The novel Dubbelspel (‘Double Play’, 1973) by Frank Marinus Arion describes a Sunday afternoon in Curaçao, in which four men play dominoes - as they do every Sunday afternoon. At first glance, the book doesn't seem to discuss anything in particular: we see the daily routines and mannerisms of each character and their wives. What they always wish for but never dare to hope, what they intend but never do. What they want but never get the chance to. Beneath the surface of this Sunday like any other, however, is a very different game unfolding.
The same can be said about Unbé t'aweró by Gilleam Trapenberg. Where in previous series he celebrated his homeland of Curaçao and the surrounding Caribbean islands by capturing all the sweet hues of its exotic sun, or by focusing his lens on proud appearances, a stillness has suddenly occurred in his photos. Like a lizard that merges motionless into its background – what he captures is unseen presence. A piece of glass is missing from the shutter window behind the two shiny peacock statues. The neatly made bed in a bedroom with an interior that was once very fashionable, with the bedspread so smoothed that it seems as if no one has slept there for decades. A palm tree surrounded by pallets, buckets, a stove, electrical wiring, a clothesline, a watchdog in the background – the backstage of a tropical dream. Even though we are on an island, there are no vistas in Unbé t'aweró. We're looking very closely – if you know how to see it.
Domino has twenty-eight tiles, which are each divided by a line into two halves. Each end is marked with a number of spots ranging from zero to six. The aim is to place a side with a certain number of dots against a side of an already placed tile with the same number of dots. Sometimes the game is 'blocked', that is, the tiles that the players have in their hands do not match what is on the table. When the winner's tile connects to both ends of the game, he wins changa – double play.
To photograph is to put time to a halt, but it is as if Gilleam Trapenberg has captured what has already been standing still. One could interpret this as a critique in itself: the standstill caused by the aftermath of the colonial situation, or the ineptitude of the people themselves. The photographer created this series more than ten years after Curaçao became an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Unbé t'aweró means "soon it will be later" in Papiamento - the creole language spoken on the islands of Curaçao, Aruba and Bonaire. A language within the Kingdom of the Netherlands that I, as a Dutchwoman, do not speak.
Most of Trapenberg's portraits look away, as if lost in thought. You may have to be a Curaçaoan to see the double play. We as spectators are only looked at twice: Nadira's gaze descends on us; Bòrò looks at us as if at a glance. The two stars of the Curaçao flag are tattooed under his right eye – a literal portrait of Curaçao. With that, Gilleam Trapenberg seems to be playing changa.
About Gilleam Trapenberg
Gilleam Trapenberg (1991, Willemstad, Curaçao) moved to the Netherlands at the age of nineteen, and graduated in 2017 with a Bachelor’s degree in Photography from the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. He has taken part in various group exhibitions, including In the Presence of Absence at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (2020). His first photo book, Big Papi, was published in 2017. Gilleam Trapenberg lives and works in Amsterdam.
The Florentine Riem Vis Grant
Gilleam Trapenberg is the fourth recipient of the Florentine Riem Vis Grant. Established in memory of Florentine Riem Vis (1959-2016), the grant is awarded each year with the aim of enabling a young artist to further develop their artistic career. The previous recipients of the grant were Solène Gün (2019), Rebecca Sampson (2018) and Stefanie Moshammer (2016/17).
The exhibition is made possible by the Van Bijlevelt Foundation and the Leeuwensteinstichting.
Foam is supported by the VriendenLoterij, Foam Members, De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek, the VandenEnde Foundation and the City of Amsterdam.
In 2021 Foam receives additional support from the Mondriaan Fund and Kickstart Cultuurfonds.