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Behind the artist: Hedy Tjin deelt haar inzichten over het aankaarten van sociale thema's met kunst.

Community

Verhalen van:

David Wouters

Interview door:

Marc Haers

November 20, 2022

Misschien heb je het werk van illustrator Hedy Tjin (35) al eens gezien: op de cover van je krant, in een boekhandel bij jou in de buurt, of misschien ben je een van haar muurschilderingen tegengekomen in steden als Amsterdam, Groningen, Deventer of Nijmegen. Haar kleurrijke en krachtige kunstwerken zijn vaak een visuele vertaling van maatschappelijke onderwerpen - ze dagen je uit om na te denken, terwijl ze je tegelijkertijd de vrijheid geven om je gedachten te laten dwalen. Voor member story #4 zit ik samen met Hedy in haar levendige atelier om te praten over de invloed van Suriname op haar kunst, waar een deel van haar roots ligt. We bespreken haar inspiratiebronnen, haar ambities, en de sociale thema's die in haar werk naar voren komen.

Hoi Hedy, we hebben allemaal als kinderen onze droomberoepen. Droomde jij ervan om beeldend kunstenaar te worden?

Als klein kind was ik altijd aan het tekenen, schilderen en creëren. Ik wist niet 100% zeker of ik illustrator wilde worden, maar ik wilde zeker iets creatiefs doen.

Hoe zou je jouw kunst omschrijven?

Ik zou zeggen dat het toegankelijk is. Het varieert van figuratief tot meer abstracte werken. Meestal noem ik mezelf een illustratieve ontwerper.

Dus je zou zeggen dat je tijd in Paramaribo een grote invloed heeft gehad op je kunst?

Absoluut. Als ik in Suriname ben, voel ik me meer geïnspireerd door de mentale rust die ik ervaar. In Nederland hebben we altijd haast en het gevoel dat we iets moeten doen. In Paramaribo kon ik achterover leunen met mijn schetsboek en een set stiften en allerlei landschappen tekenen die mijn interesse wekten. Op een gegeven moment begon ik foto's te maken van familieleden en mensen die ik op straat tegenkwam en daagde mezelf uit om alleen kleurmarkers te gebruiken. Dat voelde geweldig, ik voelde me geïnspireerd, het was heel meditatief en de resultaten waren beter dan ik had verwacht. Het voelde eerlijker, directer en puurder.

So you would say that your time in Paramaribo has had a big influence on your artwork?

Definitely. When I’m in Surinam, I feel more inspired because of the mental peace I experience. In the Netherlands we’re always in a rush and there’s always this feeling of having to do something. In Paramaribo, I could sit back with my sketch book and a set of markers and draw all kinds of scenery that sparked my interest. At one point I started taking pictures of family members and people I met on the street and challenged myself to use colour markers only. That felt amazing, I felt inspired, it was very meditative and the results were better than I expected. It felt more honest, direct and pure.

Groningen: Mural of Aletta Jacobs – the first woman to go to university in the Netherlands
Surinam: Personal project
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What’s your own favourite work of art?

My favourite project was when I painted a shaved ice cream cart in Surinam. My great grandfather introduced shaved ice cream in Surinam and now many years later you can find these carts on almost every corner. It’s a tradition for cart owners and busses to have the most beautiful paintings on them in order to attract a lot of customers. As an ode to my grandfather I wanted to paint a cart. My friend back then loved making all sorts of mini documentaries. We would walk through the city together, scouting for shaved ice cream carts that could use some touching up. Once we found one, I told the owner my story and how I would love to paint his cart. He could not believe that I wanted to do it for free – as painting jobs can be quite expensive. I asked him to bring me the cart on Friday morning and to pick it back up on Sunday evening. He traversed the whole city with his cart and left it for me to paint. On Sunday evening he picked up the car and was lost for words; that gave me a fantastic feeling.

So you would say that your time in Paramaribo has had a big influence on your artwork?

Definitely. When I’m in Surinam, I feel more inspired because of the mental peace I experience. In the Netherlands we’re always in a rush and there’s always this feeling of having to do something. In Paramaribo, I could sit back with my sketch book and a set of markers and draw all kinds of scenery that sparked my interest. At one point I started taking pictures of family members and people I met on the street and challenged myself to use colour markers only. That felt amazing, I felt inspired, it was very meditative and the results were better than I expected. It felt more honest, direct and pure.

Surinam: Mural

What’s your own favourite work of art?

My favourite project was when I painted a shaved ice cream cart in Surinam. My great grandfather introduced shaved ice cream in Surinam and now many years later you can find these carts on almost every corner. It’s a tradition for cart owners and busses to have the most beautiful paintings on them in order to attract a lot of customers. As an ode to my grandfather I wanted to paint a cart. My friend back then loved making all sorts of mini documentaries. We would walk through the city together, scouting for shaved ice cream carts that could use some touching up. Once we found one, I told the owner my story and how I would love to paint his cart. He could not believe that I wanted to do it for free – as painting jobs can be quite expensive. I asked him to bring me the cart on Friday morning and to pick it back up on Sunday evening. He traversed the whole city with his cart and left it for me to paint. On Sunday evening he picked up the car and was lost for words; that gave me a fantastic feeling.

There’s a lot of diversity in your projects; you work on personal projects but you’ve also got a lot of projects going on with a more serious notion to it. In collaboration with United Paintings and Verdedig Noord, you painted a big mural of victims of anti-black violence at Tolhuistuin. Could you tell me more about that?

Brian Elstak is a big support to me, I believe that 8 out of the 10 projects I work on, I got because of him. Brian gave my number to Massih Hutak (founder of Verdedig Noord) just before he also moved into A Lab. He asked me if I wanted to portray victims of anti-black violence on the wall at Tolhuistuin. It was days after the black lives matter protest on Dam square and I was so fired up by it all that even though time-wise I was not sure if I was going to make it - I thought: let’s do it. I thought: If that’s my way of being able to contribute, then I’m going to do it, it felt like an outlet to me.

I also felt that it was a nice way to express the problem. In this age we’re very saturated with information. In this mural there are no words, it’s just something you can see. People are intrigued by its colours and are inclined to think about what they’re seeing. It’s a nice way to make people conscious.

It’s not the first time you paint or illustrate for social themes. Your illustrations are regularly on the cover of newspapers or may it be - very big walls. Is this something you want to do more often or something you want to keep on doing?

I find it important to be socially involved, it’s nice to be able to contribute and I enjoy making illustrations that empower and activate the discussion on certain social themes. That said I don’t want to become type casted like some actors; to only get asked for illustrative projects on social themes, because I do more than that. I enjoy the combination of working on both illustrations for social themes as well as working on personal projects. Sometimes I like for my work to be less about the message and more about the feeling. I enjoy illustrating friends, family and some sceneries. But I’m in a good place right now, both forms are coming together while I have the freedom to stay close to my own working style.

Amsterdam: Mural of victims of anti-black violence at Tolhuistuin
Nijmegen: Mural of Vincent van Gogh
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Do you believe that creating both illustrations for social topics as well as doing personal projects create a balance that gives you the power to do both? One is an outlet to blow off steam while the other gives you mental peace and lets your imagination flow?

Definitely. As an artist you can sometimes ask yourself ‘what am I doing that contributes to a better world?’ you ask yourself ‘am I just creating images?’ - it’s then great to be able to have this opportunity to work on illustrations for social topics.

If there was one social topic you could contribute to with your artwork, what it would be?

The black lives matter movement. For this movement I also painted other heroic Surinam people on the walls of the building of the Black Archives. Something different but close to my heart is the mural I made of Aletta Jacobs in Groningen – she is the first woman in the Netherlands to go to university. I’m also happy with the mural I made of Vincent van Gogh in Nijmegen. The mural of van Gogh is a reminder that you can’t be perfect as a person, that doing your own thing is good enough. Back in the day, people found his work odd or evenstrange, but eventually it was highly appreciated. This shows that doing your own thing is the best you can do. These kind of messages or topics are things I highly support.

Amsterdam: Mural of victims of anti-black violence at Tolhuistuin

A Lab is a hotspot for creatives, how do you experience working here?

Speaking for the Superfriends studio we really enjoy the nice vibe and atmosphere in A Lab, there’s always this close A Lab family present at every event, that’s really nice. And of course we love team A Lab!

What would you like to achieve or create in the future?

I like the way things are going right now and I like to go with the flow. But if there’s one thing I would really enjoy doing is to paint the façade of a big building. For the rest I just want to do more of everything I’m already doing all the while being able to maintain as much as artistic freedom within projects as possible. I want to keep on growing, developing and challenging myself with my work.

Superfriends studio: Dewy, Brian, Salma & Hedy
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