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contemporary ceramics and painting
Ceramics in process courtesy of the artist ©Samuel Sarmiento.
A Fusion of Caribbean Tales and Literature
The Caribbean region is a melting pot of cultures, languages, and traditions that have influenced various forms of artistic expression, including ceramics and painting. This article explores the relationship between contemporary ceramics and painting with Caribbean tales and literature, highlighting the significance of the fishing communities in Aruba and the wider Caribbean.
Ceramics and painting have always been intertwined, with both art forms relying on the use of colors, shapes, and textures to convey meaning and emotions. In contemporary ceramics, artists have pushed the boundaries of traditional techniques to create innovative and imaginative pieces that reflect their personal experiences and cultural influences. This is particularly evident in the work of Caribbean ceramicists who have drawn inspiration from their surroundings and the stories passed down through generations.
Ciro Abath, My Soul, 1994. Courtesy of the artist ©Ciro Abath
One such story is Jack London's "To Build a Fire," which tells the tale of a man who braves the harsh Alaskan wilderness. The story's themes of survival, resilience, and the power of nature have resonated with Caribbean artists, who have used ceramics to depict their own struggles with climate change, natural disasters, and environmental degradation. For example, Aruban sculptor Ciro Abath uses clay and glaze to depict the delicate and intricate beauty of sea shells, bones, corals, urchins, and geomorphic forms whose habitats are threatened by rising sea temperatures and pollution.
Jack London’s To Build a Fire
Literature has also influenced contemporary ceramics, with Caribbean writers such as Derek Walcott and Gabriel Garcia Marquez providing rich sources of inspiration for artists. Walcott's epic poem "Omeros" and Garcia Marquez's magical realism have influenced numerous artworks that explore themes of identity, memory, and the interconnectedness of all things.
Derek Walcott, a Saint Lucian poet and playwright whose work often explores the themes of heritage, Caribbean life, and community. In his poem "The Sea is History," Walcott writes:
"Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs?
Where is your tribal memory? Sirs,
in that gray vault. The sea. The sea
has locked them up. The sea is history."
Old footage of Aruba’s sea
In addition to literature and storytelling, the fishing communities of Aruba and the Caribbean have played a vital role in shaping the region's artistic traditions. These communities have inspired artists to create works that pay tribute to the sea's bounty, the fishermen's tenacity, and the close relationship between humans and nature. For example, 'Ode to the Fisherman' is an initiative that reflects the island's fishing heritage and its connection to the sea.
Finally, the work of French philosopher Gaston Bachelard has also had a profound impact on contemporary ceramics and painting. Bachelard's ideas about the transformative power of the imagination and the importance of memory and emotion in artistic creation have resonated with artists across the Caribbean. Bachelard's concept of "the poetics of space" has also influenced the way that ceramicists and painters approach the creation of three-dimensional objects, as they seek to imbue their works with a sense of depth, meaning, and emotion.
Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space
In conclusion, contemporary ceramics and painting are deeply intertwined with Caribbean tales and literature, the fishing communities of Aruba and the wider Caribbean, and the philosophical ideas of Bachelard, Walcott, and others. Through their works, ceramicists and painters have explored themes of identity, memory, resilience, and the transformative power of the imagination, creating a rich tapestry of artistic expression that reflects the region's diverse cultural heritage.
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a picture is worth a thousand words
Samuel Sarmiento, Untitled (Paardenbaai), Mixed media on paper, 2023. Image courtesy Samuel Sarmiento.
The saying 'A picture is worth a thousand words' may suggest that during an investigation, visual resources can help us understand the context of a place, providing us with details with astonishing ease.
While outlining data or the concrete action of classifying coincidences and differences can show us the progression of a specific phenomenon, an image can place us in a scenario that we can hardly imagine through descriptions alone.
For the project Ode to the Fishermen I decided to create a group of works, using different expressive media such as painting, ceramics, and drawing. During a previous search, I accumulated images to immerse myself in the context of the Aruban community at the beginning of the last century, identifying places, people, objects, and customs, which allowed me to construct imaginaries capable of emulating the past, as well as reproducing representations of an ecosystem that has clearly changed as a result of human intervention.
Coconut palm plantation, Daimari, Aruba Colection Ing. Casper Vredebregt (1948-2016), Biblioteca Nacional Aruba
The fleeting passage of time seems to become a problem. The modification of the landscape and many incomplete, half-finished testimonies, to which perhaps we should have paid more attention, seem to lead us to a world without relics.
Through my works, I seek to reconstruct narratives around the figure of the fisherman. I wish to create objects capable of containing the Caribbean memory, treasuring the archetype of the fisherman, an individual that day by day works to obtain his sustenance surrounded by a great mass of water, fertile water, maternal water, a porous landscape of clear and dark waters, referred to by Gaston Bachelard in his book Water and Dreams (1942).
After visiting the headquarters of ANA (Archivo Nacional di Aruba), I tried to put together a photographic puzzle connected to fishing in Aruba, and how different groups of people worked together to give life to a community (Rancho) to solve common needs.
My works are descriptive, but also seek to construct new questions, questions that place small communities on a chessboard where gentrification, inequality, and an abundance of unsustainable practices are constantly visible.
How do we connect with our past, what happens if the historical past does not serve the interests of the current dominant narrative, how do we reflect on the present while understanding the past as a constant history of dispossession?
Painting in process, Aruba (2023). Image courtesy Samuel Sarmiento.
In the image above, we can see a painting in process, where a group of fishermen collect a casting net (a fishing net). These figures appear to be floating on a white background, but the intention is to show them surrounded by the incandescent light of midday, a sun that does not appear in this painting but manifests its brightness by covering all the colors of the background. I worked on this canvas with acrylic and oil paint. The characters seem to be lost in thought, some even oblivious to what is happening around them.
Work in progress (Ceramics), Aruba (2023). Image courtesy Samuel Sarmiento.
I have also been working on some ceramics in which the fisherman remains the central figure. In these pieces, I use references and anecdotes from the interviews with the Rancho fishermen, as a way to connect the oniric and the past, showing fantastic scenarios where the idea of memory and the 'absent' are shown subtly.
Samuel Sarmiento, Untitled (The daughters of Olokun), Ceramic, Aruba (2023). Image courtesy Samuel Sarmiento.
I am interested in the sensations of synaesthesia that are the product of experiences lived through the eyes of childhood. Sailboats, different marine species, fantastic beings that inhabit the high seas, and people arriving or departing, are some of the recurring figures in my ceramics.
Samuel Sarmiento, Clear waters, Freshwaters, Salt waters, Mixed media on paper, 2023. Image courtesy Samuel Sarmiento.
Lastly, here are some drawings in process. In these drawings I use repetition as an investigative method, reflecting on landscapes of homogeneous vegetation where the relationship between land and sea begins to be present, playing with the concept of limit and geographical frontier.
Samuel Sarmiento, Cast Net (Taray), Mixed media on paper, 2023. Image courtesy Samuel Sarmiento.
Through these images I can fantasize about the Aruban fishermen moving through a world that seemed abysmal, sailing on the high seas, heading towards Punto Fijo, La Guajira, or even Curacao. Seeing in the distance extensions of land, with virgin vegetation, as well as clear waters, fresh waters, and salt waters, tracing imaginary lines on the sea, marking travel routes with the help of celestial bodies, dodging rains and storms, through images that are worth more than a thousand words.
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the mythification of the past
There were signs in the air
There were omens in the sky
Vicente Huidobro, Chilean writer.
Bird's eye view and snow in the sky (Cartography of America), Mixed media on paper, Aruba, 2010.
As part of the Ode to the Fishermen project, I have been working on a descriptive blog where I seek to share part of my process, as well as some concerns and thoughts connected to this research's development. Recently at Rancho Foundation, in collaboration with Ana Maria Hernandez and Clifford Rosa, I did a short talk where I offered a vision of how I wish to approach the project, creating connections on a theoretical and artistic level, between the fisherman as a symbol of heritage and identity, and the Rancho community - a community of fishermen.
I will briefly share some of my ideas presented in what was an informal conversation accompanied by the community and other artists.
During my talk at Rancho Foundation entitled 'The mythification of the past' , Aruba, 2022.
At the start of the talk, entitled The Mythification of the Past, I believed it was necessary to clarify that the material presented consisted of personal opinions and are in no way absolute truths. I believe it is necessary to open windows for debate and the exchange of ideas.
I started presenting the theoretical background and points of interest in my artistic creation. Between 2009 and 2012 I felt a special interest in rurality and its link with what we could call basic subsistence activities such as hunting, breeding, and gathering. At that time, I made some drawings of fishermen, when I visited Aruba while living in Spain. Daily work, historical and folkloric references, and activities with a sense of collectivity and a particular longing for the past were themes and resources that I happily replicated in my pieces.
In these seemingly correlated topics, oral traditions and non-hegemonic literary influences already functioned as a backdrop, or even prologue to my pictorial narratives.
During the conversation, I exposed some focus points for research (history, past, messianism, and progress) and believed it was prudent to make an analogy connecting Aruba (and any Caribbean island) with the figure of Wolfang Von Kempelen's Mechanical Turk, created in 1770. This artifact was capable of playing and winning at chess against anyone. No one could explain how this manikin could move alone and win the games. It was discovered years later that the famous Mechanical Turk was operated by a man hidden under the artifact. This chess automated being was a mere hoax.
This artifact was a figure capable of playing and winning at chess against anyone, no one could explain how this 'manikin' could move alone and win the games.
Years later it was discovered that the famous Mechanical Turk was operated by a man hidden under this artifact. This chess automaton being was a mere hoax.
The Mechanical turk by Wolfang Von Kempelen.
In a geography of happy islands and eternal hospitable smiles, Aruba could look like a paradise with a thriving cultural offer, but certainly, both artists and cultural managers, and similarly fishermen, farmers, and small traders operate from precariousness, always functioning in the short term, because today we can work but who knows about tomorrow…
During my reading, not being afraid to position myself, I mentioned that the island is not sustainable on many levels, but paradoxically it offers a festive image, sometimes too colorful, generating a sense of oasis or mirage similar to that of the Mechanical Turk.
In this island-paradise performance, much of what resembles an articulated and self-sufficient society, is nothing more than a tourist marketing exercise, leaving inconsistencies, and many needs of the community unmet. We could say that there is a dissonance between an idealized construction of progress and the situations that really affect people.
At the end of the talk, and with a more optimistic tone, I called for solidarity with the past and for an empathetic approach moving forward, understanding the Caribbean as a scenario of constant dispossession, where under the excuse of progress and ‘appearing' as a visitor-friendly destination, structural changes that benefit the collective have always been avoided. The talk ended smoothly and with enthusiasm among the attendees.
Interview with Ana Maria Hernandez and Carlito Quant, mixed media on paper, Aruba, 2022
A week later, I had the opportunity to attend a couple of interviews with a local fisherman (Carlito Quandt) and a marine biologist (Byron Boekhoudt). Both conversations went from the general to the particular, with special emphasis on technical aspects of fishing and the study of marine life, as well as anecdotes and experiences of what it was like to grow up and live in Rancho several decades ago. The role of the fisherman as a provider was discussed, as well as some dangers when sailing, the collaborative economy, and some expectations for the future.
On the fugitive horizon, mixed media on paper, Kassel, Germany, 2022.
In the following blog posts, I will talk a little more about the interviews, but I can already say that I think it is important to make visible the needs of the members of the community, to generate systems that allow horizontal communication involving the different groups of people that live in Rancho.
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tracing imaginary lines on the sea
If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Citadelle , 1944.
In 2013, I decided to move to Aruba. A year before, as if it were a premonitory preparation, I repeatedly read Tales from the South Seas by Jack London and La invención de Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares.
These readings helped me to perform two imaginative exercises. Through Jack London, I could see the relationship between human beings and the sea, and how a large body of water is able to condition people's lives. Actions such as traveling, fishing, trading and even smuggling and piracy are simple transits through a porous ecosystem where water is always a witness and never absent.
South Sea Tales (1911) by Jack London.
La invención de Morel (1940) by Adolfo Bioy Casares.
On the other hand, Bioy Casares' story deals with themes such as immortality, the passage of time and the eternal return, on a small island filled with mysterious situations, narrative constructions that to this day, I continue associating with Aruba, as a fortuitous mirror.
Ten years ago, I started working on drawings and paintings inspired by activities related to human survival, such as hunting, breeding and gathering. Fishing and the figure of fishermen caught my attention, seeing how the action of fishing can be viewed as a mix between hunting and gathering, where chance is always present, but knowledge and expertise are required, as well as a series of preparations before each day, often bordering on the ritual.
Fisherman and his friends, Acrylic paint and pencil on paper, Aruba, 2009.
Inquiring into the figure of the fisherman, as well as other trades that require collaborative structures to transfer knowledge from generation to generation, I began to discover symbols, short stories, songs and a whole series of paraphernalia that enriched the way in which human beings fill their daily labors with colors, sounds and meanings, adorning the daily life with folklore and representations.
Fishermen gathering nets, watercolor and India ink on handmade paper, 2012.
Sometimes I see human history, in this case that of fishermen, as a panspermia marked by individual and collective needs, from which social experiences and interactions are born, which often tend to become codes of conduct or even archetypes of identity, as a result of social constructs and geographical limitations. Occasionally, these contacts, with the sea as a backdrop, give life to tales, myths and legends capable of shaping an intangible heritage; and from time to time, we are lucky to witness as they create pleasant stories such as Yukio Mishima's Shiosai (The Rumor of the Swell).
The fisherman's daughter, Acrylic paint and pencil on paper, Aruba, 2009.
Today I am participating in 'Oda na e piscador', a collaborative art and community project in which, with the joint work of Stichting Rancho, Plataforma Aruba and the research support of Ana Maria Hernandez, I attempt to draw imaginary lines, connecting stories, people, places, coordinates, marine fauna, oral traditions, stars and planets, like someone trying to create a universe from scratch, but taking into account a latent past that always makes us question ourselves. This brief text is part of a group of ideas that I will gradually share as this project progresses. Until the next installment...
Ode to the Fishermen #1, Ceramics, Aruba, 2022.
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