The Curaçao Museum (located at Van Leeuwenhoekstraat, Willemstad) is hosting a new exhibition called “De Aprilmoorden” [The April Murders] by Curaçaoan artist Avantia Damberg from April 20 to June 15, 2022. Here is the transcript in English of a brief documentary video in Dutch about the exhibition, directed by Alexandra Jansse (Xela Films).
Watch the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yW-cqllVb1g. Transcription, translation and editing for clarity by Peter Jordens.
[0:14 on the video’s clock] The final set [of vases] is ready. I am going to take them out now. I have made twenty-one; fifteen are for the exhibition. They are still quite warm.
[0:29] I did an artisan residency here in Leeuwarden, Friesland [The Netherlands], where I learned to paint on the vases. Each vase form is from a particular dynasty. Essentially, I wanted to present an irony: a horrific event illustrated on something beautiful. It’s about a group of Chinese people from Rotterdam [The Netherlands] who were brought to Curaçao as contract laborers during the . . . from the 1930s onwards, to work at the Shell oil refinery. [Translator’s note: These imported Chinese seamen enabled, as stokers below deck, the transport of crude oil from Venezuela to the oil refineries in Aruba and Curaçao, where the oil would be processed into the fuel that was crucial to the Allied Forces during World War II.] They were stokers. It could get up to 55 degrees Celsius [131 degrees Fahrenheit] in the engine rooms of the tankers. To do this work, they smoked opium; they were addicted to opium. It was actually a form of slavery too, because the labor was brutal and they were the only ones who would put up with it.
[1:33] […] oil, transported from Maracaibo, Venezuela, but during World War II, the Germans with their U-boats [submarines] … started to torpedo the tankers and that was the last straw for the stokers. They went on strike, but because their work was so essential, because of the war, they were imprisoned in a military camp in Suffisant [Curaçao].
[2:09] Placing 400 people in a single barracks ― there were no proper sanitary facilities, there was no food ― makes for an explosive situation. At some point they therefore decided to split them up, but that’s when something went amiss, and then they simply opened fire upon the Chinese men. Forty-four of the Chinese laborers were injured, and fifteen died. And now I am paying tribute to those fifteen deceased. I am doing that for Curaçao, but also in The Netherlands, so that people will know the story.
[2:49] Well, here they are now, my fifteen vases being premiered in Oldeberkoop [The Netherlands] as part of the Open Stal art route. Afterwards, they will travel to Curaçao.
[3:12] I have just returned from The Netherlands and the vases too have arrived in Curaçao. I am going to exhibit them in Het Curaçaosch Museum. I will have a solo exhibition there. On the opening day, the vases will also … be part of the memorial ceremony for the fifteen Chinese laborers at the Kolebra Bèrdè cemetery. [Translator’s note: memorials have been held annually for the fifteen deceased Chinese laborers since approximately 2003, and in 2012, the government of Curaçao proclaimed April 20 as National Memorial Day for the April 1942 Murders.] Instead of [the usual] garlands, flowers will be placed in the vases on top of the graves. They are porcelain vases, so they are fragile, but also very strong; [they] last a very long time. In this way, then, this particular piece of history will become a part of Curaçao’s heritage. That gives me a lot of satisfaction and strength. [4:02]
Go to Avantia Damberg’s webpage http://www.avantiadamberg.com/home-portfolio for a more detailed description in English of the historical background to the exhibition. For more about the artist, see http://www.avantiadamberg.com/bio-resume, https://www.instagram.com/avantiadambergartist and http://www.facebook.com/avantiadamberg.
De aprilmoorden [The April Murders]
April 20 – June 15, 2022
Het Curaçaosch Museum, Van Leeuwenhoekstraat, Willemstad, Curaçao
The above exhibition poster is from the Instagram pages of Avantia Damberg and Het Curaçaosch Museum.