Kenneth Flijders: Inspired by Suriname’s Diversity
Updated: Feb 17
As a painter, Kenneth Flijders draws inspiration from his native Suriname’s multicultural society as well as its natural landscapes and its rich tropical rainforest. Flijders has garnered a name for himself by painting large-scale historical pieces as well popular places in downtown Paramaribo. Not afraid to explore, the talented artist uses several materials, styles and techniques, one of which is the incorporation of mahogany extract and natural fibers in his work.
Strongly encouraged by his mother, Flijders pursued studies in the arts at the ‘Nieuwe School voor Beeldende Kunsten’ and received further training at the Edna Manley School for the Visual and Performing Arts in Jamaica. Though teaching is important to him, about six years ago, he stopped teaching at the Nola Hatterman Art Academy.
CE: What’s your strongest memory of your childhood?
KF: My strongest memories from my childhood are form the neighborhood in and around the Dr. Sophie Redmond street where I grew up. I have many fond memories of the things I experienced there and the good times I had playing there with friends. I remember very well for instance, the day that the statue of Kwakoe, who represents a freed African slave, was unveiled further down in my street. It was on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Suriname. The statue was made by sculptor Jozef Klas.
CE: When did you develop an interest in painting and the arts?
KF: My interest in drawing started very early on in my childhood. I remember playing with friends who loved to draw as well, and I also remember being fascinated with the drawings in the comic books that I read. So, I always loved drawing, also in school. When one friend mentioned that his brother was enrolled in an art school, that caught my attention. A bit later on I saw a newspaper ad for the art school of Nola Hatterman that had just moved to a new location and was taking on new students. I enrolled there almost immediately.
CE: Did you always know you wanted to be an artist, or did another career path ever cross your mind?
KF: I loved drawing, loved art, but when I was younger I never consciously decided that I was going to become an artist. I had some interest in detective work, so I could have potentially become a police officer, but that was never something that I seriously contemplated. The thing is, that the more I worked on my art and learned about art, about art history for example, and the more I saw, the more my interest and experience in art grew. And since it was something that I loved doing and became more and more skilled in, it gradually developed into my career. The fact that I was always stimulated and encouraged by my mother, was also very helpful.
Touched by Music Bakana Fatu
Acrylic Paint on Canvas 72x139 CM Mahogany Extract on Canvas 33.5x42.5 CM
CE: In your own words what is Surinam like for those who haven't had a chance to visit?
KF: To people that haven’t had a chance to visit I would just say, come to Suriname. Visit our colorful country and you will be surprised by how quickly you will feel at home. The people here are easygoing, friendly and open to everyone. When you come to Suriname you get a wonderful total package of things to enjoy, because in addition to the people and the relaxed lifestyle, our nature is spectacular.
CE: Describe a real-life situation that inspired you?
KF: This is a difficult question, because there are things that inspire me everywhere, every day. The people in the market for example, my surroundings, the tropical rainforest I encounter when I get to visit in the interior. Sometimes you want to paint things right away, but sometimes you just store certain images in your memory and do something with them later on. I remember a few years ago seeing a specific scenery, while exercising in the ‘cultuurtuin’ (a type of park/botanical garden in Paramaribo) with friends. There was a beautiful path, colors and lush greenery. I was fascinated and determined to paint that scene, but I never did. I still want to and I might, but a lot has happened around there lately and wonder if the spot is still as it was then.
CE: What is it about nature and daily life that inspire your artwork?
KF: This can be answered similarly to the previous question. I really do see things that inspire me everywhere, every day. Each moment of the day offers things that I would like to record with my art. I love watching the everyday hustle of the people selling their wares on the streets in town or in the various districts for example, but I also love painting historical city scenes based on photographs. I also love to paint the beauty of nature. And then I love that I can take all those images and can choose to combine them, change them or add to them, and use my own creativity and skill to make them interesting and make them mine.
CE: What superpower would you have and why?
KF: I am a religious man and my faith in God is very strong. My wisdom, my power and my inspiration all come from him. I simply use all that he has given to me. He has blessed me with many things, including my talent, and I am thankful for that. I do not wish for any powers above and beyond that.
CE: Do you express yourself creatively in other ways besides painting?
KF: In addition to painting I also make prints. I learned various printing techniques when I was studying at the Edna Manley School for the Visual and Performing Arts in Jamaica. I also make three-dimensional art works once in a while. Another important way in which I give expression to my love of art and creativity, is by teaching. Especially teaching children with disabilities or special needs. Seeing the enjoyment that they get from creating art is very fulfilling.
CE: Name three artists you’d like to be compared to.
KF: I consider myself a very simple man. I am always just myself, and I paint how I feel like painting and what I like to paint. People can perhaps inspire you, but I would not want to be compared to others and I would never imitate anyone else’s work. Of course, when I was young and still studying, I would practice techniques by trying to recreate the works of art masters, such as Rembrandt and others, but that was just to test and sharpen my skills. But I have never wanted to be compared to anyone.
CE: In your career to date what are some memories or accomplishments that stick out to you?
KF: Seeing my work somewhere, where I never would have expected to see it, is always particularly satisfying. Several large works of mine for example, have been bought by banks and now hang in their public areas where many people can enjoy them every day. That feels really good. One accomplishment that stands out in my memory is that in 2014, the Surinamese government bought a large painting of mine with a historical scene, titled Markt aan de waterkant, as a gift for the Unasur, then seated in Ecuador. The fact that I can represent my country internationally with my work, is something that I am very proud of.
Untitled 2 Mahogany Extract on Paper Water Nood in Paramaribo 56x42 CM Acrylic Paint on Canvas 310x210 CM
CE: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given and by whom?
KF: There is nothing in particular that immediately comes to mind. But I have certainly received many words of encouragement throughout all stages of my life and career. Words that pushed me to keep on going and to give that extra bit of effort, from my mother, my teachers and many others.