Art film Soengoe Kondre to be screened in Suriname
Nieuwe Instituut, curator Vincent van Velsen and filmmaker Miguel Peres dos Santos are organising three screenings of Soengoe Kondre (2023) at different locations in Suriname this month. In this film, which Peres dos Santos made on the occasion of Van Velsen’s exhibition of the same name at the Nieuwe Instituut, we hear and see stories about the construction and completion of the Afobaka Dam, and its impact on the local population.
12 February 2024
The film will be shown in Klaaskreek, Paramaribo and Pikin Slee on 19, 20 and 22 February 2024. Peres dos Santos and Van Velsen will talk to the audience after each screening.
Soengoe Kondre / Submerged Heritage takes visitors to the interior of Suriname, where an area of approximately 1,560 km2 was flooded when the Afobaka Dam was completed in 1964. A far-reaching consequence of the construction was the large-scale displacement of the Ndyuka and the Saramaccans, the Maroon peoples who lived on the land that was flooded to create the Brokopondo reservoir. When they were forced to move, they lost not only their homes and livelihoods, but also their entire way of life.
In all his work, visual artist, researcher and filmmaker Miguel Peres dos Santos is concerned with images. He looks critically at how people are (literally) framed in historical TV programmes, newsreels and documentaries, and how events have been reported on the basis of assumptions and prejudices. At the invitation of curator Vincent van Velsen, he created a new work of art especially for the exhibition Soengoe Kondre / Submerged Heritage. In reconstructing and adding to the history of the dam, the reservoir and the local people, his film forms a deconstruction of the available moving images.
During a series of working visits to the location, Peres dos Santos filmed the current conditions: the drowned land, sunken lives and submerged heritage. He collected 1960s archive footage created before, during and immediately after the construction of the Afobaka Dam –footage that was meant for a Dutch audience. He gives it a new meaning by re-editing it, combining and contrasting the existing fragments with a contemporary perspective. In this way, Peres dos Santos reverses the viewpoint, and with it the original colonial gaze.
Dates and locations
- The first screening and discussion will take place on Monday 19 February 2024 at 19:00 at DOB (Duurzame Ontwikkeling Bigipondo) in Klaaskreek.
- The second screening will be organised on Tuesday 20 February 2024 at 19:00 at the National Archives of Suriname in Paramaribo.
- The third screening in the series will be organised on Thursday 22 February 2024 at 19:00 in collaboration with the Saamaka Marron Museum in Pikin Slee.
The displaced communities had been largely self-sufficient, with family ties and strong social structures playing an important role. The new villages assigned to them by the government were in an area that proved unsuitable for growing food. Families were separated and the Maroons no longer had access to the waterways on which they had traditionally relied for transport and travel. Government compensation for their loss was minimal. And although they had been forced to make way for a power station, their new villages were not connected to the electricity grid until 1996 – 32 years after the hydroelectric plant was completed.
In the formal historiography of the flood and the forced migration, there is barely any record of the impact on the Maroons’ social and economic conditions. The material in the exhibition, which tells the official story of the Afobaka Dam, shows how the Surinamese government and other authorities involved in the construction of the dam communicated the construction project in formal documents. You can see construction notices, photos and maps from the preliminary research into the most suitable location for the dam, images illustrating the extent of the expected ecological impact and documenting the rising waters after the dam’s completion.
In order to gain more insight into the human impact of the forced migration, the curators spoke to people who had experienced it themselves, or who were told about it by their parents or grandparents. Curator Vincent van Velsen interviewed people from the Maroon communities who lived through the construction of the dam, the flooding and the compulsory population transfer. Their oral memories and experiences form an indispensable addition, one that until now has been hidden or at best underexposed, to the filmed and written history. Based on these personal memories, Van Velsen illuminates a history that he contrasts with the official narrative that emerges from the archive photos, design drawings, documents and other official evidence included in the exhibition.
Recognition, acknowledgement, inspiration
With the exhibition and the film, the curators hope to contribute to the recognition and acknowledgement of the Surinamese Maroons. Nieuwe Instituut, Vincent van Velsen and Miguel Peres dos Santos are convinced that the cultural richness, inventiveness, survival instinct and joie de vivre that have underpinned the culture and lifestyle of these communities for hundreds of years will also enable them to cope with the current challenging circumstances.
The continued resilience and ingenuity of the Maroon peoples – the Aluku or Boni, the Kwinti, the Matawai or Matuariërs, the Paramaccans or Paramaka, and, in this story about the submerged heritage of Brokopondo especially, the Saramaccans or Saamaka and the Aukan or Ndyuka – is a source of inspiration. Especially now, at a time when life, human and otherwise, is under increasing pressure from a capitalist system that is exhausting people and nature, people around the world can learn from the way the Maroons have supported themselves over the centuries. Wan daka coolee a ta kiï wan wômi –“A day’s running never killed anyone,” as a Saramaccan proverb says, or in other words: never give up.
DOB (Duurzame Ontwikkeling Bigipondo)
“For Mother Nature and with its heart in the right place,” to use its own words, this sustainable development foundation organises educational projects, encourages participation in the arts and culture, supports women and families, and works to preserve the material and immaterial heritage of the Surinamese region of Brokopondo.
National Archives of Suriname
The National Archives of Suriname in Paramaribo aims to act as the memory of the nation by preserving, using and making available the archives it manages. In this way, it hopes to contribute to a stronger historical awareness and a shared sense of national identity.
Saamaka Maroon Museum
The Saamaka Maroon Museum in Pikin Slee, on the Upper Suriname River, offers space for the past, present and future of the flourishing culture of the Saramaccan Maroons, who managed to escape a life of slavery and founded autonomous communities from the 17th century onwards in the interior of Suriname.