Under the motto kibri a kulturu —or “protect the culture”— Surinamese artist Marcel Pinas draws on traditional Ndjuka heritage to create impressively scaled works that ask questions about history, place, and memory. But as Christopher Cozier and Philip Sander write for Caribbean Beat, Pinas’s work does not “represent” Maroon culture. Rather, he is rethinking the meaning of tradition, always in the present tense. Here is an abbreviated version of the article.
Pinas’s earliest work included a series of large hung or suspended wall assemblages which undermined traditional boundaries between painting and sculpture. They anticipated the suspended forms of Pinas’s current installations, and simultaneously processed the influences of Modernist painters like the Dutch Karol Appel, or the gestural approaches of Irish artist Rex Dixon, whose work Pinas encountered in Kingston [Pinas graduated from the Edna Manley College for the Visual and Performing Arts in Kingston, Jamaica]. (Significantly, his mature works now seem more in conversation with the symbolic systems and “continental Caribbean” approaches to scale and composition of the Guyanese painter Aubrey Williams.)
These works referenced his Maroon heritage. Their surfaces consisted of large collaged fragments of pangi, the traditional cloths associated with Maroon identity, and inscriptions in Afaka script. [. . .] Pinas is Ndjuka — one of the six Maroon peoples of Suriname — and comes from the Marowijne district in the eastern part of the country.
But Pinas’s work does not “represent” Maroon culture in any reductive way. Rather, he is in the process of reconstructing its presence and meaning. It is a very personal concern that takes on wider political commitments. As a contemporary artist, Pinas does not see himself in conflict with tradition. His work is not iconoclastic in any way. His idea of tradition is perpetually in the present tense, already adapting, always anticipating the next step.
[. . .] Pinas is very much a man of business, as committed to his creative investigations as he is to adapting, reconstructing, and positioning his Maroon heritage, and rebuilding the Ndjuka community. [. . . In] Moengo, the small town sixty miles east of Paramaribo where Pinas’s Tembe Art Studio is located [. . . ,] he has created not only an art school for young people of Moengo, but an outdoor sculpture park, featuring his own works alongside those of other artists, and a residency programme that brings international artists to work both in and with the Moengo community. [. . .] His leadership and participation in the rebuilding of Moengo is itself a site-specific artwork. And his installation works, using traditional elements and artifacts of Maroon culture, whether placed in Paramaribo or galleries in Europe, become guided tours — not for cultural display, or “difference” as entertainment, but as sense-based reconstructions of presence and memory.
You could say Pinas is blurring the traditional boundary between artist and curator. Each new configuration — each new life given to these altered objects — tells a story of survival which we all carry or internalise through engaging the work. We become collaborators through what we produce by experiencing the work.
Pinas’s work was recognised by the World Economic Forum in 2010, when he was named a Young Global Leader. In 2011, a major retrospective in Paramaribo provided a comprehensive survey of his twenty-year career, accompanied by the monograph Marcel Pinas: Artist, More than an Artist.
The Ndjuka phrase kibri a kulturu — “protect the culture” — is Pinas’s motto, his overarching theme, and his modus operandi. The “culture” is Suriname’s Maroon heritage. For Pinas, to protect that heritage means going far beyond the notion of conservation or documentation: it requires ambitious acts of re-imagination that assert the Maroon community’s place in Suriname and the wider region, now and in the future.
For the full, original article in Caribbean Beat magazine (Issue 122, July/August 2013, pp. 48-56), go to http://www.caribbean-beat.com/issue-122/marcel-pinas-art-presence.
1. Kibi Wi Koni (2009), installation
2. Jepi De (2005), installation
3. Baw Libi (2008), mixed media on canvas
4. Mi De (2011), mixed media on canvas
5. Alibi (2008), installation