“I have discovered in life that there are ways of getting almost anywhere you want to go, if you really want to go.”
Langston Hughes

At the end of his time at Art College in Suriname Remy Jungerman (1959) painted a mural on a low outside wall in Paramaribo. The range of colors was limited. Ochre, brown, black and white. The forms were abstract, geometric, totally different from the somewhat surrealistic figurative style he had been using in his paintings up until then. The mural seemed incidental, a chance work, a one-off challenge. Only now, more than twenty-five years later, the work has proved to be more than that. In retrospect it was not only a visual interpretation of his Surinamese surroundings, even his Surinamese origins, but also an illustration of the way Jungerman’s work was to develop and manifest itself.
Of course, sometimes you only associate an artist with a few works that have left you with a lasting impression. These few works are all you need to consider this artist good, interesting or important. Generally you expect more. You want an artist to continually surprise, to maintain some ambiguity, in other words, to continue to develop, giving you pleasure in new, different, good works.
Remy Jungerman meets this need at various levels.
Many of his works stem from a particular environment. The inspiration for that mural in Paramaribo is the designs of the early Pangi fabrics (shoulder cloths) designed and produced as patchworks by the Maroons in the Suriname interior. The artist was born and grew up there. He is familiar with these fabrics and based a series of silk-screen prints on them a couple of years ago. The Netherlands was one of the countries where they were exhibited. Here they evoke associations with an abstract, minimalist visual arts tradition. Here they remind one of the ‘rigid’ Mondrian or the color fields of Imi Knoebel. The context gives them a new identity. When he moves to the Netherlands in 1990 he soon starts to produce installations with communication, or the lack of it, as the theme. On the one hand these are based on personal experience, since they symbolize someone from a different culture who is painfully trying to find his way in his new surroundings and thereby encounters all sorts of misunderstandings and forms of miscommunication. On the other hand these works relate to a world where, while the communication options may be increasing, this increase is no guarantee of improved contact between people. In 2011 he places one of these works – ‘Nobody is Protected’ – in an exhibition in Paramaribo. A lectern with a large number of microphones placed on it, the cables of which end up in an inextricable tangle that has no contact to a power point. In this case the lectern is made of wood in which a mix of internet symbols and traditional Maroon designs have been carved. This radically changes the connotations of the work. The woodwork places it in a Surinamese context, the ‘wireless’ microphones become symbols for leaders who while appearing to pay attention to their people, actually care very little about them. A very slightly altered work is given a surprising new, even political life due to the change in context.
As the previous example shows Jungerman is looking within his own works for a different context to give them a new meaning and to enable different interpretations. This can literally mean that he produces a new work from the material of an older work. For example this is the case in his latest ‘altars’ (naar pagina’s verwijzen waarop die staan afgebeeld, dan hoef ik ze niet telkens te omschrijven). These could be dismissed as a practical, cost-saving way of recycling, but it is much more than that. Repeating actions can also be seen as a symbolic interpretation of rituals. In the environment that Jungerman grew up in – Moengo, the interior of Suriname – Winti plays a major role. This is a traditional religion, brought by the slaves from West Africa, full of acts of ritual. The artist’s recycling can also be given a different interpretation. In 2005 he made a number of collages comprising maps of the Netherlands on which he stuck typically Surinamese images or symbols. These same maps recur in other collages, accompanied by international maps. Giving these works a global character. Personal issues are raised to a more general level. They turn up again in his slatted structures and altars. This time they are stuck around a number of slats, by way of a motif referring to the Netherlands or Suriname, just as the colors in which certain slats are painted can refer to artists such as Mondrian or to the colorful, traditional Surinamese decorations.
The context may support varying interpretations, the way that the one work is created from another may provide surprises, the way that Remy Jungerman travels the world is responsible for the huge developments in his work. “Wondering while wandering’ is what the African-American writer Langston Hughes (1902-1967) once called this way of working. Travelling to other areas and countries in order to surprise yourself, to be able to continually ask questions and to be forced to and be able to provide fresh solutions. A Nomadic way of life that suits the African roots.
When Remy Jungerman moves to the Netherlands in 1990 and attends the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, an academy offering an artist many more opportunities than the traditional Academy for Arts and Cultural Education in Paramaribo, the step marks an enormous change in his work. It rapidly goes from wall to space. It goes from a personal, nationally colored theme to a more universal one, although still based on personal experience. A series of installations with microphones, antennae, satellite dishes and power cables is the result. Communication becomes his theme. A theme that can be construed at a abstract level while still applying to every ‘foreigner’ who in his new environment asks himself who he is and how he should relate to others. Should he break with his past and be loyal to his new country or should he seek to combine the two worlds. Travelling to other countries – for example Africa, Cuba, Trinidad, the USA, India, Indonesia – makes it easier for him to test out the questions and look for possible answers.
Without entirely abandoning his communication works, after all recycling is an essential part of his way of working, 2005 again marks a complete change due to the death of his (European) father. Shortly afterwards he returns to the place he grew up and where he became familiar with the customs and rituals of a culture influenced by the Winti religion. * All sorts of childhood memories come back to him. Suriname inevitably forces its presence on him, resulting in the question of how he should deal with these emotions in his work. An invitation from the Brooklyn Museum in New York and a retrospective in the Domein in Sittard and, a little later, in the Zeeuws Museum in Middelburg offer him the chance to answer the question and show the result. This is a series of new installations, sculptures and collages. In a number of slat works (grilles), which adopt the center ground between a sculpture and an altar, he combines elements from Surinamese and in particular Winti culture with references to typically Dutch symbols. Pangi fabrics, bottles of medicinal fluids, pleasant smells or tasty drinks (Fernandez, Parbo beer), detailed photos of ritual acts, big frogs, bluing sachets, etc. are brought together with the horizontals, the verticals and the colors of Mondrian, with a garden gnome (with traditional African mask), a vase of Dutch flowers, fragments of map, etc. Zeeland’s emotionally charged slavery past – the Dutch West India Company set off from Zeeland to buy slaves in West Africa – gives his new work yet another unique connotation. The context again determines the nature of the interpretation. In every case the Netherlands and Suriname are not only intermingled, they also stand next to and opposite each other. This apparently confusing positioning can perhaps be explained through Mondrian as an individual. Prior to his rigid and strict works there was a period of spiritualism, spiritualism that had more in common with the Surinamese mentality than with the Dutch.
Jungerman has never entirely abandoned the love of the geometric and the abstract. The mural in Paramaribo never disappeared from his DNA. The fact that he started out as a mechanical engineer probably has something to do with it. In 2011 he once more seeks an outlet for this sparingly requited love. He makes a series of silk-screen prints based on the early designs for the traditional Pangi fabrics. Patchwork created in the time that De Stijl from the Netherlands was all the rage. An intriguing coincidence. He provides some works with a figurative, characteristic element – the chicken, the devil’s horned head, an illustration of a village chief -, others he restricts to only the rigid shapes. He creates depth by placing them on top of each other in the printing process.
His slatted altars are the point of departure for his new work. Here he tries to visualize his origins by here and there painting them with designs reminiscent of the traditional Maroon fabrics. The painted panels and canvases are new and in various works serve not only as backgrounds but are also intended to invoke memories of the young artist, Remy Jungerman, the painter. However it seems that the formal aspect of these ‘altars’ will come out on top over the traditional references. How the slats relate to each other, how they add value to each other, how they provide depth to the whole, how they form a compact unit and how in combination the provide surprises, all seem like the pursuit for dominance. His recent trips to his native country have clearly conjured up all kinds of questions that demand a visual answer. “Wondering while Wandering” continues to play its part.
Piet Mondrian, Imi Knoebel and their kindred spirits have not yet carried the day, the wealth of the Maroon culture refuses to remain in the shadows, but they are gaining ground.

His mother is a descendant of the freedom fighter Captain Broos (1821-1880). See: Michiel van Kempen, Een geschiedenis van de Surinaamse literatuur, deel 3, (A History of Surinamese literature, part 3), published by Okopipi, Paramaribo 2002, page 327.

Rob Perrée
Amsterdam, January 2013.