Alex van Stipriaan Luïscius
Traveling Caribbean Heritage: Contexts and Communities (together with prof.dr. G.J. Oostindie, KITLV Leiden University)
Centuries of intense migrations have deeply impacted the development of the cultures of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. Creolization is the key concept for understanding the origins of these Caribbean cultures. The islands’ asymmetrical postcolonial relation to the Netherlands begs many questions regarding insular identities. In addition, intensive contemporary migrations – from and to the wider Caribbean, the Netherlands and beyond – have deeply impacted insular demographics and understandings of what it means to be Aruban, Bonairean, or Curaçaoan. Finally, mass tourism became a booming business and a central pillar of the insular economies, adding to the changes in the demographic make-up of the islands.
All of this provokes debates about insular identity, and the need to preserve cultural heritage, both very much contested concepts. In this project, Caribbean and Dutch scholars and cultural heritage specialists address these debates, identifying and questioning the dynamics of heritage formation, and developing a multigenerational human resource base as well as a digital infrastructure for the preservation of insular cultural heritage, for outreach activities, and ultimately for stimulating the sustainable development of these non-sovereign so called Small Island Developing States (SIDS). The main academic question is: What were and are the dominant definitions of tangible and intangible heritage of Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao, either jointly or separately, and how do changes in definitions and priorities over time relate to debates about (post)colonialism and non-sovereignty, migrations and nation-building, and tourism and nation-branding?
The project is funded by NOW, Caribbean Program. Time span: 2017-2021.
Suriname Heritage: A cultural history of slavery
This book will actually be a sequel to Van Stipriaan’s dissertation of 25 years ago, which mainly focused on the socio-economic history of slave plantations. The current book project tries to take the perspective of the enslaved as its starting point to find out what living in slavery meant to them. At the same time questions will be asked about how they eventually became Afro-Surinamese and what kind of legacies survived from slavery until today. Particular attention is given to the enslaved body, to self-identification, to cultural expressions such as music and dance, to religion, gender relations and peasant behaviour in community formation, and to processes of creolisation and emancipation. Projected finalisation: 2018.
Dynamics of Suriname Maroon culture
This project started in 2007, culminated in 2009-2010 in a large exhibition called The Art of Survival in the Amsterdam Tropen Museum and has actually never stopped since then. The leading question for the exhibition and the accompanying book (and documentary films) was: how do ‘small cultures’ like the Maroons survive in a globalising world?’ The answer to that, naturally, is complex and undecided yet. Maroons have much more than only survived over the centuries; they have built their own cultures and are now in a process of urban emancipation and diasporisation. This project is a combination of participating in the field, a.o. by contributing to a Maroon museum in the interior of Suriname and to a Maroon Research Center in Suriname’s mining town of Moengo, and meanwhile studying processes of change as well as Maroon cultural heritage. So far, this has, apart from the exhibition, resulted in an edited volume on Maroon (historical) culture, a book on Suriname Maroon textiles, while a book on French Guyanese textiles is in preparation, scholarly articles on the history of Maroon communication and transport (from talking drum to mobile phone), as well as on art, particularly contemporary art by Marcel Pinas. Meanwhile an extensive digital Maroon archive is in the making.
Globalisation and Cultural Heritage & Back to the Roots
Collection, presentation and preservation of cultural artifacts and descriptions of cultural practices have long been part of Western strategies in support of dominating the rest of the world. In this project the question was posed what postcolonial globalisation has done to this self righteous way of presenting the other.
Linked to this project was a separate project Back to the Roots, a heritage project of body and soul. The leading question was: these days people talk so much about their roots, but what exactly are these historical roots? In this project we studied-by-doing, i.e. with a group of Afro-Dutch people we tried to find out not only how every individual is linked to and influenced by history, through traditions and cultures and artifacts inherited by the ancestors, but everyone’s DNA as well. It turned out, that DNA technique was much less reliable and clear cut as often presented, and that roots are multi-layered socio-cultural constructions.
Results of both projects were a.o.:
- Marlite Halbertsma, Alex van Stipriaan and Patricia van Ulzen (eds.), The heritage theatre; Globalisation and cultural heritage. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2011.
- Valika Smeulders, Slavernij in perspectief: mondialisering en erfgoed in Suriname, Ghana, Zuid-Afrika en Curaçao [Slavery in perspective: Globalisation and cultural heritage in Suriname, Ghana, South Africa and Curaçao]. PhD Dissertation, Erasmus University, 2012.
- Alex van Stipriaan a.o., Back to the Roots, a film documentary. Hilversum: Beeld, 2008. [35 min.]
- As well as a number of articles and book chapters among which Alex van Stipriaan, ‘Roots and the production of heritage’. In J. Thissen, R. Zwijnenberg and K. Zijlmans (eds.), Contemporary Culture; New directions in art and humanities research. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2013, 206-214.