July 19, 2023
On June 1, Amsterdam-based artist collective DARKMATTER presented Ava + Gabriel: An Exegesis, a five-hour curated program of experimental and transmedial artistic activities based on Felix de Rooy’s acclaimed film Ava & Gabriel: A Love Story. Exegesis sought to break boundaries in much the same way as de Rooy’s 1990 film did at the time. The Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam’s large-scale retrospective Felix de Rooy – Apocalypse is on view until September 3, 2023.
Set on the island of Curaçao in the 1940s, the film Ava & Gabriel: A Love Story is an important work of postcolonial criticism that dramatizes the “conflicted hybridity” inherent in the post-slavery societies of the Caribbean. This hybridity is manifested in complex hierarchies of race, color, religion, and language that result from the contact between a dominant European empire and its non-white colonial subjects. Against this backdrop, the film also raises crucial concerns about freedom and censorship that are relevant today when considering the exponential rise of Western-aided Christian fundamentalism across the world and specifically in the African Diaspora.
Fig. 1. Felix de Rooy with Edward Akintola Hubbard of DARKMATTER. Photo: Noël Schut.
Fig. 2. Felix de Rooy with members of DARKMATTER. Photo: Noël Schut.
In this romantic drama, the story revolves around Gabriel Goedbloed, a painter from Suriname, who comes to Curaçao with the purpose of creating a mural for a church. As he embarks on his artistic endeavor, he chooses Ava Recordina, a teacher, to be his model for depicting the Virgin Mary. This decision stirs up a commotion among the local bourgeoisie and also causes tension among Ava’s lovers. The controversy arises from the fact that someone of African heritage is being portrayed as the Virgin Mary for the church’s mural.
Fig. 3. Vernon Chatlein, from Willemstad Rap. Photo: Noël Schut.
Fig. 4. Najendra ‘Nash’ Caldera, from Polyglossia: Island of Babel. Photo: Mohamad Khezri Moghadam.
Fig. 5. Fazle Shairmahomed, Goddess Coco and Paolo Yao, from Syncretism: Obia Woman/Creole Madonna. Photo: Noël Schut.
Fig. 6. Zobayda, from Syncretism: Obia Woman/Creole Madonna. Photo: Noël Schut.
Fig. 7. Rachwill Breidel, from Colonial Education: Mijn Zusje is Blond. Photo: Noël Schut.
Fig. 8. Ciro Goudsmit, from Colonial Education: Mijn Zusje is Blond. Photo: Noël Schut.
Fig. 9. Taneesha Sijmons and Roxana Verwey, from Final: Abominable Acts. Photo: Mohamad Khezri Moghadam.
Fig. 10. Taneesha Sijmons, from Final: Abominable Acts. Photo: Mohamad Khezri Moghadam.
About the Author
Edward Akintola Hubbard is co-founder and artistic director of Amsterdam-based artist collective DARKMATTER and Assistant Professor of Arts and Society at Utrecht University. He is an anthropologist, artist and curator whose scholarly interests and artistic practice, experimental ethnography, exist at the intersection of social anthropology and contemporary art. He holds a BA (Hons) in Mass Communication from the University of the West Indies – Mona (Jamaica), an MA in Social Sciences from the University of Chicago (USA), and a PhD in Anthropology from Harvard University (USA).