(Suriname, b. 1948)
René Tosari was born into a Javanese family on the Meezorg plantation in the District of Commewijne, on the south bank of the Suriname River, and was raised according to Javanese cultural traditions. Since then—like some other artists in this exhibition—he has largely divided his time between Suriname and the Netherlands. He began his art education in Suriname at the National Institute of Art and Culture (1967-1970), and later studied in Rotterdam at the Academy of Visual Arts (1970-1973) and at the Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam (1980-1982).
In 1984, he cofounded the Waka Tjopu Collective, a group that helped elevate the visual arts into an important force in post-independence Suriname. In his own words, “art in Suriname must meet the needs, the desires of the masses to move forward as an independent nation.” The Javanese-Surinamese artist Soeki Irodikromo was also a member of the Collective, and spent time with Tosari in the Netherlands. This multidisciplinary group—a coalition of visual artists, photographers, graphic designers, and others—focused on Surinamese cultural diversity, promoting the art and its message rather than the artist. They played down the idea of the artist as an elite, emphasizing instead the more egalitarian concept of the artist as worker.
During the time of the Waka Tjopu Collective, Tosari imbued his work with a politically-charged syntax that addressed major issues of the day, such as decolonization, inequality, and diversity. His political art largely took the form of prints—a medium that has long been a powerful means of dissemination for artists and revolutionaries alike. Today, diversity continues to be a major theme of his work.
When the Collective began to slow its activities in 1990, Tosari returned to the Netherlands and began to focus on art education, shifting from printmaking to painting and drawing, and largely leaving behind his political work of the 1970s and ‘80s. During this phase, his work explored more personal concerns, such as diversity, plantation life, and the Amazon landscape. The latter, infused with vivid elements of his Javanese visual language, achieves a unique power in his canvases.
In 2014, Tosari—now in his sixties—returned to Suriname, where he lives and works today. He participated in the 18th São Paulo Biennial, and has frequently exhibited at the Readytex Art Gallery in Paramaribo. In 2018, the book René Tosari: Diversity is Power introduced his eclectic work to new admirers around the world.