Interview with Michelle Piergoelam

At night the slaves came together and told each other Anansi stories.

The thing that I enjoyed the most about making this book was testing the folding of the booklet. I asked close family and friends to go through the book without giving any explanation. It was to test if they would keep the curiosity to look further and how they look through the book. There is no wrong way to look at it, but what tricks their attention at first? Will they notice that they have to open the sheets? This test was very enlightening because then you can see what works good or what is still missing. What if someone wants to lay out every sheet on the ground, how to put it back in or-der? etc.

What was the motivation behind this project?

This project started as a search into Surinamese stories like myths. I knew that every story has a truth in it, so I was curious to find out what exactly, and maybe it would give me insight into the Suri-namese culture. I came upon a lot of stories of Anansi the Spider. In the Creole Surinamese cul-ture, it is a well-known character. I never had any cultural knowledge from home about the Suri-namese culture so my projects are driven by the motivation to discover the culture by stories. Once I started the research about Anansi the Spider, I immediately saw that Anansi goes long back in his-tory. The stories came from Africa, when slaves from there were transported to Suriname. The sto-ries they took with them were little reminders from home. At night the slaves came together and told each other Anansi stories. They implemented their daily struggle and fantasy, by doing this they got strength to get through the dark days.

When I heard about this big history hidden behind a spider story, I knew I had to do something with it. So, I went to the Anansi storytellers to hear more about it. Along the way in my research I stum-bled upon Angisa headscarfs. Both are traditions which allow us to catch a glimpse on the slavery time. But, the most important thing for me, is that the slaves were able to create a secret language in such a limited time, with simple things, that is worth to share.

Why did you decide to give this project the form of a book?

I knew from the beginning that I wanted to have this project in the form of a book. The Anansi sto-ries are written texts which I don’t want to interfere with, so I had in mind to have the original stories of Anansi next to my photos. In addition to this, a book is also a way of documenting and spread-ing the heritage. But it was a challenge: how to bring my curiosity over in the design to the viewer? Photobook designer Sybren Kuiper helped me with that.

Can you introduce your work in general?

By creating visual stories based on cultural myths, dreams and memories, I want to take the viewer to another world where imagination takes over. Images where traditions, stories and scenery are intertwined to create a new reality, which is still based on an original tale. Without speaking their language you can wonder about different cultures and their traditions.

At night, light and dark come together and show you what is forgotten by day. I’m seeking for dif-ferent photographic techniques while using the elements of the night. Details become the subject; when light strikes it, the smallest gestures will speak loudly. In my photography I always seek for the imagination in the stories. The fact that there is a truth hidden in a lot of cultural fairytales and myths, creates awareness and understanding of the culture. Despite my Surinamese background, I knew nothing about this country. My curiosity to learn more about it drew my attention to discover and to seek the narratives for myself. I became more conscious of the importance of telling cultural stories.

What were the technical details that was of special importance for the realisation of the final product?

It takes some effort to understand each other’s cultures. This is reflected in the design created by Sybren Kuiper. The design engages the audience with the subject with elements that arouse curi-osity. The book consists of A2 sheets folded to A4 format, which is held together by a folder. The book can be viewed in multiple ways. There is a text divided over the pages that introduces the sto-ry of Anansi and there are some Anansi stories hidden throughout the book. The folding part in the book is also related to the Angisa headscarfs which were worn by women and were not only beau-tiful headkerchiefs: their intricate folds contained hidden stories and wisdom that could only be read by those who had learned to. When the viewer really observes and reads everything carefully he/she will understand the secret languages of the project.

 

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