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Detailing the creation of a three and a half metre tall bronze sculpture of Surinamese politician Johan Adolf Pengel by Surinamese visual artist Stuart Robles de Medina, the photo album at the centre of this book chronicles its construction from the artist’s studio and a provisional foundry in October 1972 to its public unveiling on 5 June 1974 in Independence Square, Paramaribo, Suriname, where the statue stands to this day. As the first and last bronze monument to be produced entirely in Suriname, these predominantly black and white photographs show the process of building an infrastructure from the ground up for large-scale bronze casting done in Suriname with the help of the Reli company. As the grandson of the artist, this photo album was instrumental in my early artistic development and eventual pursuit of art as a profession. It provided insight into the possibilities and intricacies of artmaking as a child growing up in Suriname in the nineties. The scale and technical innovations of the work, fueled by the determination, stamina, and political engagement of my grandparents, inspired me, and continues to inspire me to this day. Fifty years after the unveiling of the statue of Pengel, I wish to preserve this hitherto private family photo album, with supporting archival materials, as this facsimile, identical in format to its source, and offer it as a historical document of Stuart Robles de Medina’s life’s work as an artist and educator. “Listen, this is not part of the MO-course [middle school teacher training course], but I want to pass on this knowledge,” he recalled telling his students, during a f ilmed interview in 2005, a year before his death. It is a brief yet telling moment, in which he states explicitly his intentions toward the end of his life, of passing on these methods and ideas. The idea of conserving this photo album, which laid in his lap as he spoke in the video, then, is implicit here. Considering the generosity of his recorded retelling and willingness to participate in the filmed interview, supporting Gerard Lau in his plan to make a documentary (which never materialized), the conservation of his artistic legacy indeed might have been on his mind. Perhaps it can be inferred from my offering of an English translation, the intended audience here is not limited to Suriname. My hope is that this information spreads also within the international contemporary art community for whom the work of Stuart Robles de Medina, and this story, may be even more novel. Lau’s unpublished filmed interview with my grandfather from 2005, and a conversation I recorded with my grandmother, Barbara Robles de Medina-Nobrega, and my father, Amedeo Robles de Medina, in July 2023, form the basis for the texts included in this document. I have transcribed and edited these first-hand accounts concerning the development of the sculpture with the primary intention of balancing clarity with fidelity to what was originally recorded. These accounts are essential to understanding the photographic material and paint a vivid image of the socio-political complexities surrounding the sculpture’s creation. The myriad meanings of this family story have shifted in personal significance over time, but the through-line is something elemental to the story of Surinamese democracy, and the union of art and political activism.

Xavier Robles de Medina, November 2023

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