On a secondhand book stall at the Lindenmarkt last Saturday I happened across a children’s book, called Suriname, jang tak terkenal, written in Indonesian Bahasa (Indonesian Malay) aimed at educating Indonesian children about the former Dutch colony of Suriname. The words were all gobbledygook but the colourful illustrations spoke to me immediately so I snapped up this 1950s book at a bargain price of a six euros!
When I got home I did an internet search about the artist who created the illustrations, Nola Hatterman (1899-1984) and discovered she was a prolific and gifted but largely unrecognised Dutch artist. Growing up in Watergrafsmeer (Amsterdam Oost) she lived in a well-off neighbourhood with large houses that were sometimes used by soldiers’ families home on leave from Dutch East Indies. Very often the soldiers brought their mixed race wives and children home with them. Most of the locals were patronising and rude to the dark-skinned children but Hatterman appreciated their kindness and beauty. Even at a young age the budding artist had a strong sense of justice and was indignant on behalf of the children who were so unfairly discriminated against.
After a short career as an actress, self-taught Hatterman started to paint Indonesians and Surinamers, identifying with her subjects so much that she eventually considered herself black and her marriage to a white Dutch man, a mixed one. In 1953 she moved to Suriname and totally immersed herself in painting and Surinamese culture. She played an active role in the community and was a founder of art education in the former colony. If you would like to know more about this complex and fascinating artist I recommend the excellent biography, Nola by Ellen de Vries. It is only available in Dutch however!