© Viviane Sassen
Pikin Slee is the second-largest village on the Upper Suriname River, deep within the rainforest of Suriname. Its 4000 inhabitants are mostly members of the Saramacca tribe, their ancestors Maroons who escaped slavery on the Dutch plantations in the 18th century.
The Saramacca are isolated from the outside world, living without running water, electricity, roads or the internet. The only way to access the village is by canoe, a journey of about three hours up-river. They grow their food on small agricultural plots, producing cassava bread, pressed maripa palm oil and dried coconut.
In her first visit to Pikin Slee in the summer of 2012, Sassen was intrigued by the village and its inhabitants; she saw her own history as somehow tied to theirs, in their respective connections to Africa and the Netherlands. Her eye was caught by the overwhelming natural surrounds and the Saramacca's very traditional way of living, combined with the more mundane objects which seemed to seep through daily life. Mainly in black and white and of contained format, Sassen's series of abstract compositions and elusive subjects are an exploration of the beauty of the everyday, an investigation of the sculptural qualities of the ordinary.
The monograph Pikin Slee will be published by Prestel in the first part of 2014.
Also on exhibition is Etan & Me, a discrete body of work related to Pikin Slee, published as a monograph by oodee in November 2013. Click here to view the works.
Sassen was born in 1972 in Amsterdam, where she now lives. She first studied fashion design, followed by photography at the Utrecht School of the Arts (HKU) and Ateliers Arnhem. Her work was first published in avant-garde fashion magazines and is regularly commissioned by prominent designers. Sassen is included on the main exhibition of the 55th Venice Biennale, The Encyclopedic Palace (until 24 November). A retrospective of 17 years of her fashion work, In and Out of Fashion, opened at Huis Marseille Museum for Photography, Amsterdam, in 2012, accompanied by a book published by Prestel (Munich); the exhibition travelled to the Rencontres d'Arles festival and is currently on view at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh. The book has won the Kees Scherer prize for best Dutch photography book of 2011/2. She was awarded the Dutch art prize, the Prix de Rome, in 2007, and in 2011 won the International Center of Photography in New York's Infinity Award for Applied/Fashion/Advertising Photography. She was one of six artists selected for the 2011 New Photography exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Solo exhibitions have taken place at FORMA in Milan (2009) and FOAM in Amsterdam (2008), among other venues. Recent group shows include No Fashion, Please! Photography between gender and lifestyle at the Vienna Kunsthalle (2011); Figure and Ground: Dynamic Landscape at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art in Toronto as part of the Contact Photography Festival (2011); and the 2010 Brighton Photo Biennale, curated by Martin Parr.