241 Things

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241 Things

Brahamans and participants to religious ceremonies. Evang. Broedergemeente - Zeist

Born in Suriname and raised in The Netherlands, Haarnack maintains his collection on the sixth floor of a sleek apartment block in the eastern part of the city, overlooking the area that was once the docklands of this city.

Barber Shop. No. 126 Uitgevers Kersten & Co, Paramaribo

It was here that Nahuel Blaton, my fellow Anthropologist in Art, and I were first exposed to the musty scent of thousands of rare books, common publications and mass-produced postcards; a silent lapidarium of all topics Surinamese.

Paramaribo. A Negro Boy. No. 2 3de Serie,. Uitg. Bromet & Co., Paramaribo

However, when Nahuel Blaton and I first visited Haarnack’s bibliophile’s wet dream, it was the fantastic collection of postcards that caught our eye and inspired the direction of our common exhibition. We flipped through a broad spectrum of photographed subjects; plantation mansions, infrastructure, buildings in Paramaribo, cityscapes, Paramaribo’s harbour, churches, seemingly casual street-scenes as well as exotic fruits and agricultural products. The subjects that particularly made an impression on us however were those of people. More often than not, neatly categorised into ethnic and social groups; one came across various tribes of Amerindians (‘Indianen’ in Dutch), Bushland Creoles (then known as ‘Bosne(e)gers’), City Creoles (‘Stadscre(o)olen’), Indians (known as ‘Britsche Indiërs’, ‘Hindo(e)stanen’ or the rather more politically incorrect term of ‘Koelies’), Javanese and Chinese.

Many of the postcards are attributed to and undersigned by one Eugen Klein. Born in Mannheim in 1869, Klein moved to Suriname in the 1890’s to set up a professional photography studio in Paramaribo. For some 30 years, up until his death in 1927 in Paramaribo, he was the most prolific photographer of all things Surinamese with perhaps his most productive period between 1900 and 1905. After 1927, his widow Louisa Schrader and her children continued running the photographic studio on the Domineestraat C35, at the corner of Vaillants square in Paramaribo, up until the Second World War.

Wealthy British Indians: Uitgevers: C. Kersten & Co. Paramaribo

Some of his photographs were commissioned by the primary Evangelical Missionary Society in Suriname; the so-called Hernhutter Mission, named after its first colony, Herrnhut (“unter des Herrn Hut – under the protection of the Lord), located in Saxony, Germany. The Hernhutters had a paradoxical role in the development of Surinamese society. On the one hand, they carried out a doubtlessly benevolent plan of socio-economic advance in the impenetrable interior of Suriname by providing a programme championing education and literacy.

Suriname. Youths. Eigendom Eugen Klein, Paramaribo No. 189 (cancelled 15-12-1911)

On the other, they were also instrumental in the behavioural ‘pacification’ of Suriname’s ‘heathen’ population. This, in the typically religious vein of the period, was coupled with an emphasis on the fight against ‘immoral’ co-habitation, an emphasis on work ethic and a sedentary way of life. Their main business, of course, was that of religious conversion within the various groups of Bushland Creoles and Amerindians. It seems likely that the Hernhutter Mission in Suriname commissioned Klein as part of a political agenda to convince the colonial authorities, as well as benefactors back in Europe, of the success and necessity of their presence.

Raswantia, British Indian in gala. Eigendom van Eugen Klein, Paramaribo No. 175 (cancelled 23-7-1910)

Sifting through literally hundreds of these single or group portraits we realised that what we were looking at was the fragmented imagery of a people before they were to become the nation they are today.

: Suriname.Indian Camp (preparing the Cassave). No. 18 3de Serie. Utg. Bromet & Co. Paramaribo (cancelled 13-1-1902)

With the introduction of the photographic film in 1871, taking pictures became a relatively easy praxis, even in the tropical climate of this Dutch colonial possession. Coupled with the intensification of economic and political interests that led to an ever-higher frequency of Europeans visiting, working and living in the colony, this would ultimately lead to a veritable boom in the postcard industry. Family and friends back in Europe could now receive visual documents of the exotic far-away where their senders resided and worked. Mass-produced and –circulated, these cardboard-mounted images were intended for consumption by a white, urban bourgeoisie back in the Motherland.

Suriname. Hindu Priests. Uitgave Zendingsgen. der Evang. Broedergemeente – Zeist

No subject was more popular than that of the exoticised and eroticised peoples that inhabited the distant crown dominions. These, incidentally, are at the same time the most ethically problematic of subjects. For in the practice of photographing these people, one inevitably stumbles across a kind of subjugation, exemplified by both the poses of the subjects, as well as the redundancy of the captions that inscribe them.

“Four generations of Indian women”, “Chinese man with his Creole wife”, “Coolie in Paramaribo”, “Group of Bush Negroes”, “Creole Beauty”, All individuality is negated in these captioned postcards and all individuals are relegated to remain mere examples of their respective ethnic categories.

The backdrops, often with hints of lush verdant foliage, seem to imply an original environment of virgin purity and, implicitly, the primitivism of the ethnic subjects. The artefacts that they wear and grasp – including calabashes, bows, arrows and feathers – are of such formulaic appeal that one would be surprised indeed if these were not staged by the photographer.

Bok Lokrodimedjo (from Java). Eigendom Eugen Klein, Paramaribo No. 185

The strength of these postcards may lie in the sense of estrangement that his portraits evoke. A sense of estrangement that lies somewhere in between the distinct past that the images evoke, with the paradoxical realisation, that this distant past is, in fact, uncomfortably near. These visual documents of bewildering clarity and from a not-so-distant past attest to the photographic praxis of production, circulation and consumption that rendered huge segments of the global population into mere objectified ethnographic exhibits.

In the context of our contemporary, politically correct society of polite moral indignation for a past that is, quite frankly, our legacy, these photographic proofs disturb and embarrass us, and rightly so. We continue to deal with the vestiges of this uncomfortable past in public discourse and the individual level even today. Moreover, lest we let our guard down, we might still be judged as complicit in the consumption of imagery that underlie global politics of exploitation and subjugation by future generations.
Suriname. Three sturdy boys! Typen uit het Boschland. Uitgevers: C. Kersten & Co. Paramaribo (cancelled 8-5-1928)

So, let us be thankful that amongst us, there exist those individuals and institutions that are dedicated to the preservation of material from former colonies, different mores and bygone times. I invite all to subscribe to Buku’s blog on books and other ecclectica. Mr Haarnack’s enthusiasm for all matter Surinamese and published will prove to be as infectious as it is to us, Anthropologists in Art.

Visit: www.buku.nl

I have an early childhood memory of receiving a postcard from my neighbours who were on vacation in Limburg. On the left part of the card “KR Brinkman Fam.” was written. I wondered with surprise why they’d only leave an abbreviation when there was still so much white space left on the card. Despite that enormous vaccuum, I remember my mother being very pleased with this postal greeting.

This is the essence of a postcard; it’s a gesture of presence. The postcard can contain a message that's nearly empty, that does little more than communicate the sender’s message: “I’m here” or “I’m thinking of you”.

Since college, I’ve been steadily building my collection of postcards. All in all, I have around three shoeboxes full of them. There’s no real underlying theme. There are the prototypical “happy birthday” cards. On one of these cards, meant for a man’s birthday, is printed a shaving brush, a beer jug, cigars, a miniature car, and a slightly pathetic bouquet. One birthday card for a woman shows a cyclamen, a mixer, a candleholder, a sewing machine, and other assorted household appliances. These are still lifes from the fifties that are becoming increasingly rare.

I have Turkish and Italian cards, countless art cards from the Kröller-Müller, the Prado, and other museums. Since 1993, “Free Boomerang cards” came out on the market. These cards were freely available to be plucked from display stands at cafes. There are some very strong ones among these. For example, one printed with the expression “In a dip?” shows a depressed teenager on a white folding chair in his empty study room. Or a card with a man falling from the skies with the words, “Ever considered aerotherapy?” Boomerang seemed to have a card designed for every idea or mood.

I often look through a pile of cards if I want to change my mood or my mode of thinking. My unwritten postcards are not addressed to anyone, and don’t need to ever be sent to anyone. They are images and ideas in their own right.

The philosopher Jacques Derrida takes this a step further in his book, La Carte Postale: De Socrate à Freud et au-delà [1]. In the Bodleian library in Oxford, he found a postcard on which Plato and Socrates are depicted. This card fascinated him, because neither the meaning of the card, the image, nor the text on the back correspond to its message. It is a gesture, an impulse, a transmission, or “un envoi,” in French. It takes flight and in that, finds its power. Every letter has certain content; the postcard has no need for that.

Derrida claims that a philosophical text is like a postcard. Plato’s dialogues, in which Socrates is always the main character, are some of the most well known texts in the history of philosophy. According to Derrida, they can be seen as a series of postcards that have been sent into history. Derrida wonders how Freud received Plato’s postcards 2500 years later.

There are certain postcards that I would never do away with. An aquarelle in card form by Marlene Dumas from 1989 titled, “On his back”, for example. I bought this card after seeing Dumas’ exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris at the end of 2001. Each time I looked at it, I became calm, as though my son, one year old at the time, was depicted on the card. I’ll always cherish this card for the therapeutic value it had for me.

Choosing a Dumas-in-card-form is no coincidence: she has often told that her work is often based on photographs and images. She sees the interpretion of images towards an intrinsic meaning as a process in which the different elements overlap.

To observe and to give meaning; we cannot help but bring what we see into words. Dumas puts this very succinctly in an interview: “words and images drink from the same cup, and our ears are next to our eyes”. [2]

Apparently, the poet Rutger Kopland has a huge collection of postcards. Among his writings, there are various poems dedicated to musing upon these cards.This one is titled “Choosing a postcard”. [3]:

Choosing a postcard

On the postcard there are a couple of men
playing pétanque below a plane-tree
at their feet the balls they’ve thrown
they’ve stopped the game and ponder
they are standing in a circle, heads bowed
over what is lying there
there’s a problem lying there
never have their balls lain like this
I could keep looking at this card
it’s probably almost night there now, the shadows
have lengthened, the end of a hot day
and while nothing moves there
invisibly slowly a question is growing
the question: what now
I’d really like to send you this card

© Rutger Kopland

© Tranlation: Willem Groenewegen http://www.decontrabas.com/de_contrabas/2009/08/rutger-kopland-75.html

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Since the start of the last century, the French have known a tradition of sending one another so-called ‘poisson d’Avril’ (April Fish) messages. These are richly decorated postcards depicting a fish, often surrounded by flowers and a few lines of text.

The flowers most likely allude to the changing of seasons; after all, the 1st of April is set at the very beginning of springtime. More importantly, the vernal equinox is the ultimate metaphor for the blossoming of new love and the excitement that spring brings with it. The fish represents the hope of love requited by a (secret) object of affection, captioned by texts such as ‘Quand arrive avril, tous les fleurs en France, s’ouvrent à l’amour, pêcheur d’espérance!’ (All the flowers in France open in April for love, the fisher of hope!)

The sender hopes with all his heart that the addressee will answer his love: ‘Parce message discret / je vous envoie, ma toute belle / Mon plus cher et plus doux sécret / Mais vous ne serez pas cruelle?’ (With this secret message I send to you, my beautiful, my most precious and tender of secrets/ Please, do not be cruel.)

From the beginning of 1900, tens of thousands of April fish swam their way to an equal amount of lovers, proving to be the way to declare your love, albeit anonymously, in the form of what essentially is a Valentine’s card avant la letter.

It’s not quite clear why a fish was chosen as the symbol of springtime and love. Some believe that it has to do with the mating season of the fish, which occurs around April. During this period a fishing ban is enforced in France. To mislead illegal fishing, fake fish are thrown into the water during mating season. When a fisherman catches a pseudo-fish, men cry ‘poisson d’Avril!’ The April Fish is like the French April fool’s gag.

In this sense, the tradition of the April Fish is still alive and kicking. On the 1st of April, cut out paper fish are stuck on the back of an unsuspecting passerby who, when the fish on his back is noticed, is declared the ‘poisson d’Avril!’

Besides paper fish, edible fish are also popular. Around the 1st of April, the storefronts ofFrench patisseries and chocolatiers display an unending supply of chocolate fish and all sorts of fish-shaped pastries. Still, the fish is an object of seduction, although no longer through the mailman’s delivery, being instead served on platters in shop windows. Because in the end, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.

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