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Foam opens an exhibition of Surinamese wedding portraits
Gaitri-Sweeb © Aldith Hunkar.

AMSTERDAM.- From 24 June, Foam will present the exhibition Surinamese Wedding Portraits, a collection of memorable portraits that together cover almost a century of Surinamese history. The photographs span the period from 1846 to 1954, when Surinam was still a Dutch colony. The family photos and stories show the extent to which Surinamese people, under Dutch administration, migrated to all corners of the world. They often found their partner elsewhere, in places like Aruba, Curaçao or Bonaire, in the former Dutch East Indies, the Netherlands or North America. The strength of this collection of personal photos therefore lies in the multitude of different engagements that stretched across the globe.

A century of marriages in Surinam, in words and images

With over one hundred wedding pictures and stories, this exhibition portrays the wedded lives of Surinamese people between 1846 and 1954. The portraits tell the story of the countless personal bonds that often transcend national boundaries, ethnicity or religion. The many different family histories reveal how this did not always go down smoothly. Yet most lovers followed their hearts, and love generally triumphed over the spirit of the times.

The family stories are often interwoven with important themes in Suriname’s colonial history, such as slavery, contract labour, immigration and emigration, conflict and struggle. But the stories also talk about personal bonds, diversity and unity. For that reason, the photographs are not only of great significance to the people whose family histories were immortalised, but also embody a shared (inter)national history.

The earliest photograph in the collection dates from 1846: just seven years after the introduction of daguerreotype, an early photographic process that soon made its way to Surinam. The bride in this photograph, Maria Louisa de Hart, was born into slavery. The last photograph dates from 1954, the year Surinam became an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Independence followed on 25 November 1975.

The idea to bring these extraordinary portraits together originated with Lucia Nankoe, the guest curator, in 2014. Together with her team she spoke with descendants of bridal couples with at least one ancestor of Surinamese descent. The resulting collection of portraits has continued to grow steadily since the publication of a book and a travelling exhibition in 2019. The project now comprises more than 135 photographs and stories, which together span almost one century of Surinamese history.

Some of the stories were written down by the descendants personally, others were drawn up based on conversations, written information and archival material. Some photographs lack background information, and many show traces of time and use, such as scratches and stains. These historical traces have been left intact on the scans that are on display.

This exhibition was created in collaboration with guest curator Lucia Nankoe. Foam also thanks Gerard Sweep and Astrid Waltmans for their support.

The book Trouwportretten. Surinaamse Voorouders in Beeld. Album 1846-1950 was published by Uitgeverij In de Knipscheer in 2019. A follow-up book will be published later this year.

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