• Rachele Viard

Steven Towirjo: His Pieces are a Homage to His Ancestors

Steven Towirjo was born and raised in Suriname. The self-taught ceramic artist creates pieces which are inspired by the rich multicultural society of his birthplace. Growing up he was influenced by his father who was a carpenter and his uncle a famed sculptor. He loved the art they created. He loved his dad’s construction drawings and enjoyed seeing his uncle in action in his studio.

Photos provided by Readytex Art Galery

Towirjo’s creates ceramic sculptures that are inspired by his own Javanese culture and other cultures as well. In addition, his brief time studying building design in school in Suriname, and later on, his years working in the building and construction permits department in the Netherlands are also reflected in the textures and the compositions of many of his pieces.

“My sculptures, which are made in predominantly natural earthy hues, are influenced by motifs from my own Javanese culture and other cultures as well,” said Towirjo. He has been able to and continues to create authentic pieces that are also contemporary.

Towirjo’s pieces are amazing and as such it was exciting to learn a little more about the artist.

COCHLEA and the Womb Ceramic 41 x 37 x 16 CM

CE: You began working as a framer in your uncle’s, Soeki Irodikromo, studio. When you were afforded the opportunity to experiment with clay for the first time you were hooked. What did you make and what was the experience like?

ST: The first thing I made was a bulbous vase. Soeki handed me a piece of clay and said “make a vase with a ‘bigi bere’ (big belly)”. What I experienced then was quite special. The feeling of having such a type of material in your hand, in between your fingers, and having complete control over it. Also, just the thought that you can make so many different shapes with it is spectacular.

CE: At what age did you make your first sculpture?

ST: After a lot of experimenting I made my first artwork in 2000. That was when I thought “this is my style”. I was 29 years old at that time.

Connecting the Womb Ceramic 36x 38 x 14 CM

Gate to Fertility Ceramic 45 x 22 x 16 CM

CE: Is your work influenced at all by your famous uncle?

ST: I don’t think so. Because his sculptures have a more fluid type of movement, while my works are almost cubistic and have a somewhat harder type of movement.

CE: What made you change career paths and focus on your art?

ST: It was a dream of mine to focus more on my art. So, when the opportunity came along I seized it with both hands.

Habitat 3 Ceramic Relief 23x 31 x 3 CM
Habitat 4 Ceramic Relief 23 x 31 x 3 CM

CE: What brought you back to Suriname?

ST: The reason why my wife and I returned to Suriname was my mother. When she became ill, we felt that we had to come back. But returning to Suriname was always our dream, so my mother’s illness just accelerated our decision.

CE: You mostly use natural earthly hues in your sculptures and your work is influenced by motifs from your Javanese culture and other cultures. What are those motifs and what do they represent?

ST: The motifs from Javanese culture can be found in batik art. If you study these motifs, you will discover that they are mostly inspired by nature. This appeals to me greatly and that is why I like to integrate them into my work. I also see the motifs as part of my ancestors’ legacy. Despite the great sacrifices they were forced to make, they were still able to preserve their culture. As such, my work is also an ode to the ancestors.

CE: What process do you use as you translate the image in your mind’s eye to two or three dimensional?

ST: I usually work with a theme. That makes it easier for me to give shape to that which I have in mind. But forms can evolve as I am working.

Primal Origins Ceramic 30 x 38 x 21 CM
Source of Eternal Life Ceramic 28 x 29 x 22 CM

CE: Can you tell us a little bit about Java?

ST: I can’t tell a lot about Java, since I’ve never been there. I only know what I learned in school, or what I was told by family members and people who have been there. Java belongs to the Indonesian archipelago and it’s where our ancestors came from.

CE: Could you tell us some interesting facts about your life?

ST: What might be interesting to tell, is that my father was a carpenter. I loved it when he came home with construction drawings, and I would fantasize about one day being able to draw them as well. And whenever we visited my uncle and I saw him working in his studio, I thought that was fantastic too. These men were certainly an important influence in my life.

CE: Why are you so passionate about sculpture?

ST: I find it particularly satisfying that I can create something that is tangible. With the three-dimensional shapes I am capable of telling a story.

CE: What do you do when you are not sculpting?

ST: I give ceramic lessons at the art school that was founded by my uncle Soekie. I am also still working on finishing our own house. I always say that our house is my largest artwork.

The House of a Snail and our Sexuality Ceramic 37 x 30 x 14 CM

CE: What is your most memorable experience as an artist?

ST: I was once asked whether I was the Steven who made ceramic sculptures. The person was very surprised that I was, because based on the work that I create, they expected me to be much older.

CE: Have you experimented or considered experimenting with another medium during your career?

ST: Yes, I am currently experimenting with creating ceramic works in combination with wood.

CE: What advise can you give to young artists?

ST: Do not dream about the successes that you want to achieve, but dream of the works that you want to create.

Vessel 2 Ceramic 42 x 36 x 11 CM



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