Kevin Osepa: The Curaçao Artist Exploring Afro-Caribbean Spiritual Culture

In the column “The Netherlands: Untold Tales,” Will Furtado interviews artist/photographer Kevin Osepa. Read “Kevin Osepa: The Curaçao Artist Exploring Afro-Caribbean Spiritual Culture” in C& América Latina:

Inspired by the “magical thinking” of his native Curaçao, Kevin Osepa uses photography and film to create stories that explore religion, African diaspora, and family. Based in the Netherlands since 2013, his fascination with his home island hasn’t dimmed. In this interview Osepa discusses what’s so sobering about the Netherlands, Afro-Caribbean spiritual culture, and how he deals with Zwarte Piet.

Contemporary And: Growing up in Curaçao, how did you see the relationship between the island and the Netherlands?

Kevin Osepa: You grow up with this idea that the Netherlands is like the big brother of Curaçao. All our curriculums in school came from the Netherlands and the majority of the classes were in Dutch. So growing up I was always aware that there was something that binds Curaçao with the Netherlands. It felt like a distant but at the same time very present relationship.

There is also a limited amount of university studies that you can follow on the island, so most teenagers are faced (at a very early age) with the fact that the study they want to do will probably have to be in the Netherlands. You are usually prepared for this. My case wasn’t any different.

C&: What kind of findings in your new home in the Netherlands has marked you in a significant way? And how does that reflect in your art? 

KO: There is something here in the Netherlands that I refer to as sobriety. To me, it feels like the lifestyle and landscape have no room for magic or magical thinking. In my work, I usually try to re-enchant the Dutch landscape and introduce Afro-Caribbean rituals and magical “ideas” into the landscape. So my work is a reflection of me creating my home, or my idea of home, here.

C&: What still fascinates you about Curaçao?

KO: I am fascinated by how rich our history and culture is. You need to understand that the education system on the island still has a colonial hangover. We learn our history from the Dutch perspective, and our own traditions and histories are shoved under a rug. We don’t talk about it. So doing this research on my own, I rediscover my island and the history of my island through an Afro-perspective. And to me, this is an honest perspective.

I am mostly fascinated by how our ancestors managed to practice their own religion (which was forbidden in colonial times) under the nose of the colonizer without them knowing. The rituals became a tool for protection and emancipation, and to this day they have survived.

C&: How do you deal with Zwarte Piet?

KO: The way I deal with it is to try to have conversations about it with Dutch people who are very attached to this tradition. I try to pass on the knowledge that I have in terms of Zwarte Piet being a racist caricature and why removing it is logical. The discussion is pretty heated, and every year it becomes more intense. It has come to a point where I sense a lot of tension in a social environment when the topic comes forward. Especially being Black, you are automatically part of the discussion.

So I think the sooner we get past the celebration of this racist caricature, the closer we will get to a more peaceful, loving, and respecting society. But at the same time, I see it as a wake-up call for the Netherlands to deal with the fact that there is still this silent racism roaming around. The Zwarte Piet discussion breaks the silence on a problem that is bigger than just an old tradition or celebration. [. . .]

For full interview and more photos, see

[Kevin Osepa, “Barbulètè,” “Wowo,” and “unan di skuridat”; from the series ‘Mester Blousé’, 2017. Courtesy the artist.]

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