Diary: return to Pikinslee

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Saamaka Kondë museum 2

The Saamaka Kondë museum in Pikinslee

Karel Doing and Mels van Zutphen are artists based in Rotterdam, and participants in the ArtRoPa programme. During their residencies in Suriname, they both visited the village of Pikinslee, on the Upper Suriname River. Their time there inspired the work they showed in the Paramaribo SPAN exhibition.

After the exhibition opening in late February, both artists returned to Pikinslee to share their projects with the community there. They send the following notes about this visit.

The opening of Paramaribo SPAN was not the end of activities for us. We both worked on time-based art (a 16mm film and a video installation) in Upper Suriname, in a village called Pikinslee. The Maroons that live in Pikinslee have just completed building a museum to preserve the fast-changing and disappearing Saramaccan culture for the next generations. The village promises to develop into an important cultural centre in the interior of Suriname in the coming years. Due to the activities and collaboration of the villagers and Maroon diaspora in the Netherlands and Paramaribo, there is a particular openness in Pikinslee, although it is situated in a still isolated region.

We were both very eager to show the films we made on our earlier visit. With the help of Kens Libbarth and the local artists' group Totomboti, we organised an event for the inhabitants of the village.

pikinslee audience 1

pikinslee audience 2

Members of the audience at the screening in Pikinslee

On Wednesday 3 March the people came in large numbers and waited full of anticipation for the screening to start. Because of a lack of working sound equipment, the first film we screened was Djoeka, a Dutch travelogue from 1927, recently digitised by Eye Film Institute. This travelogue consists of extensive footage shot on the Suriname River, around Botopasi and Asidonhopo (close to Pikinslee). Besides a journey by dugout canoe, the film shows many activities like music, dance, food preparation, hairdressing, religious ceremonies, and portraits of people and architecture.

Looking back onto their own history proved to be very exciting for the audience. There was a lot of commentary, laughter, and discussion during and after the film. The audience was amazed that the colonials did not have outboard motors on their boats and had to paddle for weeks before reaching their destination. Also they were struck by the dancing styles depicted, very different from today's style. The main title and intertitles of the film were considered crude and badly informed, reflecting the arrogance of the Dutch editors. Also, the audience could see how different the river was before the Afobaka dam was built. Many other comments were lost in translation somewhere between Saramaccan, Dutch, Sranan, and English, the languages spoken by the assembled public.

An excerpt from Looking for Apoekoe (2010; 16-mm film, 13 minutes), by Karel Doing

The next day, a sound installation was set up, and the screening continued. The crowd was as big as the day before, and during the screening more and more people gathered. During Karel’s Looking for Apoekoe the audience sat quietly, softly commenting on the strange but still familiar images they saw. Afterwards some astonished comments were heard. Karel’s film is a mysterious trip circling around the bush-spirit Apoekoe, a lively, smart figure taking various shapes and with many special features.

man in gold 1

man in gold 2

Installation views of Man in Gold (2010; video loop, 20 minutes), by Mels van Zutphen, at the Paramaribo SPAN exhibition

Next was Mels’s film Man in Gold, a film version of the video installation screened in Paramaribo. It depicts the building of a korjaal (dugout canoe), the shipping of two big golden objects from Paramaribo upstream on the Suriname River, and a man with a golden suit on a moped. It was shot with the help of local canoe engineers and the people from the Totomboti foundation.

Berry, nephew of canoe builder Bernard, was very exited to see if anyone would recognise him as the man in the golden suit, made by his aunt Joney. Children laughed out loud on seeing canoe builder Alfred, whose face was covered with dust caused by the chainsaw. Etje Doekoe, an artist from Totomboti who saw a rough cut of the film a few months earlier during a visit to Rotterdam, asked Mels about a particular shot that he didn’t see in the final version: a palm tree waving in the wind. Mels was fascinated by the fact that Etje missed this shot and not the others of himself that didn’t make it. It’s not a problem, Etje said, I just liked the waving palm trees a lot....

Saamaka Kondë museum 1

Etje Doekoe in the Saamaka Kondë museum

The next day we were scheduled to go back to the city, but on the invitation of Totomboti we decided to stay one more day. It turned out to be the most relaxed day of our trip, and inevitably we started making plans for new projects in Suriname’s rich interior.

Rotterdam, 16 March, 2010