Designer and musician Darwin Winklaar: ‘multi-talented Aruban who transcends fashion’

Here is a translation by Peter Jordens of Joan de Windt’s article “Designer and musician Darwin Winklaar: ‘multi-talented Aruban who transcends fashion’” (NTR Caribisch Netwerk, January 15, 2023).

He dreamed of studying fashion, and started to do so, but risked losing his Aruban identity and losing his way. Now it turns out that the Aruban Darwin Winklaar, alias NIÑO DIVINO, is multi-talented.

During his student days at the famous Rietveld Academy [university for Fine Arts and Design in Amsterdam, The Netherlands], he felt as if he had to give up his own Caribbean identity for a European one. It seemed that he had to learn a lot about European artists, while he was not allowed to do much with his Aruban identity. Everyone also told him that he showed too much emotion.

Outside of Amsterdam, he heard that he was “exotic” and “too colorful”. All this caused a depression in which he risked losing his way.

Decolonizing through art

During an internship in Aruba, he learned more about himself by researching culture, rituals and religions. He discovered traumas caused by the Dutch colonial past, Winklaar explains.

When he graduated, he managed to convince his teachers that what he made as an artist was special.

In his music and clips too, ‘traditional belief’ and spirituality play a major role. “We are kunukeros [smallholders], farmers and shamans. As a child, I saw my mother engaging in Afro-Caribbean healing rituals, mixed with Roman Catholic practices.”

“Our customs are not witchcraft,” he emphasizes. “We must accept that this is one way toward decolonization.”

Settling accounts with the past

Winklaar is not only a fashion designer. He recently released an album called Anemoia. As an artist, NIÑO DIVINO wants to settle accounts with the past.

While growing up in the San Nicolas neighborhood, he had “no role models to look up to.” Through his music he processes his Aruban childhood traumas and forgives his bullies.

In one of his clips, a well-known car brand can be seen. For him it is a symbol of the ‘macho men’ in Aruba who hurt him. “By taking pictures of a Toyota Tercel, by talking to it, and singing to it, I heal from my old pain.”

The song ‘MALIDATAS LAGRAMIAS’ is about gang members and homophobia, but also about healing together. What is striking is that he reappropriates the word ‘mariku’ (faggot) in a positive manner in the song.

Consciously Papiamento as well as Spanish

Almost every song is about connecting with the ancestors and he therefore pays attention to singers from the past.

The songs are in Papiamento as well as in Spanish, because the latter is the language in which Aruban artists of the past performed, he explains. “They used to go to Venezuela to record. I want to help memorialize their names.”

He does a lot of research for his songs and video clips and also tries to document his research. “We do not document sufficiently,” says Winklaar. “It is the only way to help bring artists back to life and to inspire young people.”

Awards for Darwin Winklaar

“What he does transcends fashion,” according to a panel of fashion professionals at the Amsterdam Fashion Week, where he won the Class of 2020 Prize.

Also in Amsterdam, he was subsequently honored with the ‘2022 Caribbean Talent of the Year’ Award. The Antillean Network Association sees Winklaar as a “promising, multi-talented star” when it comes to not only fashion, but also storytelling, dance, and music.

Translated by Peter Jordens. For original article in Dutch, see https://caribischnetwerk.ntr.nl/2023/01/15/ontwerper-en-muzikant-darwin-winklaar-arubaanse-multi-talent-die-mode-overstijgt

Follow Darwin Winklaar at https://www.instagram.com/darwinklaar, https://www.facebook.com/Darwinklaar, and https://www.youtube.com/@darwinklaar

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