Uprising Art is media partner of the first edition of the BIAC, Biennale Internationale d’Art Contemporain de Martinique, that takes place between November 22, 2013 and January 15, 2014 and which theme is “On the Resonance of the Literary Outcry in the Visual Arts”. For this need, Uprising travels to the Martinique from November 19 to 26 to report on the event and conduct a series of interviews of the organizing team, the invited curators, the artists in residency and the artists from the International and Martinican Pavilions.
Follow us to know more on the backstage of the event and its main outcomes.
Exclusively an interview of
Remy Jungerman, Surinamese-Dutch artist
This is the first edition of the BIAC in Martinique, FWI. What is the importance of such an event?
In the last years, the number of biennales happening around the world has boomed, and you start questioning the importance of them… Yet, actually for the Caribbean, I think it is important to have these gatherings for the artists, with a lot of energy, and meetings. It also enables to question the art scene even if the rest of the international art scene might not even notice this event and they might think it is not that important. I believe it gives something extra for the future for the Caribbean, where there is a need to work together and create synergies and collaborations.
Nevertheless, what is really at stake here, in the BIAC, is the continuation of the biennale. I hope they manage to do a second and a third edition, by learning from the first one, and by succeeding to avoid political incidences in the organization of the event.
What is the story behind the piece you present – Guardian Havana 2009?
It is the second time I will be exhibiting this specific piece that comes from a series of works with that title Guardian + something. I called it Guardian Havana (500 x 250 x 30 cm) because it was made especially for the 25th anniversary of the Havana Biennial in 2009 that took place during the 50th years of the Cuban Revolution. It was an important moment.
Tumelo Mosaka, curator of the international pavilion “Otherwise Black” at BIAC, asked me for this large piece, and I am really happy to showcase it newly.
At that time, and until now, I very much look at the Surinamese-Afro cultural heritage in the religious context and at what happened in modernism. Research around geometric forms, coming from Suriname, Africa or Europe, is recurrent in my practice – be it investigating De Stijl (Mondrian, Doeburg…) or the cultural references I have such as cloth used in Winti rituals in Suriname. Guardian Havana was created out of that.
Did you bring any change in this second version?
The changes I made in the installation, as a total for BIAC, is that I add one recent artwork made this year with the same intention of Guardian Havana: Descendants Composition (109 x 152 x 20 cm).
You are keeping on investigating Winti’s traditions in your latest productions. What are your intentions in retranslating such religious traditions into artworks?
This research and exploration is possible because I am taking things and elements out of a religious context I am familiar with and I know. I try to find a language for those practices and rituals in my work. I create around my heritage and the knowledge brought by the Africans to Suriname. Actually, using religious traditional elements I create contemporary artwork.
Lately, I have been diving more into abstraction, but an abstraction that comes from a figurative context. I do not know how the audience reads it, but for me it is a reason to investigate geometric patterns.
The titles might give hints to the public… For instance, my Horizontal Obeah pieces reflect the Winti influence in my practice. For me, this horizontal line marks the connection with the Atlantic as well as it stands for the sharing of geometric forms.
Do you wish to conduct a work of preservation and memory through your artworks?
Sometimes… When I use the cotton, with dots, or red and blue cloth; when I use this material, yes, I involve the ancestors. I do the same in my life; I do talk with the people who died before me since they back me up and support me.
I also try to take position as an artist from Surinamese heritage to try to be an example for another generation of younger artists, as I know it is important. I become more critical about where I show my work and try to break the barriers of exoticism.
This edition of the BIAC has a focus on literature. Does it have any influence on your practice in general?
I do not think about it as such, but yes definitely. The link might not be obvious in Guardian Havana – nor in any pieces in particular, but literature has been underpinning the development of my practice.
When I studied in art school in Suriname, we studied philosophy and debated about Césaire, Fanon or El Che’s ideas – more particularly their discussions about nationalism, which for us was crucial at that time in the eighties. It was when I got in Holland that I realized the importance of what was happening. Those thinkers brought me in an unconscious way to question how to deal with my cultural heritages (religious context, Winti rituals, our link with Africa…).
Could you tell us more about your last individual exhibition, Kabra Descendants Exchange?
It was curated by the Dutch curators Hanne Hagenaars and Gijs Asmann in Diepenheim a small city in the east of Holland. As this year marks the 500 years of the abolition of slavery, they asked me to do a show with that theme. Yet, my work is not literally about slavery so at first I was not sure of the project until I heard talking about Rutger Jan Schimmelpenninck, a person from that particular area – Diepenheim – that was president of Holland during the time of slavery. I decided to take the opportunity to deal with this and make an artwork connecting my Winti ancestors with this history.
Kabra is a special ritual table you do for the ancestors, calling on them, and where you prepare food you eat with them. I hence made a Kabra table especially for the ancestors of Rutger Jan Schimmelpenninck that lived in the area and for my ancestors, particularly Captain Broos, a maroon who escaped slavery and lived in the rainforest. The table is 1.7 meter wide by 7 meter long. I did not use only traditional objects but objects that might connect to both the ancestors: a picture of this president, a silkscreen on Captain Broos, wooden plates covered with white cloth, elements such as bottles connecting to libation, pictures referring to the food instead or real food (chicken, rice, etc). Technically, I used 49 legs for the table and each was put into a sardine can filled with water. The water is a carrier for the table and stands symbolically for the Atlantic, the exchanges, the slave trade…
I then asked a Winti priestess help installing and purifying the Kabra table according to the exact ancestral rituals. Antonio Guzman, artist and friend of mine, did a film of 15 minutes highlighting the ritual and the prayers to the ancestors.
By Clelia Coussonnet
Headline picture’s credits : Portrait Remy Jungerman, 2013 – photo © Nadia Huggins