I hope that Sri Irodikromo’s recent artworks are helping to elevate the human essence. To artists, they demonstrate an urgency how to make creative practices sustainable. Therefore, I think that Sri is one of the first visual artists in Suriname, setting the bar quite high for us all to tackle this necessity. Will she continue the path she took with her solo exhibition Udan Liris?
Udan Liris means soft rain. I am walking through this manifestation with childlike wondering. It ‘rains’ coffee, among other materials used in Sri’s new artworks staged at Readytex Art Gallery (RAG). This ‘spell’ manifests as a complex system of creative expression. Could it be that Sri takes us on a journey to remind that, like other products we consume daily, coffee carries an inhumane history? A discourse about a history we will never grasp because these untold stories were taken to the graves. Narratives, about a people who once arrived in Suriname as labor commodity, now hidden in Sri’s visuals that triggers my imagination. This event starts at Jaji.
Javanese indentured laborers that arrived in Suriname on the same ship called each other ‘jaji‘ (shipmate). “They were not family, nor did they know each other before meeting on the ship”, according to Sri. She continues: “But after the journey, by the time that they left the ship together, they had usually become good friends and often regarded each other as family.” Having the agency to transform the conditions to which their labor exposed them, they found strength and did almost everything together. Because they would often end up living in one village, they worked and grew old together.
This exhibition discusses identity and community. In this conversation, I see identification: a process in which “identity isn’t who you are, but identity is what you perform”, as my mind reminds me of a mentors’ arguments. Identification is what we know as alakondre fasi in Suriname. Thus, re-created family under pressure of a system of indentured labor. In the context of Suriname, the Javanese community, like other communities, had developed beyond the borders of ethnicity. Sri’s storytelling explored more mysteries. Other subjects in Udan Liris are e.g.: ‘banyu’, ‘menyan’, ‘pertapan’, ‘rahasia’, and ‘tyekelan’. Despite the fact that these terms cannot be literally translated into English, Sri explains them as: water, incense, meditation place, secret and protection. Because of its universal aspect, my attention was especially drawn to the latter.
In Javanese culture, the tradition of protection against evil is ‘tyekelan’. “You get it from for example a ‘wong pinter’ or a ‘kaun’ (spiritual leaders)”, as Sri her knowledge and intuition explain it. “This can include several things such as a prayer, ash from incense, needles or pins, or a black cord that you wear around your wrist.” I have now learned that this protection can even be applied under one’s skin. The installation Tyekelan is one of the artworks in which blue dominates. In various cultures, bluing is used to protect against negative influence. Sri: “People who are sick for example, or babies, are bathed with water in which bluing has been dissolved, and you can often see Javanese babies with a blue dot on their foreheads.” I instantly think of indigo, and the history this color carries over time.
Sri is aware of color as a something sacred. To me, this magical substance in nature and culture is the holy Grail to visual artists. The Holy Grail is a medieval legend about a bowl or cup in which the blood of Christ was allegedly collected by Joseph of Arimathea at Christ’s crucifixion, the cup he used at the Last Supper, the spear point with which he was pierced while hanging on the cross or the gemstone that fell from Lucifer’s crown as he fell from heaven. The Grail’s supernatural powers are diverse (Wikipedia). I believe that Sri is using this holy grail as an invisible dialogue in Udan Liris to activate what Michael Taussig calls the “magical polymorphous substance”. He describes it as color’s ability to excite all senses. Is Sri’s new approach of creative technology giving an essence to surpass the modernity many local artists seem to be stuck with?
We cannot see ‘modern’ productions of color as sacred or enchanting. According to Taussig, this “brave new world of artifice created chemical magic” displaces us from the language of alchemy. Since the illumination of cities of 19th century, the industry of coal gas creates a waste product from which color and just about everything else is made in one mighty mimesis of nature, which makes us lose the language of connecting with color (Taussig, 2009). But globally, artists are becoming more aware of pollution by this ‘modern’ invention. Sri too. She takes on a new direction that signals to colleagues and hopefully creates a ripple effect. Her exhibition reminds of magic in the way colors are brought into play within shamanic practices. In his book, Taussig refers to this as ‘mana’: “an extraordinary substance, invisible, marvelous, and spiritual, containing all efficacy and life”.
Is Sri’s process of change one of re-imagining? Monique NouhChaia thinks Udan Liris has quite a critical charge. She refers to it as “talking about the migration of people with all the negative and beautiful things around it.” In the work Wayang for example, she sees “a layer over the ‘puppet master’, through the arms of the wayang doll Sri has drawn over the image.” Did Sri use the wayang doll drawn over the work as a reference to inclusion as a critique of the colonizer/ruler who has wronged people so much?
In my conversation with this painting, my focus draws to the material used in relation to ways of knowing and not-knowing; I am reminded of a quote in Dying for Ideas:
“A quiet revolution has been taking place over the last three decades in our understanding of the history of ‘Western’ philosophy. So quiet, in fact, that few have noticed it. What this revolution has brough forth is the realization that some of the most influential philosophers in the ‘West’ intended their philosophy to be not simply a body of doctrines, sheer intellectual content, but above all an art of living. Like most revolutions, this one, is about how we related to the past.” (Bradatan, 2015)
Is Udan Liris related to this revolution? However, I look at Sri’s lifelike and sustainable approach as non-philosophy. Udan Liris surely demonstrates the intersection between social justice and ecology in a fascinating way; it connects the current environmental crisis, colonialism, racism, and capitalism.
Udan Liris showed me ambiguity. Did it re-connect me with alchemy? I experienced alakondre fasi. The term alakondre derived from winti philosophy, meaning universal according to the dictionary (Ensie, 2017); fasi stands for model. I was fascinated by Sri’s imagination: “alakondre is a transparent appearance”. Therefore, I conclude that Udan Liris was staged on the bases of knowing and not-knowing. This essence of the 21st century is what I was reminded of by Sri’s magic. Should other more recent uses of alakondre in Suriname and beyond, take inspiration from her approach?
When: Friday November 12-Saturday December 4, 2021. Opening hours: Monday-Friday from 08:00 am-04:30 pm, and on Saturday from 08:30 am-1:30 pm.
- Bradatan, Costica, Dying for ideas. The Dangerous Lives of the Philosophers. London, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015. ISBN 9781472525512
- Taussig, Michael, What Color Is the Sacred?. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2009. ISBN 9780226790060
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.