• Roxane Kerby

Kit-Ling Tjon Pian Gi: A Multi-Talented Artist

Updated: Jan 30

Kit-Ling Tjon Pian Gi is an award winning Surinamese visual artist and author. She is a well-known figure who has exposed her works and represented her country internationally. Tjon Pian Gi began her career as an art teacher and lecturer. However, in1988 she decided to follow her passion and became a full time artist. This multitalented artist added video film & video installation to her portfolio in 2005. The published author created a fusion between both visual art and the art of words. Caribbean Essence had the chance to interview Tjon Pian Gi and learn in great details about her journey, her work and her favorite medium to work with among other topics.

CE: Where were you born?

KLTPG: I was born in Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname. Suriname belongs to the Caribbean region, but is also a South American country.

CE: At what age did you develop an interest in the arts?

KLTPG: It is hard to say. I was born into a higher middle-class family. We were members

Kit-Ling Tjon Pian Gi

of a kind of country club. The club did not have a golf course nor a restaurant, but had a lot of other sports facilities like tennis and swimming, and there was a snack bar. I took ballet and piano lessons for years. Coloring pencils, crayons and paper were always available at home. So, sports, culture and arts were always a part of my life growing-up.

In Secondary High School, I was a science student and I wanted to become an architect. To pursue such a major, everybody from my Secondary High School went to Delft in the Netherlands, as this kind of study was not possible in Suriname when I graduated. I was a bit nationalistic and wanted to stay and study in Suriname, so I decided to go for my second choice. There was an Art and Art Education program starting at the Advanced Teachers Training Institute. At that time most of the well-known visual artists were art teachers and artists. I thought that it was something I also wanted to become: visual artist and art teacher.

Born on the Wrong Date 1 Acrylic on Canvas 80x60 CM Photo provided by Readytex Art Gallery

CE: What was behind your decision to leave teaching as an arts educator to become a full-time artist?

KLTPG: After graduation in Suriname, I nevertheless went to the Netherlands because I wanted to further my studies. I was not too happy with only the basic program of four years. When I came back to Suriname, I started as a teacher and lecturer, but also started to have a family. I never realized that all the artists and art teachers were men. We were in the late seventies, early eighties, back then it was very common that women were totally in charge of the household and the upbringing of children. So, I had a lot of jobs to juggle: teacher, wife, mother, and housekeeper. I did not have time for creating art. So, in 1987, I left teaching and started to do some work as an illustrator, but in 1988, I decided to establish myself as a full-time autonomous artist.

CE: Where do you draw inspiration for your pieces?

KLTPG: I am very sensitive to everything that surrounds me. That is why I came back to Suriname in 1979, immediately after graduation from my studies in the Netherlands. I wanted Suriname to be the inspiration for my artwork. Looking back into the little over 40 years since I came back in Suriname, there are three main and consistently recurring concepts visible in my work.

a. The biodiversity and beauty of nature. A source that has also evolved into the concept of the spiritual strength nature holds within.

b. The cultural diversity of Suriname, which also evolved from the concept ‘Unity in Diversity’ to Alakondre.

c. Women and the position they have in society, and their strength.

Alakondre is a unique word in Sranan Tongo, the lingua franca of Suriname. Literally translated Alakondre = All countries. Alakondre means thinking in more than one language and seeing things in many perspectives. The other perspective is never unknown. One loves thy neighbor like one loves him/ herself.


Acrylic on Canvas 150x50 AM


Acrylic on Canvas 80x80 CM

CE: You are a multi-talented artist, what is your favorite medium?

KLTPG: My most favorite media through the years happens to be painting, drawing and two – dimensional mixed media, but it does not mean that I have not enjoyed and still do enjoy to work in other media.

CE: You have been involved in multidisciplinary art projects, which one stands out the most?

KLTPG: It is hard to say which one stands out the most. The projects have been very diverse. I have reduced this diversity of the projects to 3 categories and have chosen one project for each category.

a. Community Art project ‘Pikin Slee – Paramaribo – the Netherlands connection

b. Living Art show (Working together as a group of artists)

c. Solo exhibition and publication of Short Stories. (Individual project)

A Community Art project ‘Pikin Slee – Paramaribo – the Netherlands connection.

I am a charter-member of the Federation of Visual Artists (FVAS) in Suriname and in 2015 the community art project was launched. The project was divided into 4 smaller projects. Besides coordinating the total project, I had the lead in one of the smaller projects that turned out to become the most sustainable part of the whole project. We encouraged and trained the women of Pikin Slee to develop and make bags with their typical sewing and embroidery. Until today these bags are sold in the souvenir shop at Readytex.

Living Art show

When I studied in the Netherlands, I did a minor in Conceptual Art and Performance for history classes. When I came back to Suriname, it was very difficult to embed Performance into an art form that would be accepted in the Surinamese society. It was only in 2006, I sensed that artists united in FVAS were ready for a kind of experiment. I proposed to the other board-members do a Living Art Show in which one visual artist would work together with an individual performance artist or a group of performance artists to create a show. The concept for the performance had to originate from the visual artist. There was a jury and an award for the best performance. Besides coordinating this project, I myself also participated in the show. The result of the show was beyond my own imagination. I did not win the award, but the show had a great impact. It has been a small snowball that kept rolling on.

In 2013, I won the Bridget Jones Award for Caribbean Studies, awarded by the Society for Caribbean Studies in the UK. I presented my essay ‘The Space In Between’, illustrated with my work and I did a performance. Although winning this award has been more prestigious, my participation as the featured visual artist within the Annual Conference of the Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars in Suriname, is more memorable to me. Here I presented my essay ‘A Caribbean Woman, a Visual Artist, a Writer, a Centipede’; I had a solo exhibition and the booklet ‘Short Stories’ with poems was published.

CE: What was the impetus behind writing ‘The Strength of Women’ and ‘Short Stories’?

KLTPG: In 1997, I started to write informative articles about visual artists in Suriname. The articles were just about: why did the artist become an artist; what had the artist chosen for a certain subject. The articles were well received. The written words were very helpful to understand the work of the visual artist better. I then decided not only to paint about a certain concept I had in mind, but also to write about it.

‘The Strength of Women’: as a woman artist, it always has been a struggle to get any recognition, especially in the early days of my career. It has been my inner-strength and my inner-drive that kept me going on. Through the years, I became aware that strength, generally interpreted, is a masculine strength. Women, even in societies where women have no human rights at all, can have strength. But this strength differs from the masculine strength. In ‘The Strength of Women’, I wanted to focus on this other strength.

‘Short Stories’: I was nominated to be the featured visual artist within the Annual Conference of the Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars in Suriname. When I was preparing for my participation in the conference, I became more and more convinced that my visual imagination should not be subordinate to the story, or the other way around. In the year leading to the conference, I had an exhibition in French Guiana and was an artist-in-residence at the Vermont Studio Center in the USA. So, there were many sources of inspiration. I decided to use all these sources of inspiration to paint and write poems as short stories. Just as my Chinese ancestors, I also wrote the poems in my paintings.

CE: What role does an artist play in society?

KLTPG: An artist can have many roles in society.

a. The most accepted role of an artist is that she or he emphasizes the beauty of the world and exposes it to others.

b. In contemporary art, artists started to criticize the world and expose all its ugliness to others in order to get people out of their comfort zone and think about all deceptiveness in the world they live in.

c. Living and working in a developing country, I think my role as an artist is to: Develop culture and art that originates from the heart of the people of this region to a certain level, so it will be recognized globally as very unique.

CE: Who are some artists you admire?

KLTPG: I do not know whether I admire other artists or not. There are some old masters whose work touches me: Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh and Wassily Kandinsky.

There are two great Surinamese artists I feel connected to in a certain way.

Erwin de Vries. Not especially because of his work. It is hard to say why. But the most important reason why he is an example to me, is that he kept working till he passed away at the age of 88 years. Celebrating his 85th birthday, he had a solo exhibition and he asked me to do the opening. I think he also felt a connection.

Remy Jungerman. In 2000, I started to use certain patterns of Maroon women. The results were abstract paintings, which did not really connect to the art-loving public. Only when I started to combine Maroon girls with the patterns, the work was appreciated. Remy Jungerman, who lives and works in the Netherlands also has been inspired by the same patterns of Maroon women, but he managed to develop and uplift his source of inspiration to a level where it has been highly appreciated in the Netherlands and the international art world. Remy made it as a Dutch artist to the 58th Venice Biennale in 2019.


CE: What is the life of an artist-in-residence like?

KLTPG: When you are an artist-in-residence, you can focus on developing your ideas, do your research, and your artistic production without the everyday worries. You do not have to cook or wash the dishes. You can socialize with other artists from other countries and learn from their perspectives and increase your network, but you can also go into retreat.


442 views0 comments