My search in the Moengo Festival

TRANSLATION Cassandra Gummels-Relyveld

Art deserves its place in society. It is how we can preserve beliefs from the past and transfer them to the future. The artist that longs to say something keeps searching for that possibility.

For me, participation in the Moengo Festival of Visual Arts (MFVA)  was one of those searches in which artists try to put the emphasis thinking, doing, talking and listening. What the viewer ultimately saw, heard and smelled, transported him to what was for some, a journey, and for others, something that felt like a struggle. In short, the festival took those that dared, along to a world where they could get a taste of the future. Those that could not, or did not want to understand this purpose of art, missed the interaction between the product and the process.

Concept and purpose

Freedom is the theme and also the most important approach when working with children. Working from this theme can stimulate their thinking and their feeling. The purpose of starting a dialogue with children about freedom is reflected in different ways. It becomes a process in which philosophizing – an important basis for living with together – gets underway.

Process and product

From my fascination for ‘recording tomorrow today ’ I let children from Moengo – a region that was affected by the guerilla war in the interior and where my grandfather originates from – become familiar with me, each other and their parents or other adults. What struck me as one of the problems of this district: Very little initiative being taken, waiting for what? That is what I want to capture with my artwork. I find it especially important to make a work of art with the adults of the future. Children can thus already make art for their own children so that several generations can enjoy it. Consciously working towards your future and recording things based on your own convictions is an important area of focus for the children and myself. The result is an art installation consisting of ceramic masks made by the children. The piece is called ‘Tama Kibii Tide’ [recording tomorrow today]. There is also a collage of among other things drawings made by them – made to warm up to the assignment – which forms a diptych. It becomes a painting ‘Kinderen voor Kinderen’ [children for children]. This work captures the child in me and connects it to the children in Moengo.

In December when I visit OS Wonoredjo where ‘Tama Kibii Tide’, the installation with the masks, is presented on the façade, I notice immediately that only half of it is left. I think to myself that it is fortunate that I have also captured the process of sharing and receiving by the children in the diptych, which is now owned by the Kibii Foundation. I hope that this work will be carefully preserved, because this experience was truly special for the children from Moengo and for myself as well. Together we dared to tell a story. The story that belongs to our own reality where that is not shut off by circumstances beyond us. With this ideal I try to use art as a symbol for something that is timeless. And it is there that the children, the adults and myself meet one another.

‘CONTINUUM’

By philosophizing together with the children from Moengo, I have acquired a great deal of inspiration and frustration. As an individual and more importantly as an artist, I had the opportunity to think about time, place and mind. My views on this are expressed in my personal artwork ‘CONTINUUM’. This work came into being through the interaction with the children and is also inspired by talks with and feedback from Kurt Nahar and Tirzo Martha (artist from Curacao). In this piece I link two themes with each other: freedom and being bound. Then, even before the opening of the festival, certain works of art create quite a commotion. This included ‘CONTINUUM’, which consisted of various elements that surfaced during my quest for the sense and the nonsense of life.

Participation in this festival was a great opportunity and pushed me in a certain direction. More importantly, it gives me a sense of recognition and this has touched me. A number of faithful people from Moengo expressed their great appreciation of me. It is clear that the work does something to them. The context, in which that part of the community places some of the artworks, is good. They are followers of the church who fear that these works of art can evoke spirits that cannot be exorcised. In my opinion, all the commotion surrounding these works can actually serve to stimulate independent thought.  Several artists share their opinion of the commotion in articles in the newspaper ‘de Ware Tijd’. At least twice I read that they felt that certain artists did not take the feelings of the local community into account. In their ‘educated opinion’– formed during their art studies – I see a reflection of the reluctance in our society. That is a pity, I believe. That works of art are criticized is excellent! What I find incomprehensible is what they mean by: the artists did not think about the context of the community. A small voice deep within me sadly says: “That is exactly what I mean when I want to differentiate between the creators of nice pictures and artists. Unfortunately I still see a bit too much of the former when I look around me.”

Prologue

I consciously steer away from each conviction that calls for the making of art that is commonplace and/or must take the fears of a community into account. Or rather, it strikes me deep within my heart to nowadays make art that has to take anything into account. When I ask myself what it is that drives me as an artist, I come to this conclusion: dare to take my head out of the sand and move people to reflect. I finally realize that artists, who think like this, make a community more alive.

That a work of art can have multiple meanings is nothing new. Collecting the various interpretations is important to the process preceding its development. Marcel Pinas puts this in motion in Moengo, Marowijne. It is to become the largest art district in Suriname. Marcel himself might not see this come to fruition. But daring to plant a seed from a vision for development is very brave. This I greatly admire. A festival like this, with excesses in various forms of cooperation and commotion, gives sufficient space to different parties to start thinking and to dare. What it asks of the artists is that they get to work and search for alternative methods, forms and techniques in order to renew their work. That is how I myself experience this initiative. I also hope that this serves as a stimulus to those other artists who even now in 2015, still think and act with great reserve and avoid challenges. I look back upon my participation in MFVA 2015 with great satisfaction. Working with children from the district Marowijne continuously for eight weeks, in addition to working with other artists, has certainly done something to me. Conversely I have, together with the other artists, also made a significant contribution to Marcel Pinas mission: Making Marowijne the art district of Suriname. Now it is Paramaribo’s turn.

Encore

After the conclusion of the festival I hear a little girl of about 6 years old, while pointing towards one of the ‘ghosts’ from the installation ‘Moengo Wake Up And Live’, say that they will wake up and stand up in the evening. I wonder where she got that. It would appear that she has heard the grownups talking. Something else that I notice in Moengo is the phenomenon of men hanging out or loitering in front of stores instead of youngsters doing so. For me some proof that Marcel Pinas, who focuses on the youth, is doing good work. “Did the MFVA put the finger on the right wound?” I wonder.