RAG). This art manifestation is part of ALAKONDRE: A space in time and lasts from October 8th to 30th. As the kick-off for a process of reflection on the deeper nuances of identification, inclusion, diversity, and community, LUNAR is a metaphor for femininity. This opening ritual is celebrated as a ceremony for a journey guided by the question: Is the 21st century opposed to the 20th century? What fascinates me in any case is what I call “the shift from focusing on the ego to the acknowledgement of the soul“. By soul, I mean: an invisible force that manifests itself through networks. Possibly, it could mitigate the consequences of a human urge for power, to draw on our natural strength. What if this is our communal task? In this exhibition, I take others along to encounter the answer to the the question: What is a personal experience with spirituality?

The consecration

Two artists are given space for the consecration of ALAKONDRE: A space in time. In this ritual, food and ancestors are central and these artists install a Kra Tafra and a Sajén that are in dialogue. A white cloth that falls from the ceiling to the ground separates these imaginary tables from each other. This allows each artist to communicate with their own specific ancestors. The cloth and these tables welcome the ancestor spirits; then it’s two days before visitors come to glorify what’s going on in these imaginations. One day before the opening of LUNAR, team-RAG is the first to enter the dialogue with this.

Upon entering, a Mona Lisa-like mystery welcomes you. But in this invitation, it is not the smile that is mysterious; it’s the look in the portrait of Sri that is. Although this painting hangs with its back to the viewer, the image draws you in. Through a mirror you are initiated, because ‘she’ looks straight into your eyes. And if it’s not this image that initiates you, then the installation Obatalá by Kurt Nahar does. Like our Winti and the Haitian Vodou, the Santería in Cuba was brought to the Caribbean, from West Africa and Congo. These religions know living saints. As with Jaran Kepang, followers of the Santería believe that they are directed by spirits. While Kurt allows himself to be possessed by the Obatalá from the Santería, the ‘Mona Lisa’ plays Jaran Kepang which is reflected in the installation Éndhang by Sri Irodikromo. Together, the installations Obatalá & Éndhang form the central core of this exhibition. The heart of this manifestation is the installation Wi Tru Fesi, formed by metaphorical portraits of all participating artists. LUNAR also acts as the initiation of Kurt and Sri as curators in this process.

The atmosphere

I hear someone from Team RAG refer to yin-yang in ‘the portrait’ of Lilian Abegg. Although I see ‘Erwin’s phallus’ in Kurt’s work, I feel the energy of yin-yang in the navel of LUNAR. Where Kurt’s installation is dominated by black, ‘the spirits’ in Sri’s work bring balance with white. What’s more, ‘Erwin’s phallus’ penetrated into the ground is stimulated and held upright by the soft, self-conscious, spirited cloth floating in the air. While Kurt plays around a burnt piece of wood (which is a reference to modernity), Sri stays close to her own nature and settles down into their encounter from above. These artists do not yet complete the manifestation, because sharing the limelight on the ground floor, both left and right, are new works by Shaundell Horton and Sunil Puljhun, supplemented with installations made with paintings by Erwin de Vries and Lilian Abegg.

Shaundell’s Tree of Life is reminiscent of the work of Samar Hejazi: one of the artists I recently participated with in Arquetopia’s International Mentorship Program. Sunil’s Bhojan (food) invites to enter the dialogue with it. In his work, it seems as if I am being taken back to my very short and virtual participation in the opening lecture of Nomad 9 MFA in 2018, in which an artist who works with communities is the keynote speaker. In any case, I feel that Shaundell and Sunil are radically renewing their work. In short, LUNAR is an exhibition of international allure. In my mind I know: “You see, we are not at all inferior to that which is happening in the world in the field of art.”

Mirror of the soul

ART is a mirror of the soul, I know. In my experience, art is also: engaging with the soul. From the soul of this exhibition – a network formed with six artists, Team RAG, and visitors – I allow myself to go on a journey. I ‘fly to the moon’. That journey goes like this: first, I connect with the works of art. I feel. I think. I stand still. Then, I trust in the direction and the destination that the works that choose me, lead towards. That is why I say: “The production of this art manifestation is based on following the knowledge that my body transmits.” Then I’m in flow; of which Kurt Nahar says, “that thing pushed me.” In Kurt’s space, his Winti or Orisha (Afro-Caribbean saints), magic is created that is formed by the cooperation between the Self and the Process. First, I take the time and the rest, to observe his process. Only then do I allow myself to analyze the result he achieves together with Sri. For that, I step into their artwork.

I remember how much trouble I had with religious people. But now that I am in the installation Obatalá & Éndhang, I can approach people who bring a religion forward, and I experience the Last Supper. Or is this just a First Supper? Although I no longer question the existence of god, I also look for meaning to existence. In this quest I make art, which I prefer to do in community. Therefore, I find my role as a curator in a personal context important. In a professional context, it forces me to encounter others with love. Often, they are fellow artists, spectators, fellow citizens, and so on. Through this process, the Other (a Third or It) arises in my imagination. Usually it is an alter-ego, a deceased person, or my desire (a goal). Regarding the latter, my wish is to share Surinamese art with the world. That is why I started a collaboration with RAG, during which I enter the dialogue with art, as Curator-in-Residence.

The Other

Now I end up on earth. I immediately think of the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (Lithuania, 1906). He argues that the Other appears as knowledge (consciousness/sensation). In his work about the Other – a transcendental experience – I see Winti. To contribute to Surinamese storytelling, I put my focus on The Feminine: the ability to connect, to care, to understand the opponent.

I imagine a software. Something like Aisa, which for me stands for building a sustainable system. In Afro-Surinamese religion, Aisa is the soul of Mother Earth. As a contribution to this global aura, and to a self-sufficient system in Suriname, I take inspiration from the essay Love as a practice of Freedom by bell hooks (pseudonym of Gloria Jean Watkins, 1952) which states: “Without love, our efforts to free ourselves and our world community from oppression and exploitation are doomed to failure.” To leave an ethic of dominance behind us, she promotes “progressive cultural revolution” by rejecting all forms of dominance in a holistic way. For decolonizing our thinking, her book Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations (hooks, 1994) proposes to “renounce participation in any area of coercive hierarchical domination of individual and group privileges we enjoy.” Martin Luther King, Jr. (USA, 1929) is the example of which hooks says, that he testified again and again that he “decided to love” ourselves and even our enemy. Unfortunately, he did not live long enough to integrate the ethics of love into a vision of political decolonization, which would be a blueprint for “the eradication of black self-hatred.”

According to hooks, black people, among others, collectively experienced intense pain, and fear about their future. Because of this, we are “wounded in that space where we would know love.” The absence of public spaces where that pain could be articulated, expressed, formed, meant that it was held on to. According to her, this collective grief could be reconciled in community. “We must collectively return to a radical political vision rooted in social change in an ethic of love and try again to ‘convert’ masses of people, black and non-black,” she said. It is this trigger that directed LUNAR, so that the relationship between art and spirituality could be explored with counseling through art.□

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‘LUNAR’ – A walk through the exhibition on Saturday October 23, 2021 / VIDEO Courtesy Readytex Art Gallery (RAG)

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TEXT Miguel E. Keerveld

Miguel E. Keerveld (Suriname, 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.

PHOTOS Courtesy Readytex Art Gallery (RAG) & Miguel E. Keerveld

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