Threads of Identity is a solo exhibition by Shaundell Horton. The former ambassador of Brazil in Paramaribo Laudemar Aguiar has opened this manifestation that is visible at Readytex Art Gallery (RAG) from 8 to 30 July, 2022. It fascinates me to hear from his lips that many visitors to his residence ask whether the work of Shaundell and others Surinamese artists comes from Brazil. He also shares the following with us: “You do what you love to do, and don’t change for sale or because of this or that trend. You do what you must do and that is essential to me. You maintain your awareness and variety, in addition to using your own culture to reach the world.” On the sculptures that Shaundell shows in this exhibition, he reflects as follows: “It is unimaginable how the simple, soft and stable materials have been linked and turned into powerful figures.”
Do I feel the denouement of something hidden until Threads of Identity? Shaundell: “Merit refers to virtue or value we attach to our identity.” A visitor is reminded of a dauphin (crown prince) of the French kingdom at the beginning of the 19th century. Upon seeing a gold-colored mask this visitor suddenly knows: “During the French Revolution, the crown prince, son of the beheaded King Louis XV, was put on a mask after he was captured.” The remaining abstract masks created of ceramics and crochet make her think of the universe and a series of heads with abstract faces evoke veiled Arab women or the masquerade of some belly dancers to her. She gets these associations when she is greeted by seven untitled sculptures. This provides me with proof that much more lives here than one individual can perceive, because there is much more in Shaundell’s use of abstracted masks and faceless heads, whose faces are also covered.
A guided tour took me to the deeper and more powerful aspects of Shaundell’s sculptures. Then a mystery revealed itself and a feeling of excitement came over me. Maybe one of relief? My question about what was behind the masquerade of this manifestation was answered. Also, my contribution to the deepest point of alakondre-fasi was reached precisely here: an installation with the colors white, blue and gold – constructed of ceramic buttons, the sculpture entitled Su Blue and a gold mask under the name Merit – brought me back to 2015; when Shaundell and I collaborated with others for the installation The 11th Commandment – thou shall not be free. But the dialogue continued, and I thought of Louis XIV’s decree of 1685: Code Noir, on how to deal with black slaves. “The prevailing view at the time was that because of their inferiority, blacks were naturally fit for slavery and that they could only be happy in the service of a good master” (Mbembe, 2015).
Threads of Identity may lead Laudemar Aguiar to Candomblé. He owns some sculptures from the series of heads. In his speech, Aguiar refers to how he uses these possessed sculptures as his guardian angels. Although they are massive and look heavy and they consist of a material composition that is not so obvious, they are almost weightless. To protect his space, Aguiar has installed two of Shaundell’s heads in the lobby of his ambassador’s residence in Tehran. Do these artworks also want to focus on their role as guardian angels in this manifestation?
The manifestation also consists of some older works by Shaundell. Now she looks at her painting The Dance with ‘new eyes’, “it fits the Freudian Self completely”, she thinks. It strikes me that there is a lot of similarity between earlier and recent works. Not surprising, because since the beginning of her artistic career around 2010, Shaundell has been working on identity; but now I see her focus on a realistic display slowly moving away for the blurring of the image. In my eyes this development of abstraction veils a lot. I think that it houses the mystical power of the community and gives face to the complexities of the I. Threads of Identity seems to speak of the ambiguity of this Self, that of which we do not experience alone, and that the I is complex. I know that in Suriname there is no doubt about experiencing the Self as ambiguous and layered, because here the I is naturally executed in a complex manner. Hence, Threads of Identity takes me to the I-split. This is an experiment in psychoanalysis about the splitting of the Self into a perceiving and a perceived I. It goes like this: I try to perceive myself. At that moment there are two ‘I’s; an ‘I’ that perceives and an ‘I’ that is perceived. When looking at the perceiving ‘I’, it changes into a perceived ‘I’. The challenge is that any attempt to perceive the ‘I’ for oneself, the perceiving ‘I’ is continuously changing. Because ‘this observer’ continues to recede, it is impossible to see himself (Keij, 2021).
I see that Threads of Identity is about identification. In the Surinamese context this is known as alakondre-fasi which is different from identity. I think Shaundell is out to contribute to the international debate on identity as well. But I wonder: Can we still speak of identity? To find an answer to this, I am now trying to look more broadly at Threads of Identity. Philosopher Jan Keij states: “I cannot tell who I am, but what I am… at the moment”. Because identity does not exist for me either, I find alakondre-fasi so relevant and a good alternative to identity. Unfortunately, according to Keij, finding the unique self is impossible. About the process of striving to find an answer to the question ‘who am I?’, he says: “Therapists help me eventually by making my image-self ‘more comfortable’ for me, which is certainly possible because of its flexibility.” Because of the flexibility of the Self it is possible to put me together, take me apart and build something new of me (Keij, 2021); a process known as identification. It refers to personal relationships with others. For this, a deeper connection with the Self is a necessity (AICOS, 2015).
Identity is what is unique or peculiar to something or someone (Ensie, 2015). The most well-known interpretation of this is a person’s character. But self-image and self-concept also consist of genetic, social, cultural, and national attributes. These make the Self complex. That is why psychoanalysis uses the term identification; first used in 1916 by Sigmund Freud. According to him, this is, among other things, the process in which the subject makes one or more aspects, properties and/or attributes of another his own and transforms himself wholly or partly according to the model of this other. This active process takes place in the I, which increases feelings of self-esteem through identification with a person or an institution (Hebbrecht, 2013). In the identification process, personal aspects arise from entering deeper relationships. Letting go and observing clearly are a precondition for this. However, although there is a question of letting go, there is also a connection with the personal source to create more awareness of the Self so that one can increase their creative space and insights. The main point here is to first look inward, and then expand the view outward, accepting positive and negative aspects of behavior without judgment (AICOS, 2015).
I find Threads of Identity monumental. My justification for this comes from the idea that Shaundell’s solo exhibition is an attempt to put a finger on the wound that grips the contemporary world. We are in a battle to leave a binary world behind. This is a struggle for connection by reducing the distance between the Self and Another. Because “distance creates a binary situation” according to Taka Taka, a fellows at the Amsterdam University of the Arts.
Faceless heads, looking at you as you enter. In addition, a self-portrait and the painting Misi Mona Liza welcome you. You then enter a space in which the abstract masks enter a floating dialogue with you. In this series of masks, Shaundell fuses visual elements with threads that invite a much broader conversation and challenge a deeper experience of Being. Striking is a series of large portraits on the wall, which function as open space in the work due to the white surfaces. The portraits seem to jump out of the white walls. “For Shaundell, that white space symbolizes the space she allows herself to be open to new impressions and influences” (Readytex Art Gallery, 2022. Usually, Shaundell uses collage technique in which she completely covers the background with used tea bags. Now she “consciously leaves empty white spaces that give her the opportunity to enrich, broaden and strengthen her art and her identity”. Dominating brown tones in Shaundell’s works could be a quest for a steadfast connection to the earth (Readytex Art Gallery, 2022). Also, by using pigment from a process of rusting iron ore and clay sculptures, I see that Threads of Identity aims for taking us into the process of grounding.
Threads of Identity is contemporary. In the story we find something that is bigger than we realize at first glance. It enables us to propagate self-determination because we can move along. We must recognize who we are and adapt where necessary. Do we call the process alakondre-fasi or identification … We should see it as a starting point to perform and activate a multiple Self that is constantly changing. In short, this manifestation is a composition of being resilient.
- A. Mbembe, Kritiek van de zwarte rede, 2015
- J. Keij, Tijd als kwetsbaarheid in de filosofie van Levinas, 2021
- Course Manual ‘Intuïtive Coaching’, Academie voor Intuïtieve Coaching & Ontwikkeling Suriname (AICOS), 2015
- M. Hebbrecht, Psychoanalyse Woordenboek, 2013
- Ensie, Wat is de betekenis van identiteit, 2015
- Readytex Art Gallery, Press release exhibition Threads of Identity, 2022
This publication was made possible in part by a grant from the Dr. Silvia W. de Groot Fund.
Read more about the Dr. Silvia W. de Groot Fund here (only in Dutch).
Read more about Dr. Silvia W. de Groot here (only in Dutch).
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.