Inspired from Within: An Interview with Remy Jungerman

By Marsha Pearce Thursday, May 29th, 2014 Categories: Features, Interview, Updates

Visual artist Remy Jungerman was born in Moengo Suriname and his lived in Amsterdam since 1990. Through his collages, sculptures and installations he brings various materials, symbols, socio-historical contexts and locations in the world into communication with each other in order to address ideas of the local and the global. Jungerman’s work draws on Maroon culture in Suriname and the Diaspora, specifically Winti, which is an Afro-Surinamese religion.

His latest piece entitled “FODU: Ultimate Resistance” demonstrates his sustained engagement with the intersections of traditional religious practices and current trends in art. The work is now on display as part of the group exhibition Bezield: Seven Artists on Religion, Rituals and Death, which opened on May 10, 2014 at CBK Zuidoost, Amsterdam. The word “bezield” translates to “inspired” in English. I used this term as an entry point for talking with Jungerman about his art. In the interview, he pinpoints traditional and modern inspirations but he also identifies an inner stimulus – a source within him that acts as a ground on which his art is built.

Remy Jungerman photo © Alex de Vocht.

Remy Jungerman. Photo © Alex de Vocht.

Marsha Pearce: The exhibition Bezield is a reflection on religion, rituals and death as points of inspiration for navigating and making sense of our everyday experiences. How have some or all of these themes inspired or animated your creative practice over the years?

Remy Jungerman: In 2005 I returned to Suriname to bury my father. While there, I visited the ancestor altar of the Maroon heritage of my mother – I was born from mixed parents with roots in Europe and Africa. At that moment I realized the richness of my African roots and made the decision to do further research into that spiritual context. From that day, I knew my work would change. I knew it would take a more spiritual and religious direction, with a connection to Winti, which is an Afro-Surinamese traditional religion. I realized that there was so much aesthetic material from the practice of Winti, which I could connect to the knowledge I have gained from contemporary art, especially Modernism. All of the residue from the rituals seem like finished art pieces. The only thing I was missing was the “how” – how to make the link with contemporary art practice.

FODU: Ultimate Resistance - wood, textile, kaolin (118 x 118 x 248 cm) photo © Aatjan Renders.

FODU: Ultimate Resistance – wood, textile, kaolin (118 x 118 x 248 cm). Photo © Aatjan Renders.

MP: From looking at your art, it seems you have figured out a “how.” Tell me about your piece in the exhibition entitled FODU: Ultimate Resistance. What point(s) of view does it bring to the show?

RJ: FODU: Ultimate Resistance brings both Afro-religious and Trans-Atlantic points of view to the show. There are different symbols used in this piece, which connects three different continents. In Winti ritual practice, especially Fodu Winti, kaolin (or soft white clay) and batik textile are the most important elements. The kaolin is used to protect the individual during a ritual and the textile patterns represent particular gods. For FODU: Ultimate Resistance, I cover two cubes with the white clay and fabric. The tensions between the two kaolin surfaces create ultimate resistance. The cubes in the artwork are symbolic of spiritual volume and they are also the carriers of modernism.

The piece is inspired by the earth and water pantheons – from a Winti perspective. The Earth Gods or Gron Winti are manifested in a Fodu or snake, whose skin is typically reflected in Indonesian batik. Instead of batik textile, I use a Vlisco textile (Vlisco is a Dutch fabric company), which was first made for the Indonesian market by the Dutch but became, in time, the most important textile in Africa – known today as Hollandais or African print. The pattern of the fabric mirrors the skin of the snake (a specific boa constrictor). The red textile with white dots, which covers the top cube, refers to the water pantheon of the Winti religion.

MP: Your construction of three-dimensional cubes and your incorporation of particular components – textiles and the white clay for example – highlight significant connections between the objects and materiality of religious practices and the visual vocabulary and aesthetics of contemporary art making practices. Your “how” seems to be the establishment of a rich dialogue among various shapes, forms and patterns. Can you tell me more about this nexus of forms in your ritual/process of art production?

RJ: With creating artworks I have the possibility and freedom to use objects and materials from a traditional context – mixing them to give other aesthetic meanings. By using the three-dimensional cube, grids and other geometric forms and combining them with traditional objects, this gives me the opportunity to question modernism from a different angle. By doing this, I create a reference to the traditional and the modern.

MP: You take elements out of their religious contexts and situate them in new spaces and conversations. Is this perhaps a symbolic death of the objects/elements (in their removal from conventional contexts) and simultaneously, an emblematic giving of new life to these elements?

RJ: The objects/elements never die, symbolically, in the artwork. By using these elements in contemporary art, they do change from their religious meaning but the new context might serve to enrich the way we look at them – allowing us to see them from a different perspective. Even traditional religious forms are changing over time because of their flexibility, especially Diaspora Afro-traditional religions and their attributes.

PEEPINA, wall painting 1988, Paramaribo, Suriname.

PEEPINA, wall painting 1988, Paramaribo, Suriname.

MP: FODU: Ultimate Resistance is also featured in an online exhibition – curated by you – for the March 2014 edition of the Dutch art magazine Mister Motley. The exhibition takes viewers on a journey with various objects that have inspired your works. You begin the online presentation with your first mural created in 1988 and you close the series of images with FODU: Ultimate Resistance. What perspectives have shifted between 1988 and 2014, for you? What concerns and creative responses have persisted in your work over that period?

RJ: The online exhibition I curated for the March 2014 edition of the Dutch art magazine Mister Motley gave me the opportunity to see that not much has shifted in my ties to my rich Surinamese heritage, in the aesthetics I gained from the surroundings in which I grew up and in what I have learned at art schools. The mural is made from the details of a Maroon man’s shoulder cape, produced in the 19th century. The only thing is that at the time of the making of the mural in 1988, I could not put the work in perspective as an art form with its own reference that the larger art world could understand. At that time, the book from Richard and Sally Price entitled Afro-American Arts of the Suriname Rain forest, was really the only connection to something of my own – something of my own I could relate to Modernism. In looking back with this online curated show and thinking about the work I am doing now, I realize that it took me a long time to reference something deep down inside me – something within me which I see as the base or foundation that I connect to modernism and not the other way around.

To learn more about Remy Jungerman and his work, visit his website and Facebook page.

Bezield: Seven Artists on Religion, Rituals and Death presents works by Remy Jungerman, Koštana Banović, Avantia Damberg, Lena Davidovich, Hamid El Kanbouhi, Ida van der Lee and Saliou Traoré. The exhibition runs until June 28, 2014 at CBK Zuidoost.

Marsha Pearce
Marsha Pearce

Marsha Pearce is ARC’s Senior Arts Writer and Editor. She holds a PhD in Cultural Studies from the University of the West Indies (UWI) St Augustine Campus, Trinidad. She lectures in the Department of Creative and Festival Arts at UWI and is also a freelance arts writer for the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian newspaper. Pearce is the 2006 Rhodes Trust Rex Nettleford Cultural Studies Fellow.