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Suriname: Land of El Dorado

December, 2014

As part of a broader project linking artists, innovators and scientists with global issues, I devised the Suriname Designer Collaboration Project, inviting Phoebe and Annette Stephens of Anndra Neen, Pamela Love and Yelena Noah to uncover the richness of Surinamese culture, to experience new ways of approaching their craft and to examine ethical ways of sourcing fine metals. The project aims to celebrate the rich multicultural dynamic in Suriname and to re-forge the historical connection between the city of Manhattan and Suriname while raising awareness of the importance of clean gold mining and rainforest preservation.

I was originally inspired by the historical link between New York and Suriname established in the 1667 Treaty of Breda, in which the Dutch retained control of sugar plantations and control of the nutmeg trade in Suriname in exchange for the island of “New Netherland” or Manhattan. This project, taking place over the past two years, has served as a cultural exchange and celebration of the incredible, peaceful coexistence of Suriname’s wildly varied people (Suriname may be the only place on earth where a World Heritage Mosque and a World Heritage Synagogue happily share a parking lot), and as a “get to know you”, introducing Suriname to a community of New York tastemakers and vice versa.

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Suriname, formerly Dutch Guyana, has 90 per cent rainforest coverage. In order to enter Suriname’s primary Amazon rainforest interior, one must first fly to Paramaribo, at which point transportation options are either a small plane, a helicopter, a dugout canoe or just plain feet. Once there, if luck smiles upon you, you can meet the indigenous Graman (Shaman) and travel overland to Maroon villages and independent gold mines, meeting artisans and mystics along the way. I decided to bring the four New York-based jewelry designers on this wild journey to meet and make friends with indigenous, Maroon and Hindustani Surinamese people.

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I invited Pamela Love to meet with indigenous Amazon indians in the heart of the rainforest and to examine the inner workings of the gold-mining industry, visiting independent gold mines and learning about mercury- and cyanide-free gold mining techniques.

Phoebe and Annette Stephens of Anndra Neen focused on the Javanese and Hindustani cultures in Suriname and met with local musicians, artists and artisans. “We’ve traveled all over the world, but have never seen so many cultures living together harmoniously as in Suriname,” they said.

Yelena Noah delved deep into Maroon culture, meeting with the descendants of escaped African slaves who, centuries ago, had established strongholds of their own in the jungle – and, through collaboration with the indigenous people there, were able to survive and thrive to the modern day.

The Designer Collaboration Project established the framework for an ongoing collaboration between New York and Suriname’s art and design communities. A conversation has begun about the vital importance of maintaining and preserving the rainforest and appreciating the biodiversity and cultural richness in Suriname, a small country which holds many keys to our world’s future survival.

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Everard Findlay