INSIDE THE UPHEAVAL
By Amable López Meléndez*
Confusion, dispersion, grating, rattling, rumor, clamor, clamoring. Sparks of the Afro-Caribbean conscience in “the day-to-day goings on” of its cities, neighborhoods, communities, hospitals, police stations, ghettoes, schools and alternative creative spaces. Vital blow. Whisperings, murmurings. Reverberation. Hints of ardent otherness. The splendid images of the stage of the body charged with power and desire. Routing the Soul. Thunder before lightning. Staccato (tum-tum-de-de-dum), escape hatch for collective schizophrenia. Echo of memory and the dagger. Rejoicing. Merengada, bachata and pandemonium.
Sweet and passing mirage of Boom(town) Can(ey). Outpourings, shouting, popular outcry. Fanfare from the best days in Port-au-Prince, Santo Domingo (Colonial City, Borojol, Gualey, Guachupita, Ensanche Espaillat, Villa Mella, El Hoyo de Chulín, Santiago de los Caballeros, Jarabacoa…), Curaçao (Willemstad, Punda, Otrobanda, Santa Rosa, Skarloo, Marchena, West Point…), Kingston, Havana, San Juan (Puerto Rico), Trinidad, Sao Paulo (Brazil), Saint Maarten, Amsterdam… Crossroads of influences. Trafficking existences in the Batey Sugar Camps. Splendid Magic Arc of Jean Gririgori. The exciting and incontrovertible transparency of daily existence in the contemporary Caribbean.
ENCOUNTER AND ITS DEMONS
The critical economic and politico-social situation the Dominican Republic has been going through since the beginning of the 80’s fermented the outbreak of new energies, discourse, signs, vital attitudes and personal mythologies which were to have a defining impact on the emergence of a new cultural reality. The contributions of the so-called 80’s generation were key to the study of the dizzying process of transformation of the Dominican visual culture in the last two decades. In order to measure the scope of these contributions, you would have to go about ten years later (first half of the 90’s), to “baptism under fire”, the definitive confrontation for the imminent records of the sensitivity and responsibility of authentic artistic expressions or those committed to rupture and reflection in Santo Domingo.
During those years, at the same time I worked as a style editor at the Nuevo Diario, I published a weekly section called “pre-texts” in which, thanks to the kindness of Ramón Colombo and Pedro Caro, I revealed my “dis-prejudices” or insolent graffiti in sync with cultural journalism. In some of those “notes” I took the liberty of “traveling from The Vatican to New Guinea, suggesting a new crystal ball for Walter Mercado; enjoyed myself by peeking at the abdominal superstitions of some of the “official tribunals of plain talk”; to mimic the “Light-footed Behíque” in their terrible and unforgettably concerts for a trio of cats in the House of Theater; likewise, to spice up the ancient life and death struggle with “a mask with no hair” among Jack Veneno, Relámpago Hernández, El Monje Loco and Vampiro Kao, admiring the stoic legion of the sidekicks of Braulio Alvarez Pakr and even to rail against the poets who never would commit suicide.
Following the tracks of my “pre-texts” I took up a place in the “Flea Market” on Sundays and from Monday to Monday I had an “anti-metapoetic” office in the “Schizophrenia Palace”. I don’t know exactly how it all happened, but imbibing the apocalyptic juice of the Flea Market, the Cafeteria on El Conde, The Ethnology Club, El Nuevo Diario or the concerts of Luis Días in the House of Theater, I survived my encounters with Miguel D. Mena, Tony de Moya, Carlos Goico, Berti Cepeda, Anamaría Velázquez, Wendy Cepeda, Sandy García, Zoyla Abreu, Juan Luís Pimentel, Jose Rodríguez, Hugo Pérez, Eli Heiliger, Martha Rivera, Tanya Valette, Rafo Castillo, José Duluc, Francisco-Paco-Rodríguez, Grace de los Santos, Ramón Tejada Holguín, Rene Rodríguez Soriano, Pedro Terreiro, Leonardo Durán, Hilario Olivo, José Ramón Medina, Geo Ripley, Nelson Ceballos, Raúl Recio, Eduardo Fiallo, the exhibits, the artists, their studios… all Bohemian, the despair (the despair of the 80’s) in the Colonial City.
It was exactly one morning in the middle of December 1985, when my frater Carlos Goico arrived at El Nuevo Diario accompanied by Jean Girigori “The Painter from Curaçao” – he tells me – and she lets loose her giggle of a wild animal caught in a light. Or as if she had foreseen the vital implications of an incomparable instant in the domains of delirium. Marvelous, enigmatic and revealing was my first encounter with Jean Girigori, moving towards a friendship lasting beyond the absurd and ineffable implications. Beyond our fraternal dialogue (sustained by her absolute certainties and unexpected contradictions). Beyond the respect and admiration that connected to her precious utopias of love, beauty, truth, ethics and liberty. With her passionate personal life. With her work, her artistic career and her grand dreams of justice and spiritual recovery for all the peoples of the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa…for all of humanity.
On that occasion, the Curaçao artist had established herself in the Hotel La Pradera in Villa Mella, a community famed for its deep African roots and the wealth of its cultural diversity. She had two rooms rented with an inventory of over 150 painting for an exhibit in the House of Theater. I can now confess that it was very difficult for me to make a selection for the exhibit, since up to that time, I had never faced a like quantity of works by a single artist. Besides, so many paintings of such diverse styles, techniques and themes constituted a veritable challenge for my capacity for judgment and selection at that time.
Thus, ”Los Demonios de Jean Girigori (The Demons of Jean Girigori)” was the first individual exhibit of the artist in the Dominican Republic. The opening took place on the night of Thursday 20 March 1986 in the House of Theater. It was made up of over 70 small, medium and large format paintings. Jean’s presentation was under the responsibility of her friend and admirer Frank Almánzar (1946-1987), who had also presented the musical show “Afrikan Stylo” that she had produced on 7-8 March in the theater hall of the same institution. This first exhibit of Jean Girigori constituted an authentic event and I believe that no one has yet to have an individual exhibit with so many paintings in the House of Theater.
As a result of that memorable exhibit, I warned: “An all too human energy is the only one that can be defined as the “demons” one carries inside oneself. That energy manifests itself in anxiety, in the uncontrollable need to paint, “exorcism.” Then, the outlines begin to appear, always in movement; the colors suggesting atmospheres and worlds that are distantly close to us, until we come before the painting, an artistic object, or rather one of the worlds of Jean Girigori. And lo, we are taken by an art that has humanized demons who weep, rage, beg, wait, asking from us an urgent conversation on illusions.
Jean Girigori has come to speak of her demons, but they are demons who have come to speak of Jean Girigori. They have their own tongue. There they are, fleeing the solitude of bi-dimensionality. Their brilliant and pathetic colors upset us because they are the colors of our vital geographic, socio-cultural and everyday surroundings.
The demons of Jean Girigori are born of her vital energy, her strength and her need to take for her own, with an extremely original esthetic, the world which is her concern. The compositions of Jean Girigori contain a critical evaluation of nature and the social circumstances that define the everyday unique reality of our Caribbean Antilles. Her observations slide towards the specifics of a stage exploding in images excessively realistic and tangible, remitting us to the physical environments, rituality, attitudes, joyousness, anguish, illusions of the Caribbean woman and childhood.
If anyone recognizes this painting, it is because they too participate in its eventfulness. One admits the faces of the unhappiness, the nostalgia and the uncertainty of that time that comes to us. If we face up t its expressionistic abstractions, here are the sub-worlds of desolation, the gestures of the faceless and the shimmering waves of dissidence, forming visions, childish images that cry out as terrorizing inhabitants of normalcy. These demons that explode in the painting of Jean Girigori refer us to a vision of dissatisfaction. They are fugitives from the de-humanization, but they also contain passages from a legend that speaks of the urgency of restoring links with a social space that contains an authentic evaluation of the human condition.
Jean Girigori is a humanist of our times. Each one of her images provides us with the perception of other worlds that contain interrogatives, exclamations, negations and re-affirmations of the human culture in present times and culture. Those worlds are her, in the irrational and overflowing wealth of each one of his strokes, from his ardent pallet, of the transformations, expressions and abstractions that awake our sensitivities, that move towards the encounter of our authenticity so that in ourselves as well, the attitude of critical negation of the given and a vital perception of the possible can germinate.”
THE MAGIC ARC
On Thursday night, 13 August 1992 “El Arco Mágico (The Magic Arc)”, an individual exhibit by Jean Girigori was inaugurated in the National Gallery (now “Museum”) of Modern Art of Santo Domingo. The invitation to the opening ceremony was extended by Dr. Jeffrey A. Corion, Consul General of the Netherlands in the Dominican Republic and Porfirio Herrera Franco, Executive Director of the Gallery of Modern Art. The introduction of Jean was performed by Frank Marino Hernández, President of the Steering Foundation for the GMA and Marianne de Tolentino, President of the Dominican Association of Art Critics. Over 50 paintings made up the exhibit, with the extraordinary (over 40 meters long) tapestry eponymous with the exhibit especially standing out, in which the artist captured the extraordinary beauty of the natural atmosphere and the cultural signs of the Caribbean.
This first exhibit by an artist from the Dutch Antilles in what is now known as the Museum of Modern Art, was a rounding success by the critics and by the sales in the Dominican Republic. Once “El Arco Mágico” exhibit was taken down, it was purchased at a studio price by the businesswoman and art collector María del Carmen Defilló, who paid the artist some US $15,000.
Around mid-September, the Exhibit traveled to the city of Santiago de los Caballeros and was shown in the Cultural Center. On that occasion, the writer Enegildo Peña reported in the newspaper La Información: “When I say them in the Gallery of Modern Art in Santo Domingo, I felt that my eyes sought the anthropological language of the earth, of beings violated by the misery of suffering. To paint Caribbean suffering as she has done is to look within oneself at the existential solitude of the Caribbean man without turning away from it unforgotten. Here then man ceases to be history in order to be real. A reality that is exposed by the multi-vocality of language in a work of art. The multi-vocality of this pictorial language is what makes it possible for Jean Girigori to make our reality the art of the Caribbean.
This art seen through the paintings of this Dominican- Curaçaon painter re-affirms the aesthetic of magic realism… Using a chromatic weighting that seeks to disclose the violence of the Caribbean and to mix it with a living surrealism in which dreams are not of the unconsciousness, but rather of the consciousness of that which has been lived. This makes her visual work more conscious than unconscious at the moment of bringing it into creation. She well knows how to channel this consciousness into her art. To see the colors utilized by Jean Girigori in her paintings is to see the naked sensitivities of the Caribbean man, which as an intellect has the pain of making a culture as fully human as can be made. That is, Caribbean man has known the making of the pain of a culture that is as human as any can exist in the world. Perhaps that is why our culture, our way of being, is so rooted in the violent. It is as if we allowed violence to grow in the place where pain is born. It is from this crop that Jean Girigori (this is what we believe) submerges us in a history of the typically Caribbean man and then makes us look at the raw pain of the colors”.
On the night of 31 August 1993, parallel to the itinerant exhibit Carib Art (organized by the National Commission of UNESCO in the Dutch Antilles) our sampling called “25 Años de Color y Esperanza (25 Years of Color and Hope)”, a retrospective exhibit of Jean Girigori was inaugurated at the International Trade Center of Willemstad, Curaçao. Coordinated by Eline de Vries and Franneke Hessin and with the museum graphic setup by Architect José Genao, the exhibit was a total success and allowed us to allow facing up to the suppressed levels of creativity that had been reached by the work of Jean over a quarter century of intense activity. At that time, Jean Girigori made a special dedication to her retrospective “to the people of Curaçao”, and especially to my two art teachers: Paul George Hector and Lucila Engels. For them, I request a solemn moment.” Immediately, she added: “I also want to remember Jean Karpata and Tula, for having sowed the flame of liberty in the island of Curaçao. My art is for solidarity, for love and for justice. My art shall always be against inequality and in favor of spirituality. I have no kind of admiration for contemporary political systems, since all the proposals have been sterile. Currently, the economy is in decline; art and education are degraded and cultural policies are confused by dysfunctional bureaucrats. Modern politicians get old and corrupt before finishing their work. They do not want the talent of the young, they do not want a new generation, they are practitioners of social hypertrophy. ”
In his essay for the exhibit’s catalogue, Frank Marino Hernández said: “Each one of the paintings of Girigori seems to be a swipe ripped from this Caribbean reality made of joyousness, of blackness, of poverty and misery, of domination and chimeras represented by the white heirs representing all the empires of all times. And all our primitive atmosphere, adorned with modernity and digitalized information, comes dressed up in a color from a rich pallet handled with the masterful skill of someone who is not just an artist, but also paints, who makes the untranslatable language of plastic his own language, or in the case of Jean, her dialect, her creole or Papiamento. A measure of the authenticity of the paintings of Girigori is that while I could clearly discern all his themes, they appear with the freshness and imprimatur of creativity, imagination and originality in the most abstract or figurative treatment given the images, whether they be simple or complicated.”
THE CARIBBEAN TRANSFIGURED
For more than 18 years, I have had the privilege of keeping apace of the artistic trajectory of Jean Girigori. Since 1985 I have faced the challenge, stimulation and provocation as virtual elements of a spiritual attitude and an artistic technique that are truly significant and moving. In an exciting trajectory that has now surpassed 30 years, this exceptional Curaçaon artist has managed a huge suggestive pictorial production that approaches nature, the essences, the marvels of landscape, memory and the tragic circumstances that determine the day-to-day life of the peoples of the Caribbean.
Jean Girigori was born in the Dominican Republic in the year 1948, of a Curaçaon father and a Dominican mother. She lived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti for 13 years, where she did her first studies and was a colleague of the famed Haitian writer and painter, George Paul Hector. In 1968 she gave her first individual exhibit in the “Cumbio Studio” of Port-au-Prince, under the guidance of George Paul Hector himself. In 1970 she showed for the first time in a collective exhibit in the Dominican Republic (Aerovía Quisqueyana) and the following year she participated in an exhibit at the Montego Beach Hotel in Kingston, Jamaica.
In 1972 Jean Girigori set up her studio in Curaçao. In the period 1977-79 she held four individual exhibits in the Galería Libertas, the Centro pro Arte and the Cultureel Centrum Curaçao. From 1978 until 1980 she studied at the Art Students League of New York, under the guidance of the renowned United States artist Knox Martin. Last year, she showed her work in the Art Students League and the Women’s Art Gallery in New York. Between 1981 and 1983 she returned to the Art Students League in New York to receive sculpturing lessons under the guidance of the sculptor and teacher José de Creeft. Jean Girigori has lived in Haiti, the United States, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and the Netherlands.
Jean Girigori’s experience could be one of the most intense and complex that any artist from the Caribbean region has lived through in the past three decades. That same experience has taken her to the creation of painting whose authenticity, expressive power and symbolic wealth have won over significance and transcendence, not just within the scope of the Dutch Antilles where she has won notice for her dedication and projection of the cultural manifestations of Curaçao, maintaining a studio there and working in favor of the development of the artistic sensibilities among the youth, but also in cultural institutions and spaces in Latin America and Europe.
Over the past two decades, it is precisely she who has become the artistic personality that has most stirred up interest among the critics, curators, galleries and museums of the Spanish Caribbean for contemporary art from the Dutch Antilles. A profound and close following of the social work developed by Jean Girigori with the creation and projection of her art over the last 15 years, would lead us to establishing an astounding multiplicity of networks through which her personal artistic practice is closely linked and extremely positively projects the significant contributions of Curaçaon cultural activists, communicators, writers and artists of renowned trajectories such as Frank Martinus Arion, May Henríquez-Alvarez Correa (1915-1999), Tony Monsanto, Yuby Kirindongo, Ellen Spijkstra, Elvis Lopes, Bulie van Lewin, Stanley Cras, Nel Casimiri, Docco Engels, Mavis Delannoy, Pacheco Domacasse, Ruby Figueroa Eckmeyer, Jennifer Smit and Nicole Henríquez.
The extraordinary pictorial production of Jean Girigori; her honesty and audacity at the moment of creation of her vibrant visual world; her warmth and energetic gesturing at the moment of imaginative ENJOYMENT of the canvas, the colors, the brushes and the imagination, allows us to appreciate her artistic personality as one of the most suggestive occurrences within the reality of Caribbean artistry in the last quarter of the XX Century.
Faced with a blank canvas, Jean Girigori proceeds with the same enthusiasm as when faced with life. Irrepressible and unchecked, this is an artist whose act of being is to paint at all times, adopting diverse styles and languages and making the great social and existential problems of our times the core motivations of her poetics. Free figuration, free neo-figuration, neo-expressionism with a primordial force and abstract expressionism, affirming itself constantly, in an exalted Baroque poly-chromacity, indicating formally the best moments in her pictorial work.
Circumstantially, Jean Girigori would adopt a language and a series of chromatic ranges for every intention. She avails herself of the expressionist neo-figuration to present a moving reflection in the face of the tragic reality of the poverty, abuse and exploitation of children in most of the countries and islands of the Caribbean, as well as to denounce the unstable values that currently sustain the human condition, freedom, the psychological “normalcy” of individuals and the fragile supports of the globalized socio-political order. The spontaneous gesticulation and expressionistic abstraction serve her to express her inmost emotions, feelings and convictions.
There is a history represented or ciphered in every pictorial work of Jean Girigori. In her outlines and images, signs of violence often emerge as a symbolic reference to reality, as an unmasking and negation of authoritarian power and order. Many of her pictorial findings are reiterative in their themes. For over twenty years she has not ceased to add paintings to her now famous series of “Futuro Incierto (Uncertain Future)”, in which she takes up the issue of the situation of the street child, presenting a confrontation in resolute opposition against the abuse of innocence, against the condition of indigence, oppression and degradation of many boys, girls and adolescents in Santo Domingo, Jamaica, Haiti, Curaçao and other peoples of the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and Latin America.
However, the pictorial works of Jean Girigori not only contain the impugnation of reality and the present that runs the gamut in her culture of death. She also feeds back with the treasury of her experiences, her interior images. Her temperament is at all times engaged in illusions, poetry, celebration of wealth in time, life, nature. Throughout the explosion of a universe that emerges in transparent polychromacity, she splendidly expresses and materializes her most vital emotions and ideas to present an authentic and simple dialogue against which no resistance is possible.
The Baroque nature, the magic and marvelous-reality of the Caribbean environment becomes an exuberant celebration of a contrasting game of range and texture that wins over the pictorial surface in effectiveness. Thus we find in the mutant pictorial spaces of Jean Girigori as a proliferation of warm tones and atmospheres, definitively hallucinogenic. Spaces animated by planes, lines, typologies, silhouettes and transfigurations of magic suggestive ands strangely suggestive sensational power.
Amable López Meléndez
Independent curator and writer.
Member of the International Association of Art Critics.
Vicepresident of the Dominican Association of Art Critics.