Artists in lockdown Q&A: Remy Jungerman
Over the past year we have learned to organize our daily life in a different way. A lot has changed for artists too: there were no – or fewer – opportunities to exhibit work, while a lot of time was spent in the studio. How do artists shape the changing world? In the Artist in lockdown-series, we’ll talk to our artists about their experiences during the pandemic. Today’s Q&A with: Remy Jungerman.
“I very much hope that when the pandemic is over, when our every wish is possible again, we will think twice about all our actions, weighing more carefully they impact the world and hoping to make the world a better place.”
How has life been during lockdown? Has it been a time of solitude or has it brought you and your family closer together?
It has been hard, of course, in this time in which we worry for our loved ones and our communities, we can’t travel, can’t socialize, can’t move about freely. Yet this time has also given me the opportunity to work with high concentration on a new body of work. At the same time, the pandemic has separated me from my partner in New York City. Even this has a positive side to it in that it has helped us understand life from a different perspective and in many ways has brought us even closer together. I can’t wait to be back in NYC to plan our future drawing on all that the pandemic has taught us about what is truly important in life.
Did the lockdown alter your vision of the world?
The lockdown didn’t necessarily alter my vision of the world. However, I very much hope that when the pandemic is over, when our every wish is possible again, we will think twice about all our actions, weighing more carefully they impact the world and hoping to make the world a better place.
How did the lockdown affect your art practice?
In fact, the lockdown enriched my art practice. It gave me time to rethink and focus on a whole new body of work. Because I have a full agenda planned for 2021, it allowed me to use 2020 to stay focused on making the work, reflecting and reading. Although I do miss the face-to-face conversations with my collogues and social network a lot.
Could you tell me more about one specific work you created during lockdown?
During the lockdown I have been working on a new series of panels and horizontal wall pieces. For the panels I have been looking a lot at the complex and intricate abstract compositions seen in the quilts of the woman of Gee’s Bend, a black community in Alabama, USA. In these quilts I see direct links to the abstract geometry found in the shoulder capes of the Suriname Maroon which themselves, of course, echo the west African Cuba and Kente cloths. Bringing all of these energies together, I create collage-like panels that consist of 4 x 4 inch (10 x 10 cm) squares. These squares are made from grided textiles of different color combinations covered with kaolin (pimba) whereon the gridlines are carved as scars. This is giving the surface of the works a rhymical touch that relates to the low tones made by the Agida, a large drum of about 2.5 meters that is used in the Winti religion during earth pantheon ceremonies. This series of panels I call the AGIDA series.
The horizontal wall pieces are altar-like spatial constructions built out of painted wooden slats covered with grided textile, kaolin (pimba), bottles, nails and beads. One of these wall pieces titled Horizontal Obeah MAAU (La Llorona) I made in the days following the brutal murder of George Floyd – it is a piece that carries the emotion of La Llorona (Spanish for the crying woman). La Llorona was a mother from Mexican folklore who murdered her children, after which she searches for them crying at night.
What do you think about the surge of online activities during lockdown? Besides negative experiences, like being unable to see art in real life, were there any positive experiences? Is there a specific initiative that inspired you?
In searching online activities, I have limited myself to only art related topics and topics meant to inspire spiritual reflection. Because so much of the world has gone online it can start to be overwhelming and difficult to focus in on things that truly inspire me. Most of the time I have been watching zoom conversations after I come back from the studio during preparing my dinner. Some high lights that stick in my memory are the series of talks ‘What does afro future says?’ by Ingrid LaFleur, which also features Greg Tate and Gia Hamilton and Conversation of Manthia Diawara & Terri Geis – EGS Lecture – “The New Sacred Since André Breton and Édouard Glissant”, My favorite podcast is ‘de plantage van onze voorouders’ (in Dutch). In the eight-part series ‘the plantation of our ancestors’, Maartje Duin traces the slavery past in her family history.
What will 2021 bring us?
I wish I had a glass ball to predict the future of 2021. The start has not been very motivating but still hope that we can gather soon again and live the life we deserve to live but with a greater consciousness as to how to move forward to heal nature and with greater respect to each other.
“What we think, we become.” – Buddha
ABOUT Remy Jungerman
Born in 1959 in Moengo, Suriname
Lives and works in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Remy Jungerman attended the Academy for Higher Arts and Cultural Studies in Paramaribo, Suriname, before moving to Amsterdam where he studied at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. In his work, Jungerman explores the intersection of pattern and symbol in Surinamese Maroon culture, the larger African Diaspora, and 20th Century “Modernism.” In bringing seemingly disparate visual languages into conversation, Jungerman’s work challenges the established art historical canon. As art and culture critic Greg Tate has remarked “Jungerman’s work leaps boldly and adroitly into the epistemological gap between culturally confident Maroon self-knowledge and the Dutch learning curve around all things Jungerman, Afropean and Eurocentric.”
Born and raised in Suriname, he is a descendant, on his mother side, of the Surinamese Maroons who escaped enslavement on Dutch plantations to establish self-governed communities in the Surinamese rain forest. Within their rich culture, many West-African influences are preserved including the prominent use of abstract geometrical patterns. Placing fragments of Maroon textiles, as well other materials found in the African diaspora such as the kaolin clay used in many African religious traditions or the nails featured in West African Nkisi Nkondi power sculpture, in direct contact with materials and imagery drawn from more “established” art traditions, Jungerman presents a peripheral vision that can enrich and inform our perspective on art history.