TEXT Miguel E. Keerveld, Curator-in-Residence for the project ALAKONDRE: A space in time in collaboration with Readytex Art Gallery (RAG).
To reach its apotheosis, Being must go through a stage of fire purification. Wikipedia states that apotheosis is the glorification of an object to a divine level or treating man as God. In the words of Martin Heidegger (quoted in Mbembe, 2017), the Earth would blow itself up as the highest fulfillment of technology. Achille Mbembe (2017) states: “It is only the end of the first beginning, and potentially the beginning of a ‘new beginning’ and a ‘new history’, the new history of a new humanity and a new world.”
Although I experienced the art manifestation UMA STEN from a great distance, it reminded me of the term ‘apotheosis’. Or maybe that’s why? Between May 14 and June 4, 2022, this exhibition took place in Readytex Art Gallery (RAG) and featured the work of the honorary artist Nola Hatterman (1899-1984), the local master Els Tjong Joe Wai, the RAG artists Hanka Wolterstorff, Leonnie van Eert and tumpi flow. Experiments by guest artists Coco Duivenvoorde and Sarojini Lewis were also shown. As a focus on femininity in relation to power, topics such as identity, diversity and inclusion were discussed (RAG, 2022).
Despite my virtual experience with UMA STEN, the intimacy I experience in the process of Kurt’s curatorship allows me to explore this manifestation in breadth and depth. The whole reveals a dialectical tension or a wisdom that arises from a dream state, because the wider and deeper I look and dive, the more the feeling of dreaming engulfs me too. Henk Manschot (2020) argues that the dream connects the day and night side of life and opens a creative dimension. Sigmund Freud (quoted in Gay, 2006) sees dreams as meaningful, amazing or pointless psychic achievements. I wonder if dreams can calm the mind in times of crisis. That is why I find it interesting to use art as a dream space to look for alternatives so that one can keep their head cool in the mass hysteria of our time. For example, for the outcome of Kurt’s previous curatorial role, I have assumed that manifestation is an alternative to pave our way to hopeful insights into current tensions. A characteristic of this zeitgeist is nationalism, which has become a culture that bears all the hallmarks of a “nano-racism”: a form of hatred that penetrates the microscopically fine fibers of society. It is “a way in which the subject shifts onto the Other the intimate shame he feels for himself”, with the Other acting as a scapegoat according to Achille Mbembe (2017). Similarly, the spirit of our politics is “a merry, brainless, totally idiotic nano-racism, which takes pleasure in wallowing in ignorance and claims the right to stupidity”. Is this situation comparable to the fire-purification phase that our zeitgeist must undergo to reach its apotheosis?
A statement by Alida Neslo appears on my retina. We are having lunch somewhere when she says to me: “I don’t have roots, I have feet”. This view is in line with ‘the ethic of the passer-by’ and with insights that come up in conversations between Kurt Nahar and me about performing ethnicity and gender. This ethic presupposes a split power “divided into different nuclei” and lack of “a unique center of the world” (Mbembe, 2017), because perhaps the future of the imagination we call the state no longer has citizens because the passer-by detaches from everything or renounces almost everything.
Be on the road
Becoming-human-in-the-world is to be on the road. This metamorphosis is possible because, according to Mbembe (2017), “becoming-human-in-the-world [is] not a matter of birth, lineage or race”. In UMA STEN, Kurt emphasizes this. With this he adds to the fight for equal rights, opportunities, and respect for everyone by showing work by “female artists of different generations, different cultural backgrounds and different relationships with the Netherlands and Suriname” (RAG, 2022). This makes UMA STEN inclusive, also because artists of different sexes are considered to belong to the feminine gender here. Migration background of participating artists and complex interpretations of ethnicity and gender appeal to Kurt, so I find a correlation between ‘the ethics of the passer-by’ and UMA STEN. Mbembe (2017) claims the following about this passer-by: it is “the one who has his roots elsewhere, temporarily stays somewhere as a guest and returns when the time is right”.
I am sitting in my own thinking and ask myself: what is the gender of our time? I am convinced of the changing gender roles of time, and that something feminine is now being displayed. Because of this feeling, I find UMA STEN very powerful. More than that, Els Tjong Joe Wai and Kurt Nahar have put down a solid blueprint here with their choice of images. In such a way that not only the male muscles are taken for granted, because the complex layering of the artwork She, which has been chosen as an image, intertwines things like criticism, hope and beauty. I see She as a radical twist on our experience of the feminine. Els is “a Surinamese artist who, after years of living and working in Europe, returned to Suriname for good in 2009 and continued her art career here” (RAG, 2022). Her one-liners especially appeal to Kurt. The works drawn with watercolor, ink or pen on paper that emerge from her brush/pen like a cannonade during the COVID-19 pandemic are also socially and politically critical. Her works remind me of new ways of experiencing ‘being and time’; of looking at what comes our way and giving meaning to what we ourselves are part of. Against that background and the strong socio-political questions in her work, I think Els’s work is important for our time. In short, I hope that what Els does can contribute to changing the collective Being; the reverse spell as I ‘taste’ it in UMA STEN through the interpretation that Kurt gives to this. I therefore understand why he chooses Els as local master and positions her on a stage where the feminine is given space.
UMA STEN goes beyond humanism. It seems to me that this manifestation is heading towards the debate about a “planetary” humanity as an alternative to “the dead ends of humanism”. Planetary humanity is a new way out of the deadlock in which the Western discourse on “human” has reached. It is based on a spatiality “in which every human subject can again become the bearer of his word, his name, his actions and his desires” (Mbembe, 2017).
My spontaneous thought at UMA STEN is Friedrich Nietzsche’s Übermensch. As Mbembe (2017) argues, becoming-human-in-the-world, and being Übermensch, is not a matter of birth, lineage, or race. But becoming-human-in-the-world undergoes a change of form that arises from meeting an Other, as Emmanuel Levinas (cited in Keij, 2021) notes. Such an encounter – in which we essentially open ourselves to the unknown – leads to self-awareness and opens a “place” in which culture is the place in which the “wider man” emerges. For the earth has been “nothing but a great prison for this metal-man, this moneyman, this woodman, and this fluid-man condemned to endless metamorphosis” (Mbembe, 2017).
What I feel at UMA STEN is security. Perhaps because of my knowledge of Kurt’s focus on grandmothers, I associate this manifestation with the image of the mother? In his next and final curatorial assignment, Kurt addresses other aspects of the now, which further increases my need for security. In addition to being an object that satisfies hunger, psychoanalysis sees the maternal image as the first object of love and protection against dangers (Freud, quoted in Gay, 2006). That’s why UMA STEN reminds me above all about connection.
Finally, I conclude that for Martin Heidegger we are free to die our own death. In this way, according to him, we are also free to live our own lives. But death is a comedy, a game that is neither more nor less than how the human subject consciously fools “himself” (Mbembe, 2017). With UMA STEN, Kurt not only reminds us of this, but above all that today’s catastrophe is the predecessor of the apotheosis that will be tomorrow.
- P. Gay, Het onderbewuste: De draagbare Freud. Een keuze uit zijn werk, 2006
- J. Keij, Tijd als kwetsbaarheid in de filosofie van Levinas, 2021
- H. Manschot, Blijf de aarde trouw: pleidooi voor een nietzscheaanse terrasofie, 2020
- A. Mbembe, Een politiek van vijandschap, 2017
- Readytex Art Gallery, Press release exhibition UMA STEN, 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.
PHOTOS Courtesy Readytex Art Gallery (RAG)