The art and practice of experiencing/Becoming our space

by Glenn Helberg

For Issue 4 of SHEBANG; The art and practice of experiencing/Becoming our space, guest curator Glenn Helberg invites various artists, thinkers and spokespersons from diasporic communities to come together. Western, colonial thinking and doing is focused on dehumanisation and divide-and-conquer mechanisms. A strategy used by colonists to maintain control over populations—by deliberately dividing and pitting them against each other. This tactic was used structurally during periods of colonisation and slavery, and it is staggering how effective it was in oppressing communities and maintaining power by a smaller group of people. Although slavery has been abolished, our thinking, our bodies, and therefore our daily actions are still permeated by colonial truths and mechanisms. These oppressive thought constructs deprive communities of color of the space to be themselves. By breaking through these truths in body and mind, we can experience the space to overcome divide and conquer mechanisms. Although we have freedom, we do not experience space.

The art and practice of experiencing/Becoming our space is a creative process of making sessions and exhibitions. Makers and artists explore how disunity between diasporic communities and oppression of identity(s) can be broken. The starting point is the idea that we are connected to each other both individually and communally through spirituality, are recognisable to each other through shared (language) codes, are visible to each other in appearance, and at the same time are characterised by a history of invisibility.

Thinkers, makers and artists from different diasporic communities are invited to jointly make the connection between body and mind—by creating and claiming space. Visual artists Alydia Wever, Raul Balai and Fré Calmes form the artistic thread of these meetings—which then serve as inspiration to create a joint work of art in a next project. A subsequent process in which the creative process transcends individual aspects and becomes a collective healing ritual, leading to a work of art that focuses on the celebration of unity and the combined power of diasporic groups.

Image Wendelisa Ragil
Image Wendelisa Ragil

Team

Process

The art and practice of experiencing/Becoming our space, session 1

The first gathering centred around the story of Africans as human traffickers. This story is frequently deployed when it comes to responsibility and reparations for the past of slavery. By invitation of guest curator Glenn Helberg, speakers Zawdie Sandvliet and Babah Tarawally, and performers Cherella Gessel and Ayaovi Kokousse, thematise this story through a divide and conquer lens. In this session we contrasted the story of the left-behind African and the enslaved African. By emphasising the mechanism of divide and conquer used by the coloniser, it became clear that this is a system and that the descendants have not sold each other.

The art and practice of experiencing/Becoming our space, session 2

The centre of this session are the stories of the Indigenous people and the Maroons. The stories of how enslaved Africans arrive in South America. The meeting with the original population, who lived in relationship with each other and with the land. A situation where land was not property, but part of a spiritual realisation. With the arrival of the coloniser, people and land were made property. During this evening we will explore the meeting of these groups and the role that divide and conquer plays in their stories with Angila Albitrouw, Leander Vermaning, Dwayne Toemere and Josè Tojo.

The art and practice of experiencing/Becoming our space, session 3

During the first meeting of The art and practice of experiencing/Becoming our space, we contrasted the story of the Africans left behind and the enslaved Africans. By bringing out the mechanism of divide and conquer used by the coloniser, it became clear that this is a system and that the descendants have not sold each other. The second meeting focused on the stories of the Maroons and Surinamese Indigenous people. We heard about the meetings, helping each other and our own resilience. At the same time, each group waged its own frantic struggle against the coloniser. The pacifications that the coloniser had entered into with the various groups due to the persistent resistance, continued to be systems of oppression, perpetuating the division between the various Maroons and Surinamese Indigenous groups.

During the third meeting, the stories of the Creoles, the Hindustani, Javanese and Chinese were centred. The stories about the first arrivals and meeting are shared. The meeting between these groups and the forced employment on the plantations in Suriname, where slavery slowly came to an end. With the kidnapping and forced crossing of new groups, the coloniser continued to make people and land their property. With Jomecia Oosterwolde, Devika Chotoe, Jonathan Tjien Fooh and Walther Tjon Pian Gi, we explored the encounters and the role that divide and conquer plays in stories about their own spirituality.

The art and practice of experiencing/Becoming our space, session 4

At the previous meeting we heard and felt how various Surinamese communities who, among other things, were induced into contract labor through kidnapping and deception, know little about each other and so many generations later about themselves. With the realisation of uprooting and the conversations about the prejudices about each other, that is where the steps towards healing lie.

During the fourth meeting we made the move to Curaçao and examined, with performers Junadry Leocaria, Gregory Shaggy Albertzoon, Laurindo Andrea and Adeiye Tjon, how language has been used as an instrument to systemically perpetuate division, as well as how this affects access to social positions and colorism. We talked about the enduring resilience that we can trace in our stories of heroic deeds, to feel this together and absorb it in our DNA.

The art and practice of experiencing/Becoming our space, session 5

During the fifth and last meeting of this part of Issue 4, performers Eva Croes, Lenny Hendrixx, Edwina Hodge, Tatiana Nicolaas, Karpachii and Imelda Lynch each told and showed from their own strengths about divide and rule as a systemic colonisation mechanism in, on and between the islands and The Netherlands. We experienced the wind, the water, the ocean as connecting elements. We asked ourselves and each other: why is it that when I turn to you, you turn away from me?