Influencer Herman van Bergen
Interview August 2022
Herman, could you share with us some information about your family life?
I was born in Holland in 1953. My parents came from the region ‘Achterhoek’ and later on moved to Nijmegen, where I grew up. Both my parents came from humble beginnings and have experienced poverty. My father came from a family of 18 children and my mother came from a family of three children. I came from a family of 5 siblings, 3 sisters and one brother. As a boy, we always used to have arguments about who was going to do the dishes and I wanted a brother and asked my father for a brother. My father told me to put three weeks long sugar on the windowsill in the bedroom of my parents, which I did and 9 months later my little brother was born. So my brother now jokingly tells me that I was a co-producer of his birth. My parents have always encouraged me in whatever I wanted to do. My father used to work at first at the Tax Office but later became an accountant and started his own company to “help people instead of taking money from people”, as he used to say. My father was a very socially driven person, and this was also the way he raised us. He asked us to read “De Volkskrant” and during dinner, we would discuss the themes of the day. He was a “special man”. I can still remember once in the morning we woke up from the attic with some friend and our eyes were red, and we were wearing some strange hippie clothes. He saw us and as he didn’t understand what was going on, he invited us to come and have a discussion so that he could gain a better understanding. When he passed away at his funeral friend’s attended, whom I haven’t seen for 40 to 50 years back, and they told me, that my father has been more important in their lives than their father. He still has a special place in my heart, and I am sure also in the hearts of many people.
We, my sisters and brothers, made this text on his tombstone in ceramic: “He was a man that thought from his heart“. I was living in Curaçao, since 1989, but I went to Holland and could still be with him for 2 nights before he passed away. That is now 21 years ago.
My mother was a beautiful woman, of Portuguese descent. She was stricter. She passed away 5 years ago.
These days I still visit Holland, like two weeks ago we just came back from a 3-week stay in Holland, which is my mother and fatherland. Nowadays, after the passing away of my parents, Holland is my brothers’ and sisters’ land. When my mother was still alive, we used to visit Holland 3 to 4 times a year.
Could you share something about any other aspect of your educational background and your experiences?
One day, my father told me that I would have to take his business as an accountant over. I was getting good grades for those subject matters required to become an accountant, but I went to him and told him, look now you know that I can become an accountant based on my grades, but I don’t want to become an accountant. So I decided to change course and choose to go to an Art School.
My interest started when a neighborhood friend of mine and myself decided to become a drawing teachers and followed a course (“L.O. – tekenen”). Before we even finalized our grades we were already employed. In Nijmegen where I grew up, most boys of the neighborhood attended the Art Academy. After High School, I attended the famous University of Arts in Arnhem. To be allowed, was no easy task. In those days Joop Den Uyl (former Prime Minister) was promoting arts and Karel Appel was gaining lots of attention. I had to draw paintings for 3 weeks long. There were 700 subscriptions and only 37 were accepted. I made it. I focused on 4 subject matters and at times it was tense as I didn’t always agree with the staff of the school as they required us to let go of inspiration. I would let teachers with little experience, one with only 1,5 years of experience, brainwash me.
Another reason I got interested in Arts was I have asthmatic bronchitis. Because of that condition, I was home often and missed out on school. An uncle of mine was in the Arts, he started small in his cellar, and he often took me along on his visits as an Art Dealer.
At a very young age, I started to follow written drawing training. And when I was 10 years old a delegation visited our parental home and asked to participate in further training, but the fee was a challenge, and we declined the offer. I did attend the Free Academy of Nijmegen from my 6th year till my 16th year and thus created a solid foundation for my further career in Arts.
My motto in my career has been: “In the Arts, it is not about adoration, but communication.” I always want to tell my story.
But after the Academy of Arts, I passed through a colloquium dictum and started studying Cultural Anthropology, and got a bachelor’s degree.
I started to combine my studying with drawing drawings and photography. This resulted in 2008 in my book My ‘Snèk book’. In this book, I combine photo’s with some drawings. I wanted to pay attention to this subculture that is highly undervalued and it has a lot of stigmas, especially for the women involved.
I met the late Frank Martinus Arion at a snèk once and I asked him if he have read my book. I offered him a copy to read. He was skeptical about a ‘makamba’ writing a book in Papiamentu even after I told him that it was a book translated by Niels de Paula and Lucille Berry-De Haseth in Papiamentu. We agreed to meet within a week at the same snèk at the same time and when he showed upped he wanted to buy 5 copies.
We know you to be a renowned artist. How did you become an artist in the first place, did it come easy?
My mother had a musical talent and my father was socially intelligent. They were creative but were not artistic. My father used to let me paint doors with the most beautiful paintbrushes. My grandfather, the father of my mother, also was a musician and played the trombone. My father’s mother also was in the arts. She played the piano. When my wife Daisy, visited her for the first time, she welcomed her with a song. She also wrote songs for other members of the family, and some of them are also in music and theater. One of my cousins wrote the music for the opening of the Cathedral.
You came to live in Curaçao 30 years ago. Why did you and your wife decide to come and live in Curaçao?
Why? My wife Daisy and I are married for 50 years. I visited Curaçao for the first time in August 1980 on vacation. It was very dry that year but I was still fascinated by the island. Daisy’s father was born in 1896 and I have heard so many stories that he use to share and from that day on I already wanted to write the ‘Snèk book’. I went back for my studies and started a studio. Daisy stayed on the island. I realized that in Science you quote and after your quotes, you draw conclusions and write them down in the last line. In Arts, you conclude without all those quotes.
I made up my mind and decided to dedicate myself totally to painting and drawings. My main theme was: ”Where do our behaviors come from? Is it the culture where you were raised?” This has been the dominant theme during all these years and it resulted in the Snèk book and Cathedral of Thorns.
We have known you from the year calendars you designed but of late we have known you are the artist that designed and developed the Cathedral of Thorns. I attended the monthly show at Landhuis Bloemhof on Friday the 5th of August 2022 and we were impressed by the Cathedral itself, the storyline itself expressing great respect towards our environment and nature, and the music and ambiance during this event. Is the Cathedral your way of contributing to a better balance between us as human beings and Mother nature? How did the idea of the Cathedral come about?
I have studied Cultural Anthropology for 3,5 years. I was trying to answer the question: “What religions and what do we dream and visualize, what has been the outcome of living according to those principles? The Ten Commands in Christianity is it only an idea, a concept? Or is it possible to live according to those commands by ordinary people? Are those that preached it, living according to those commands? And how did we deal with indigenous people and their way of life? This was also the subject matter of the thesis for the bachelor in Cultural Anthropology.
Furthermore, I come from Nijmegen and I love hiking. My parents and all my siblings participated in the evening and the “Nijmeegse Vierdaagse”. I have participated 9,5 times also from Curaçao. I adore Forests and Nature. I love the silence, but also the storms. So when I lived in Curaçao, I also went hiking in the mondi and came back with bloodied ankles. And I started asking myself, where did all those thorns from wabi’s and anglo’s came from? If you look at the hills of Nicolaas, it is gray with wabi’s in some parts and I concluded that this must have been the result of deforestation that has taken place on the island. Dolphy Debrot from Carmabi confirmed this to me. So the Cathedral is a homage to the original indigenous people of Curaçao and nature, which has been disrupted so drastically because of the deforestation that took place since 1499 when the Spanish arrived at the islands and called them Islas inutiles. The Cathedral is focused on the right storytelling.
There are a lot of distorted stories being told. The former slaves that came to Curaçao were not necessarily living in a paradise in Africa. I believe that part of the story should also be included on how the slaves lived in Ghana under the Ashanti tribe. Paradise doesn’t exist. Human beings have so many defaults. That is why the Cathedral is also a labyrinth. In a labyrinth, you look for answers to questions, like: Why are we born to later die? We think that we have all the answers, and this can lead to thinking dogmatic. Religions try to own you, and this is the root cause of wars. In one of the pieces of Art in the Labyrinth, we can see a piece of art where rats live in the fontanelle. It represents all religions, not only the orthodox religions but also the indigenous religions, they all have the right to live there.
How important is art in the development of our culture? What is your opinion on that?
This is so essential as it represents the art of those in search of ….those who explore…we have concluded by now that we are not doing it correctly. Especially through the eyes of politicians, one does not have to take oneself too seriously and apply more self-mockery. If you go to El Salvador to study their digital advances, you could study El Salvador also on-line here in Curaçao.
Creating a platform for youth to express themselves, to contribute to the way we express ourselves be it music or dance is what cultures offer. Look at initiatives and the reforestation of the island by creating a food forest and ‘Kaya Kaya’ as an example of a creative spirit and self-sustainability.
What is your BIG WHY or driving motivation to be who you are right now and do what you are doing now? And how well are you living “the art of living’. I saw this quote behind the bar on Friday:
“Kunsten leveren een bijdrage aan de grootste kunst van alle: levenskunst, de kunst het leven te leven” Bertolt Brecht.
During my whole life, I have read books like The Tibetan Book of Death, “1984” by Alex Huxly, Karel Jung, and Herman Hessen an Oscar winning author. I believe that I have to be grateful that I am allowed to live. That I am allowed to be curious about the fact that plants grow and the diversity of forms, from plants to tomatoes that grow, and how music that shares stories about the magnificence of nature. Jimmy Hendricks played “The wind cries Mary”. I often wonder why we as human beings are also our biggest stand in the way. We are a stand in the way of humanity and Mother Earth. We tend to overemphasize the importance of thinking rationally and give it too much importance. What we need is more Re-mystification and Re-Mythologization.
I was in Holland and saw in Haarlem that the best pianist contest had no winner because of a lack of creativity. What I do as an artist, I observe and translate what I want to communicate into a different language. I have concluded that it is impossible to catch all the details with my eyes and put them in a drawing, but I can see that poetry is more capable to approach the myth of life. What I am seeing is the trend is not sustainable, it is like a boat with a mast that is too heavy with the flag and this causes it to capsize.
So my BIG WHY is to create a counterbalance and re-mystify and re-mythologize through my work of arts.
What are your plans for the coming years, let us say 5 years from now?
I hope that the Cathedral has gained even more cloud and solidified its role in our society that it is the home base for the expression of those with a free mind for all disciplines. I would love to fill it up with an army of autonomous art, accessible to all.
We launched it in 02022020, which is the 2nd of February 2022. There were lots of beautiful people attending.
Someone from Iran told me that the Cathedral is awesome and this should be replicated in all cities in the world. During that evening there was a band of some of my friends playing Rock and Roll and Blues, both types of music representing anti-authoritarians, representing also what I stand for.
It was “One of those nights” it was a great inauguration of the Cathedral and a medical friend of mine told me: ”I feel sorry for those that didn’t attend.”
What are the challenges that you are dealing with? And how are you dealing with these different challenges you confront?
At first, I tested it out to see on a smaller scale if and how it would be more feasible. What were the things we needed to anticipate when we were working on it? So one needs to: Make yourself trustworthy first before you can claim yourself to be an artist. Trust but verify. I am not only a thinker but I am also a “Do-er”.
I used the same principle when I started drawing the calenders.
Via Ruud Wijngaarde we got 20 youths working on the Cathedral. Here is where they learned discipline and learned how to adjust to the working hours and organization we build and not the other way around.
But basically, the biggest challenge is to go along with what you discover and solve the challenges you confront as you move forward.
Our finances were also a challenge, and Robert Goavearts turned out to be one of our financial angels in 2018 from Miami. We were working with 8 people under work circumstances from the Middle Ages you can say. He wanted to visit us and he did and asked us how we were financing the project. I told him that I have graduated Cum Laude in “beggarship”. He laughed a lot but decided soon afterward to donate the project for 2 years with Ang 12.00,- per month for the workers and materials. I didn’t need to prove myself because I have already proven myself, for 12 years I have been making calendars, where he used to post them in his office.
The Cathedral was seen as an example of a Renaissance, another way to look at the world because of all these artists that were collaborating in it. It was for me a test to prove that it would work. That is how we dealt with some of the challenges.
Do you use your inner voice to evaluate when dilemmas show up? How does that work for you?
My Inner voice I follow it. It has to do with what I have experienced and gone through. I have gone through highs and lows and this has taught me a lot of lessons learned. It determines what you are able of doing and what you are not capable of doing. My parents have always guided us with lots of Love. This has created in me gratefulness that I am allowed to live this life it is a privilege and this makes me tend to be positive in life.
I wanted to apply the sport of “flying in a glider” when I was young and my father made it possible for me to do this. After doing this for three years, I started to ask myself why I had to “glide fly” so high, to feel high. That is when I discovered the Arts. I never felt inhibited in anything that I wanted to undertake with my parents. I had asthmatic bronchitis and was at the time hospitalized and my paintings were dark, this changed the moment I went to Curaçao. My father saw that my paintings became lighter and sunnier and then he suggested to me to stay in Curaçao as he had noticed that I regained the smile on my face.
How are you trying also to keep up with your knowledge and skill levels? What are your strengths?
I used to read a lot and I love watching good movies like the film on an art robbery in Austria by the Nazi’s of a Jewish family on Netflix. I have a lot of friends that are in the Arts. I guide people on tours and during those tours, I talk about everything and that feeds me a lot. I have big fantasies, and I am not only a thinker but I am also a Do-er but I can also be lazy. If I am lazy, I am very good at that. I am preparing myself to go to an exposition in Holland, they invited me and that inspires me and gives me a feeling that it is a privilege.
Do you have hobbies or interests that you are also passionate about?
I love hiking, swimming with Daisy, and soccer. I have always played soccer. I used to play soccer with the team of Legal Advisors/Lawyers and if there is a good match I would free up my time to watch it on TV.
If you as Herman would meet a stranger on the bus (let’s say in Berlin or Chicago) and they would ask you to introduce yourself, what would you answer?
One of those times that I flew back to Curaçao, I met a student sitting beside me studying Engineering. At the end of the flight I invited her to a Cathedral Light show evening and it became clear who I was. If I had shared with her upfront who I was, that would have created a blockage in our interesting conversation.
I can also tell people in English, Spanish, or German that I am involved with humanity and Mother Nature, that I have constructed a meditation for that reason and that is why I live in the Caribbean.
How would you describe Herman in one word or one sentence?
Hypersensitive, at times too sensitive. This can trigger me to make me feel depressed, as I see how we are dealing with each other and with Mother Nature. Daisy then needs to help me to put things in perspective.
Furthermore, I seek a bunch of good people to surround me which helps a lot. I have won the Cola Debrot price but all my work is done in collaboration with other people helping out, like the Cathedral and the Snèk Book.
Who are the persons that have inspired you the most in your career?
My parents and many more uncles and aunts. I inherited their humor. I am a “bon vivant”, I love living the good life. An uncle from my mother’s side died at an early age. He was running a grocery shop when he passed away suddenly. He sang opera and took me with him on so many occasions. In my family, we laugh and sing a lot. Further, an army of local friends on the island.
Professionally I had a ton of artists that influenced me like Willem de Kooning, the Cobra movement, which includes Karel Appel and Ger Lataster, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and especially Anselm Kiefer.
What is a trait that is still a work in progress?
My focus and concentration. I tend to dwell astray at times, there is room for improvement. I am a ‘bon vivant’ and I get carried away at times living that type of life.
What was a defining moment in your life?
The passing away of my parents. My father passed away too young, both visited the island a couple of times. My loving and caring uncle was a sensitive person.
What would you want your Loved Ones, family, friends, and others to say about you let’s say 20 years from now?
Well, it already happened on 02022020. My whole family came over and it was a month before the lockdowns because of the Corona Pandemic. After that, the venue was closed for 19 months. The sister of Daisy ordered food and invited the family for a dinner and then she gave a speech. She told me that:
“You resonate with everybody and what you have created has affected and is affecting so many people deeply”. I was flabbergasted and although one of my mottos is: “Communication, not adoration”, this inspired me, even more, to stay the course and continue on this path with the Cathedral as it is bearing lots of fruits.
I have won prizes. One of them was in New York, USA, where the jury expressed it like this: Our jurors were incredibly impressed by the way you and your volunteers created an actual building out of native shrubs, and in the process, honored Mother Nature and the Free Spirit.
“I absolutely love this project as it is otherworldly, sublime, and visually compelling. The use of natural thorn bush for surface definition fits the installation program perfectly.” – Mitchell Joachim, Associate Professor of Practice, NYU and Co-Founder, Terreform ONE.
This also affected me deeply. Some of the jury members designed Sky Scrappers.
What makes you stay optimistic about the future of Curaçao as we are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, and recession, and in the middle of growing environmental challenges because of the global warming consequences?
If all things stay the same and “old money” keeps ruling society, then we will not move forward. We need a transition on the island. We need to gain enough wisdom to make the transition and to know where we stand as part of world history. We have to outgrow the poverty culture and mindset. Politicians need to pay more attention to this.
More info or connect:
Website: Cathedral of Thorns
One of the 250 Influencers of Curaçao
Herman van Bergen is a dedicated, passionate, humoristic, entertaining storyteller, author, photographer, artist, and “Bon Vivant”. Famous for his “One-liners” when he is in a conversation, he has spent over a decade working on his greatest Art work till now ‘The Cathedral of Thorns. The jurors of an international award Herman has won in New York stated: “..were incredibly impressed by the way you and your volunteers created an actual building out of native shrubs, and in the process, honored Mother Nature and the Free Spirit. “I absolutely love this project as it is otherworldly, sublime, and visually compelling. The use of natural thorn bush for surface definition fits the installation program perfectly. – Mitchell Joachim, Associate Professor of Practice, NYU and Co-Founder, Terreform ONE. Herman created a platform via the Cathedral, which he strives to be the home base for the expression of all artists with a free mind presenting an army of autonomous art, accessible to all disciplines. Known for his Calender’s with paintings of local buildings and the ‘Snèk” Book’ a photo book with stories of a sub-culture on the island, he has always been curious about finding answers to ‘Big Life’-questions. Via his study of Cultural Anthropology, his multiple life experiences led to making the Cathedral express a homage to the original indigenous people of Curaçao and Nature. Our Nature has been disrupted because of the deforestation that took place when the Spanish arrived and the indigenous people were eliminated. The deforestation explains why the island is so full of ‘wabi’-plants with thorns. Creating such a magnum work of Art that is still expanding and mobilizing many people that are involved one way or the other, makes Herman stand out as a collaborative artist. His motto: “Arts is about Communication, not Adoration” as he strives to create a counterbalance and re-mystify and re-mythologize the overemphasizing of the importance of thinking rationally, that is so dominant now. For all these reasons and his consistency as an artist over the years, we consider Herman van Bergen as one of the 250 influencers of the island, representing the “Cultural and Sustainable”-sector.
Look at the list of the Influencers we have interviewed or reported on, up to now.
The goal of the core group of Share2Uplift for 2022
The goal of the Share2Uplift movement is to: “Identify 250 leaders from all walks of life to connect, align and create impactful changes in all walks of life, which includes intergenerational collaboration by the end of 2022.” We will use interviewing Influencers, meet-and-greet events, “train-the-trainers”-programs on “Emotional Mastery” and “Intentionality “as national intervention strategies, to reach this goal on top of our goal to scale up the possibilities to connect, align and create impact via a virtual platform. We believe that by collaborating with Miguel Goede on the virtual Vision 2030 platform, we will accelerate the possibilities to connect the diaspora and others elsewhere in the world and on the island willing to constructively create impactful changes in Curaçao, to join.
As Share2Uplift, we are fully trying to align with this thinking of Center for Curriculum Redesign to promote this agenda in our educational systems and workplace. So, in that sense, we fully support any initiative to make our educational system 21st-century proof.
Share2Uplift aligners are those that:
– Create an inspiring vision of the future;
– Motivate and inspire people to engage with that vision;
– Manage the delivery of the vision;
– Coach and build a team, so that it is more effective at achieving the vision. These criteria are now being polished.
We also consider these 5 values the most important ones for Share2Uplift aligners. They are:
• Peace from within;
As we will progress towards this goal, we will update you on the progress.
In this week’s personal tips, we will share some short videos of ‘Cathedral of Thorns’. We will upload one of these videos every day on our facebook.com/share2uplift page.
Cathedral of Thorns | Landhuis Bloemhof Cultural Center | Willemstad, Curaçao | Number Ten Restaurnt – YouTube
Kathedraal van Doornen Curaçao – YouTube
Herman van Bergen heeft fondsen nodig om het Kathedraal af te maken
Herman van Bergen: “The Cathedral of Thorns” – YouTube
Herman van Bergen Beso di Kunuku – YouTube