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Indigenous Artist Winston Van Der Bok Leaves Behind A Great Legacy

Indigenous Artist Winston Van Der Bok Leaves Behind A Great Legacy

Winston van der Bok is praised as one of the few Surinamese native artists who was able to express his native roots profoundly. “And this despite his Western upbringing,” says Patrick Tjon of the Academy for Higher Art and Culture Education (AHKCO). The artist died on September 25th and cremated a few days later. Van der Bok was 74 years old. He studied at the Academy of Visual Arts in Paramaribo and started very young as a graphic designer at the then graphic agency Rubbenstein & Healy. In 1992 Van der Bok was commissioned to design visual material in the context of five hundred years of ‘discovery’ of America. This was an incentive to respond to his calling and give visual artistic form to his cultural heritage. He held his first exhibition the same year in Theater Thalia.


Van der Bok was also a teacher of graphic design at the academy for several years. His last exhibition – ‘Nurture the World’ – was in December 2018 and was held at Spice Quest. He focused on showcasing the slowly disappearing culture of the many local Indigenous tribes. His knowledge of modern graphic design and his cultural heritage enabled him to connect the past with the present. “He was a good designer and very accurate. A modest man who knows his work through and through”, colleague artist René Tosari recalls about his friend. Van der Bok (1947) was born in Calbo, a tiny indigenous village on the banks of the Cottica River in the Marowijne district in Suriname (South America). As a baby, he was given straight from his mother’s hammock to two caring adoptive mothers. By doing so, his parents hoped that their child would have a better future.


Growing up in the United States, Canada and Japan, environments completely different from his birthplace, meant having no perception of ​​his native culture and language. This changed drastically when he returned to his native village and was reunited with his family. The daily life of the traditional indigenous community, where he came from, was a series of profound experiences. His father taught him the skills of hunting and the traditional way of surviving in nature. His mother hugged him lovingly and taught him the native way of life. Van Der Bok said of this period: “It felt like my identity was confirmed in everything around me. A world revealed itself to me in which I could recognize myself deep inside. Customs, rituals, mythical stories, songs, dance, drawings and symbols. It was as if the cultural heritage of my ancestors, given to their descendants, were woven into my DNA.”