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Bridging Art History: Rediscovering Nola Hatterman's Dutch-Surinamese Legacy

"In early 2021, Bart Krieger, an expert in Surinamese and Caribbean art, stumbled upon a treasure trove of several hundred drawings by Nola Hatterman (1899-1984) tucked away in the attic of Amsterdam artist Armand Baag (1941-2001). Amidst portraits, illustrations for the magazine Soela, depictions of jazz musicians, and sketches of Amsterdam scenes, there also lay a handful of paintings. Initially a mentor and teacher to Armand Baag, Hatterman later blossomed into a lifelong friend and eventual heir, thus explaining the presence of these works in Amsterdam. This remarkable find unveiled a rich tapestry of insights into Nola Hatterman, her artistic processes, and her profound connection to Suriname.

Nola Hatterman, The Peoples of Suriname in the Shadow of Colonial Domination
Nola Hatterman (1899-1984), The People of Suriname in the Shadow of Colonial Oppressor, approx. 1983, signed lower left, oil on canvas, 120 x 160 cm. Exhibition: 'Identiteit' (1984), Paramaribo. Provenance: Nola Hatterman Estate. Price on request.

Bart Krieger, serving as a guest curator for the Surinamese School exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, embarked on a profound exploration. He also wrote a compelling article featured in the book 'Nola Hatterman, geen kunst zonder kunnen' (2021). Over the past decade, Hatterman has emerged as a pivotal figure, bridging the realms of Dutch and Surinamese art history. After the exhibition, I reached out to the owner of this remarkable collection and acquired a part through purchase, while also taking another part on consignment. This presented a splendid opportunity to delve further into the captivating life of Nola Hatterman.

A strong sense of justice

Nola Hatterman, born in Amsterdam in 1899, carried within her a deep-seated awareness of the injustices faced by colonial residents—an awareness that shaped her into a fierce advocate for justice throughout her life. After studying theater, she delved into drawing, showcasing her works in exhibitions such as De Onafhankelijken. From 1925 onward, Hatterman dedicated herself entirely to her artistic journey, honing her style toward the realms of New Objectivity by 1929. In 1930, she created the iconic portrait On the Terrace, a piece now familiar to many from the Stedelijk Museum's permanent collection. This painting captures the essence of trumpeter and actor Lou Drenthe, leisurely savoring a beer amidst a tranquil setting.

Nola Hatterman, Still life with fruits, Nola Hatterman, Geen kunst zonder kunnen
Nola Hatterman (1899-1984), Still life with fruits, watercolor, 29 x 39 cm, Nola Hatterman Estate. Depicted in: Ellen de Vries (red.), Nola Hatterman, Geen kunst zonder kunnen, p. 54. Sold.

Drenthe and Arie Jansma introduced Nola Hatterman to Anton de Kom and the vibrant activist intellectual community of Suriname. Throughout the 1930s, her empathy and understanding for Afro-Surinamese individuals deepened, leading her to craft a powerful counter-narrative against the prevailing European (white) beauty standards and the looming specter of fascism. When asked in an interview why she consistently painted black subjects, Hatterman famously responded, 'It seems like a strange question; no one questions a painter on why they choose white models.' Her aim was to portray 'black individuals in all their varied complexities, fully integrated into contemporary society,' steering away from the caricatures that were all too common during her time.

Settling in Suriname

In 1953, Nola Hatterman made the pivotal decision to relocate to Suriname, where she swiftly assumed the role of director at the School for Visual Arts in Paramaribo. In this influential position, she left an indelible mark on subsequent generations of Surinamese artists, nurturing talents such as Armand Baag, Ruben Karsters, and Soeki Irodikromo. Hatterman remained an active force in the art world until her untimely passing in 1984, tragically taken in a car accident

Nola Hatterman, Surinamers, Nola Hatterman, Geen kunst zonder kunnen
Nola Hatterman (1899-1984), Surinamese funeral, gouache on paper, 30 x 22 cm, Nola Hatterman Estate. Depicted in: Ellen de Vries (red.), Nola Hatterman, Geen kunst zonder kunnen, p. 137. Purchased by Kunstmuseum Den Haag.

Exhibition 'Identity' 1984

In 1984, the Suriname Museum in Paramaribo hosted an art exhibition titled 'Identity'. A key figure in Surinamese emancipation, Nola Hatterman, then 85 years old, played a crucial role in this event. During a televised segment dedicated to the exhibition, she eloquently delved into the profound meaning of identity and its deep connection to self-awareness. The interview unfolded against the backdrop of two recent artworks featured in 'Identity'. On her left stood a striking painting, a grand 120 x 160 cm piece, previously housed in Armand Baag's warehouse: The People of Suriname in the Shadow of Colonial Oppressor. This last masterpiece of her body of work depicted a sprawling beach scene where the colossal shadow of a resolute purple figure loomed over the indigenous populace. In an instant, the artwork captured the enduring relationship spanning centuries between Suriname's original inhabitants and the Dutch colonizers, sparking vital discussions on colonialism, slavery, and the intricate tapestry of identity. For those curious, the video of Nola Hatterman's enlightening interview is available on YouTube. I warmly encourage everyone reading this to listen to Nola Hatterman herself speak about this remarkable exhibition."

UPDATE Feb. 2024: The portrait of Lou Drenthe, On the Terrace, will be on display until July 28th, at the exhibition 'The Harlem Renaissance and Transatlantic Modernism' at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Source: Nola Hatterman. Excerpt from 1984 film Identity by Ray Kril:


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