Influencer Tirzo Martha

Interview July 2022

Photographer: Omar Martha

Tirzo, could you share with us some information about your family life?
I am married and we have a son that is 9 years old. I come from a family that was very socially involved, my father was a leader in ‘Jonge Wacht’, we used to have children that lived in a boarding school during the week, come and stay with us on the weekends. I have also absorbed these elements in my personal development and education. It has become part of who I am. I also want to give back to society, not from behind an office desk, but by using a structure that goes beyond making promises with words and focuses more on the deed. It took me a while before I had it figured out, as I focused on ways how people in Curaçao express themselves, like for example in music. I have a sister that is very much involved in music. Originally, I wanted to dedicate myself to Fashion, but soon realized that the way we express ourselves via our bodies in Fashion, is very limited. As I continued to study and explore, I ended up in the Visual Arts, as with a piece of art there are more possibilities and it can be more autonomous.

Could you share something about any other aspect of your educational background and your experiences?
After High School at the MIL and after studying at the ‘Akademia di Arte’ in Curaçao, I went to The Netherlands for my further studies at an art academy. It had always been my goal to go back and live in Curacao. Contributing to the development of the island, with no intention to become a famous artist. I always wanted to use my talents with the “visual Arts” to help develop our people and create space for development of their mental wisdom and intelligence.

In my search, I began to understand the structures and systems of both our society and history. I have learned that if you want to help, you need to know the people, the conditions they’re living in and their objectives. I read a lot about our history and talked to a lot of people over the years. I did my research and came to the conclusion (concluded) that we generalize to an extent that we forget that we are all individuals with our own personal will. Our behaviors over the years and our history have brought us to where we are at this moment in time. This made me decide to create a structure where people can express themselves without limitations. Be it in dance, theater, paintings, sculpture, words, songs, stories or poetry. But it could also be in other forms, given that there is a wide variety of ways to express oneself. In Curaçao, people are very expressive. People need to express themselves because if they lack the opportunity to do this when they reach their limit with words, they become angry, and they start fights. In the ways we express ourselves we can communicate and clarify certain things, there where words are not enough to express oneself.

You are an internationally renowned artist and we know that becoming an artist was not easy as you were not understood early on in your career. Can you expand a little on this?

An artist tries to translate the reality that he sees and experiences in a way that he reflects his own interpretation of that. A new reality highlighting aspects or details that we don’t pay attention to in our daily lives. With Artyou can go much deeper into your analysis of what you’re seeing or experiencing. By doing this you can apply more stimulus in your work that causes a much deeper emotional reach by your work. It is much more easier to make a painting of a man dying in his bed then painting the act of pain and dying of this man.

I have been searching for ways to communicate more efficiently and stronger with my work of Arts. This helped me with the developing of a specific imagery for my work.

This imagery goes beyond. Technique is not that difficult because you can learn it by training, but visualization by means of your own interpretation is much more complicated. The imagery based on a specific kind of composition that find a basis on self-developed techniques, forms, materials etc., is a different and much more involved accent of the necessity of the artist. Comparable with music that consists out of instruments, lyrics, and the music itself, that can touch people listening to it. So other forms of Art expressions have this, but not as extensive as music.

You run a preschool Arts school in Buena Bista on the grounds of the “Klinika Capriles” and this has been quite successful as a step-up for those students wanting to continue their careers in Arts at some Arts Academy in Holland or elsewhere. How did this idea come about?
The idea started long time ago when the ‘Akademia di Arte’ on Curaçao was closed. I then went on a search for collaboration with art academies in the Netherlands. One of the academies even visited the island. But at the end no real tangible results. For years, I’ve been doing social cultural projects in neighbourhoods, schools, prison, etc. Years later, me and David Bade met, and we started doing social cultural projects together. We have been doing, each one of us, in our own individual practices social cultural actions. We started initiating these projects together in Curaçao and we’ve been working on all levels of the society. It was very remarkable to notice how much talented youth we have on the island. But we also became aware that there wasn’t a well enough developed structure in place, making it possible for them to continue their studies and continue their growth. We are a small island and there are very few points of reference to be able to learn from. So we decided to do just that, making it easier for talented young students to fit into an Arts Academy in (Holland) The Netherlands or elsewhere in the world. And once they go to the preparations we offer to them, they rather easily can continue their studies.

We focus on three phases in their development.
1.         First of all our preschool is both practical and theoretical preparation;
2.         Secondly, we prepare them also on their personal and mental level. This to make it easier for them to adept into the academy structure, but also to be able to adapt in The Netherlands concerning the culture and language there. 
3.         Thirdly, we mentor them as they start working as a professional artist.

How to get qualified staff involved in Instituto Buena Bista?
We have four programs of artist in residence. The first one is called AIR, artist in residence. This program is one in collaboration with The Netherlands fund Mondriaan Fund. This residency is especially for artists working and living in The Netherlands. The other program is the IPS, the International Project Space. This is for artist from all over the world. The foreign artists come to Curaçao, and we offer them residence where they can live and work. As we offer them space to work in. At the end of their residency, they get to exhibit the works they made during their residency. During their residency, they also have to teach to our local students. Which for us is a perfect win-win. As they make works of art, they leave one work behind for the art collection of the IBB. We create a new legacy of works of art for our collection of artworks. In the meantime, our students can get the necessary references concerning the different movements and trends in the world of Arts.

Our third residency is a National Residency, and it is especially for artists who work and lives in Curaçao. In this case, it’s the same with the other residency. The artist can work at the institute, they teach to the students and in the end they have an exhibition of their works.

It is worthwhile mentioning that in the past 7 years in collaboration with Film Festival Curaçao, a residence program was also created for the film. 

We use the same formula, we invite a film director or any professional in the field of movie making. Together with the students of the IBB they develop a script and then a movie. The do everything. From the making of costumes, make up design all the way to the editing of the movie. This has a big positive impact on the mindsets of the students, especially when seeing their movie projected on the big screen in the cinema.

How vital is a structure?
In the education of children and youth, there is an urgency for structure. This structure is of great importance to give the right guidance, support and information in order to make the chances of succeeding bigger and realistic.

There needs to be an insight into the possibilities that fit their qualities and talent. By having this insight, you can give them better support for everything. Even for when they fall. As not all of the students will become an artist, they need to know what else is available, based on their capacity, as a person you can do more than just one thing.

We make the possibilities accessible for them. We teach them about the choices that are available when they leave the island for their studies and career so that they can continue to develop their talents and knowledge.

On top of the structure we offer, we teach them how to:
– speak,
– research the possibilities that they have,
– read so that they understand what is written.

Collaborate with others, as, in the world of art, one is most of the time dependent on collaboration with others to succeed. We educate the students and their parents. The parents are important as this can be helpful to let the machine spin well, if the parents don’t collaborate, all other parties involved will have to work three times harder. 

“Through culture, one can measure the level of civilization of a country.”

How important is art in the development of our culture?
Culture is very important, as through culture one can measure the level of civilization of a country. What is what they read and write. How do they survive. How do they express themselves, music, performing arts,..etc… in all of this is the highest level of thinking that can be taught and reached. This is what we do and depend on to survive in the long run, it depends on the quality of it all. Here is where I believe that we don’t have a lot of people that express themselves, and this means handing over their authority to make their own decisions to others. We need to promote the arts and culture much and much more.

Another important aspect of culture is the different sorts of and levels of art. Mainstream Art and which is the language on how to express oneself is more innovative and experimental way.

The second level is more the popular and somewhat more commercial level. This is well known to the public and it is the art that  people would like to see.

The third level is decorative art. We are quite frequent inclined to call everyone who does something that may come over as creative, an artist. The fact that you can make a mural doesn’t make you an artist in the mainstream art world. The dominance of technique and the lack of urgency makes it very clear that the importance isn’t towards an imagery with more content and necessity to communicate. It is a technique that they master and not an imagery with its own urgency, qualities and power.

To make a strong piece of art requires you to make a deep research on the theme you’re going to portrait in your work. Research is necessary because you need the references that can create details in your work that gives it more power and depth. You need to make studies in order to create the right balance in your composition. The balance between materials, forms, size, color, technique, etc. The right balance between all of this is of great importance in order to make the art piece communicate with the spectator.

For example, during a workshop I gave workshop I showed the participants a glass of milk. I ask them what does this glass of milk represent to them? What does it mean to you? Some answers were: It is healthy for your teeth; some like drinking milk; others say it makes them sick because they are intolerant of milk. But for a few of them milk represented “death”, as they associated this with a refugee camp where they were staying, and they saw mothers putting their children face down in a barrel of milk, and they drowned.

So what is the lesson to be learned from this story?
Every single person has his own point of reference and based on that they give their interpretation of what they observe and see.  That is why the Arts can create a multitude of different expressions of the social-political, economic, and financial situation of the moment we are living in.

Every person can single out the most important aspect of their reality. For the small island that Curaçao is, our values, norms, and history are important, but they are highly underestimated in their value for the way our society functions and develops. There are a lot of people that have their mouths full about how much they love the island but if you look at their actions you don’t see it, as they are purely interested in their own personal interests, which creates a restriction and a barricade for development.  They are not helping the island to progress and develop. I am an advocate of the need for the government to come up with an overall policy for our culture, education and the Arts. And this doesn’t mean Carnaval and Seú but teaches people how to survive, develop and grow. Like I have the image in my head “where people are doing their max pouring the last of ketchup sauce out of the bottle, by adding water, to flavor their food”.

I have met people that have visited the island, and different countries van Europe (it was an Erasmus project, Erasmus is funded by the EU) and they were pleased by the Art they saw like murals and other works of art that local guides brought them to see so that they could see this all. I have the idea that considering the not so Art friendly circumstances it is close to a miracle that so many arts are being produced, thus there is so much untapped potential to be explored and developed. What is your opinion on that?
I believe that mural art needs to express more urgency. Now it is more focused on the decorative sides of Curaçao. In Otrabanda you will find a mural painted by Ras Elijah’ in Baljonetstraat  painting with some historical figures during the uprising on the 30th of May 1969. It expresses an urgency, as it expresses an uprising and a vision, and this consciousness is very important. It is a good example of expressing a much deeper meaning than it communicates, contrary to a lot of other murals.

What is your BIG WHY or driving motivation to be who you are right now and do what you are doing now?
I want Curaçao to progress. I had this desire from a very young age. I know that lots of people will not be able to move forward as things are now, that is why I want the whole island to progress and reach a critical mass, content-wise. Success in life begins with a quality education and a strong practicing of it. We now live at a different age with different needs, but I have seen how much strength and potential we have on the island, but we don’t use it as we don’t develop our youth and our society enough.

“We are in a position where we still can do so much more to help our youth during their careers, help them return to the island, with a heart aimed to develop new things.”

At times, people had asked me why I don’t go and live somewhere else in the world, to earn my living. I declined that, as I can’t leave the island and the people on the island behind. I am, and we are in a position where we still can do so much more to help our youth during their careers, help them return to the island, with a heart aimed to develop new things. You need to be creative with the possibilities that are available to earn a living out of your works of Art. Like we are having a Zoom meeting now and during the corona time, the need to keep on having meetings triggered the development of Zoom, Teams etc… as the need triggered the possibilities.

What are your plans for the coming years and when do you consider that you have been successful in your personal and business/professional life, let us say 5 years from now?
My biggest plan is to start to prepare and hand over to the next generation what we have developed until now, and it will take a long period to reach that point, probably. I guess I have 10 to 15 years more to do this kind of work at this level and intensity. The main thing is to hand the Instituto Buena Bista over in a responsible way, meaning that it has to be a sound institute, that is future-proof. Nowadays, you have the development of technology is what to consider seriously as the younger generation is very digital orientated. You will find them more often behind a computer then using a pencil or using fixed materials for their creative work. And these technological changes will keep on coming I have taken notice of how the Art Academies are changing so rapidly and with those changes also the mentality of the next generations. So within 15 to 20 years, we will have to have the next generation prepared to take over. I will have sort of retired, distanced myself, giving the next generation enough space, creating conditions so that they can work and create quality works in a sound and a constructively critical environment. We will have found a new team and will have phased ourselves out.

What are the challenges that you are dealing with? And how are you dealing with these different challenges you confront?
Finances. Why? In the 16 years that we exist, it proved to be difficult to find subsidies from the local government. I am sorry to say it, but most of the subsidies we get from sources in The Netherlands. In the second year of the pandemic, the economic situation on the island became worst and private and business sponsors, that were sponsoring a student, stopped and this made it even more difficult for us. We’ve approached the moment that the local government should start subsidizing the institute as part of the philosophy that Curaçao needed to carry its responsibility concerning the future development of our youth. This has been a hard thing to deal with up to now.

Do you use your inner voice to evaluate when dilemmas show up? How does that work for you? Someone once asked me Tirzo what is your Plan B. My answer to him was: “I don’t work with a Plan B. I only work with a Plan A. I use all my focus to let Plan A work”. I feed it with quality and by doing, that I increase the probability that it will become a success. I am very consistent and I will use everything I will meet and use it to fit into Plan A.

There is this inner voice within me that always reminds me: “Don’t forget why you started, for who you started this, who you are and where you come from. This is so important to keep me strong, and it helped me build up my courage and helped me to persevere”.

I always stay very clear in my mind on the goal that I want to reach, the possibilities that arise and I can take notice of, and this mindset that within the possibilities do what can be done. When you are young you will meet lots of people telling you that you will not succeed and that you won’t work…etc…

In hindsight now I can look back and notice that I have achieved so much more than I expected, considering my career and the successes that I have had until now. I reflect and evaluate a lot. What had helped me over the years has been a strong belief in myself. Appreciating what I have and what I can do. I have always stayed myself, humble, and never became “cocky” or difficult in relationships with others, which would have affected my career negatively. This latter part is very important.

“Continuity, entrepreneurship  and sustainability are very important.”

Earning lots of money was never the main goal, but continuously developing myself and by doing that being better able to contribute to the island, is my driving force.  Continuity, entrepreneurship  and sustainability are very important. Learning from other people’s experiences and sharing my weaknesses and knowing how to deal with them so that I can continue to move forward, have been my mindset during these years.

All these little things are of vital importance to me, and I am very proud and happy for having these traits.

How are you trying also to keep up with your knowledge and skills levels?
There are two subject matters that I keep up with:

1.            There is the artist in me and to reach the level of art that I am creating, I work hard and long hours and keep up with what is happening in terms of developments in Art.

2.            With regard to the education of youth, I try to figure out what catches their attention and keeps them occupied in a way that you can stimulate development within them. If I don’t have this information, I will not be able to understand where they are coming from or where they can go, I will not be effective. So I study their mobility, and their flexibility, I will check how hard they can work, and always educate myself to the extreme at times to be a better artist and educator.

What are your strengths?
I never give up. I will keep moving forward until I die.

I always have been a little stubborn, not in a negative sense, because I always did my homework and always was looking at the upside of things that happened.

Do you have hobbies or interests that you are also passionate about?
I always, whenever I can, visit museums. I just came back from Berlin and I was in the museum from early morning till late in the evening.

Secondly, I am trying to be very involved in the education of my son. He is 9 years old and he is good at creative things like painting, and constructing things and it is innate in him. This requires an investment of time from me, basically creating a structure so that he can continue to learn and grow, without feeling any pressure to do something.  

I am teaching him that it doesn’t matter if you earn a lot of money or not, as long as you feel happy.

As I talk with him, I tell him don’t strive to get straight A’s ( a “10” as a grade) because when you get a “3” as a grade, that will teach you more, especially when it is unexpected. Strive to create knowledge, wisdom and intelligence.

If you as Tirzo would meet a stranger on the bus (let’s say in Berlin or Bogota Columbia) and they would ask you to introduce yourself, what would you answer?
Lots of students tell me that just speaking out my name Tirzo Martha, has something special, strong, in it.

Btw it is always fun to experience it and at times I will tell them that I am an artist that uses my art to help develop my country. I will not share lots of historical details with them, because they can google that easily. 

How would you describe Tirzo in one word or one sentence?
Decisive and strong in what I do, and strong enough to keep on fighting.

Who are the persons that have inspired you the most in your career?
My parents and especially my mother was very relaxed person concerning what I planned to do in life and that gave me trust and self-confidence. My father, till his deathbed, was trying to understand how I would make ends meet because he had this mindset that: “In arts, you can’t earn a living”. Like I was leaving for abroad for my exhibitions, he always wondered how I would pay for the ticket etc., but couldn’t understand that my travel expenses would be taken care of. For him, it stayed a strange business. Those two were opposites of a spectrum, and that helped me dearly. 
Mothers have a different connection with their children, btw. I had this with my mother, but I can also see it with my son. I travel a lot, and my wife can see and notice things in my son so much quicker than I can. I need more explanations.

What is a trait that is still a work in progress?
To rest more. The reason is that 4 years ago I was hospitalized after a diagnosis that my heart was affected. I stayed one month in the hospital in Curaçao and another 1,5 months in Columbia. My heart healed and my doctor told me to “not forget to take my rest” and at times I need to take more rest indeed. I have always been on the move. After my healing I had even more energy like it was some kind of redemption, I was going 10 times faster than I used to. These days I have some assistants with me and they remind me to chill at times when I overdo. So I am consciously working on taking more rest.

What was a defining moment in your life?
My heart problems of 4 years ago. As I wasn’t feeling anything, no pain, nor feeling tired. But it appeared the oxygen level in my blood was rather low. The challenge was to slow down my thinking and I worked on that but I also was thinking about how to revalidate and get out of the hospital as quickly as possible. This required one extra routine and discipline, to work on my body to revalidate and stay healthy. I have a lot of pills to swallow each day and there are more people in my atelier to help me build up my artwork and in the meantime, they help me when need to chill. On the upside after this defining moment, has put me in a new position to continue to work, educate myself, and move forward.

Do you meditate?
I have been an artist for 32 years now. I meditate as a routine, and there are always moments when I shut down my communication with other people and go into silence. This is vital to regenerate my energies.

Where do you want to be 10 years from now with your career?
I would see the Institute stand on her own feet. I will be a guide for the Institute and we will see many former students who have broken through and created strong professional careers. My son would have just finalized his High School on his way to Holland for his advanced studies. I hope to have the mental and physical strength to be able to contribute to guiding all students from Instituto Buena Bista during their studies here, during their advanced studies, and during their careers.

What would you want your Loved Ones, family, friends, and others to say about you let’s say 20 years from now?
I would hope that they would say that I am a good father, educator, and fighter.

What makes you stay optimistic about the future of Curaçao as we are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, recession, and in the middle of growing environmental challenges because of the global warming consequences?
I am turning 57 years old on the 16th of June and over all these years I have been hearing that now Curaçao will sink, but it is still afloat. But indeed we need to change our mentality, we need to do more than just stay afloat, we need to move forward also.

Picture: Facebook Tirzo Martha. In Buena Vista a school is named after the visual artist Tirzo. The name of the school is: School For Integral Development Tirzo Martha. He was born and grew up in this neighborhood. This tribute also makes it possible for him to do more social cultural projects with the school and this neighborhood. 

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

It is very important to change our mentality towards education. There is a need for a new structure in our educational structure where we offer children more options to choose from. We also need a mentality where we help others so that all can progress. Our educational system is too much oriented toward getting high grades but we don’t teach children to be involved with the island and its community. They need to be aware that they can use what they learn to help others also and that their education is not only for their use. The more we study and share our knowledge the more the development of our society can benefit from this. We need to make better use of the possibilities our island offers so that we can become more self-reliant and based on that look for fruitful win-win collaborations with other countries.

We need to change our mentality towards tourism, as now in the past 15 to 20 years we have adapted our product to the needs of the tourists. We have our own uniqueness that we need to explore. In Berlin, I saw a “truck di pan” and it stood very prominent in this street food activity. This is something we have, we need to become more aware of our unique products and promote them more. I can tell as I have traveled all over the world and in the Caribbean and I have always seen our potential and quality aspects, but we are not making enough use of these.

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One of the 250 Influencers of Curaçao

Tirzo Martha is a passionate, dedicated, disciplined, hard-working, internationally renowned artist and educator with a “we” mindset. Having been raised to be socially engaged and to follow his heart, at an early age he wanted to make a difference and impact society wise. His early explorations, that centered on ways people can express themselves, brought him to choose the arts as his passion and profession. His strong will, determination, self-confidence, and perseverance against surroundings that had doubts about his ventures, made him surpass and achieve so much more than he expected to achieve as an internationally renowned and decorated artist. What makes Tirzo unique is on the one side his relentless efforts to become his best self as an artist, educator, and father, but on the other hand his crystal clear vision of how arts can help youngsters and the island to become a more aware and developed island. Up to this moment not recognized enough by local authorities, Tirzo after two years of lockdown has not lost one bit of his conviction that via sound structures, our creative potential can be developed. Via “Instituto Buena Bista” but also through his continuous learning and most of all his mentoring and coaching, he enables new talent to develop in IBB, he helps graduates from IBB to get their best head start when they continue their advanced studies, but also he stays available to help to start graduates and artists, to start their professional career whereby he continues to be an advocate for them to return to Curaçao. Tirzo goes full circle as he is actively thinking about how to prepare the next generations of artists to, in due time, take over IBB. A remarkable “we” and “sharing” mindset. For all these reasons we consider him one of the 250 influencers of the island, representing the “Cultural and Educational sector”. Look at the list of the Influencers we have interviewed or reported on, up to now.t. – YouTube

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