Soengoe Kondre / Submerged Heritage
15 September 2023 - 1 June 2024
The exhibition Soengoe Kondre / Submerged Heritage takes you to the interior of Suriname, the former Dutch colony on the Caribbean coast of South America, where an area covering 1560 km2 was submerged under water after the completion of the Afobaka dam in 1964. Built as the country was transitioning to full independence, which would come in 1975, the dam’s far-reaching consequences included the mass displacement of Maroons – the descendants of Africans enslaved under colonialism who, beginning in the 18th century, fought and escaped their bondage and established independent inland settlements.
Curator Vincent van Velsen interviewed members of these communities who experienced the dam’s construction, the subsequent flooding and their own forced migration. In doing so, he sheds light on a history, told through personal memories, that contrasts sharply with the ‘official’ narrative as seen through the archival photographs, design drawings, films and other documents that are also presented in the show.
In addition, the exhibition includes Soengoe Kondre, a specially commissioned film by artist Miguel Peres dos Santos. Using both archival and newly created footage, Peres dos Santos critically reframes how the dam was communicated to the public at the time of construction in order to question and reverse the direction of the colonial gaze.
The price of progress
Soengoe Kondre / Submerged Heritage asks who pays the price for the sometimes devastating social and ecological consequences of large-scale projects carried out in the name of 'progress' and economic growth. The Afobaka dam was built to create a hydroelectric plant to power a single aluminium smelting factory, and when construction was complete, a third of Brokopondo province was flooded. Thousands of people living there, mainly Saramaka and Ndyuka Maroons, saw not only their villages disappear beneath the water, but also part of their identities and self-sufficient ways of life. To this day, these communities, relocated to new villages (in Dutch ‘transmigratiedorpen’) downstream from the dam, face infertile soil and constant threats from floods and pollution from the area’s mining of gold. This exhibition shows what life was like before the water began to rise; the historical and economic context that led to the dam’s construction; and the latter’s lasting social, cultural and environmental impacts.
Leading up to the exhibition, the Nieuwe Instituut and the initiators Daphne Bakker, Miguel Peres dos Santos and Vincent van Velsen organised four lectures under the English title of the project Submerged Heritage.
The exhibition contains archival images and texts that you may find unsettling or offensive for their racist views. The curator, researchers and artists involved, together with the Nieuwe Instituut, acknowledge the violence and prejudices behind these perspectives. By including them, our intention is to highlight their problematic nature in order to provide the counterpoint to the historical narrative that the exhibition seeks to tell.
Our staff are open to discuss your impressions and feedback; please contact Head of Programme Flora van Gaalen at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave your feedback (anonymously if you prefer) using the forms available at the reception desk. Thank you.
The film by Miguel Peres dos Santos has been made possible with the support of Stimuleringsfonds.