Overview participating photographers
Along the banks of the Suriname and Commewijne rivers lie what remains of the once booming Dutch-Surinamese sugar industry. Since its downfall in the 1980s factories have been abandoned, machinery has been stolen or dismantled to be sold as scrap, and former plantations have been completely swallowed by jungle. The Argentine photographer Alejandro Chaskielberg travelled through Suriname to explore the remnants of this industry and the material and immaterial heritage of a colonial landscape in decay.
Having photographed the remnants of Suriname’s sugar industry, the Argentine photographer Alejandro Chaskielberg arrived in Holland to pursue a similar goal. The Netherlands used to have dozens of factories. Only two factories remain after decades of remediation and a more liberal approach in European agricultural regulations from 2006 onwards. Chaskielberg visited five plants in different stages of the factories’ life cycle: from active and productive to abandoned and stripped of everything of value.
James Whitlow Delano
Even though the sugar industry has now completely disappeared from Suriname, its legacy can still be traced in the faces of local people. In Suriname sugar has been inextricably tied to migration. The need for cheap labour brought different groups of immigrants to Suriname at different stages of its colonial history. Some came involuntarily, some acting on promises made, others in search of a better life. American photographer James Whitlow Delano visited a wide range of ethnic groups whose histories have been linked with the sugar industry, laying bare the demographic history of this diverse nation.
James Whitlow Delano
The ethnically diverse Surinamese population is a product of forced and voluntary labour migration designed to bring workers to the plantation economy. After the decolonization of Suriname in 1975, another wave of migration reached The Netherlands. The ailing Surinamese economy, the collapse of the plantation economy and the possibilities to build a new life in the country of the former colonial power caused an influx of almost 300,000 Surinamese. James Whitlow Delano documented the current state of Surinamese immigrant communities, visualizing the way Suriname’s sugar industry indirectly influenced the multicultural character of The Netherlands.
Brazil has recently become the largest producer and exporter of sugar. Ed Kashi followed the production chain from the heartland of low-cost production around São Paulo to the harbours and factories where billions are made by processing and trading sugar and ethanol, a biofuel made from sugar cane. His work depicts an industry with a remarkable level of sophistication and attention to energy saving techniques, and stewardship of the land. But this success story has its drawbacks: it created a monoculture of cane fields stretching over several states and threatening bio-diversity, while the production of energy crops on farmland affects food prices
The North American photographer Ed Kashi travelled to The Netherlands to document the highly efficient factory facilities where sugar is used as an ingredient for the sweetening and preservation of food products. The stark production areas reveal a surreal side of modern food manufacture that remains largely unseen, except for those who work there.
Carl De Keyzer
Following the steady growth in national income, Indonesia is changing rapidly. A new society has arisen on top of the remnants of Dutch colonial structures. Carl De Keyzer documented everything pertaining to sugar in present day Indonesia, from Belgian chocolate stores to old sugar villages in decline. His work manifests the ambiguity between production and consumption, between tradition and modernity, and between the local and global economies.
Carl De Keyzer
In Brussels approximately 18,000 lobbyists inform EU policy makers on every issue that may be of interest to either European businesses or NGOs. In the political arena of the European Parliament decisions are made on diverse issues that are of vital importance to the European sugar industry. Whether these decisions involve sugar and public health, the opening of the EU market for alternative sweeteners or trade measures protecting European farmers and industries, in Brussels the stakes are high. Belgian photographer Carl De Keyzer set out to peer into the formal and informal world of the sugar lobby.
The Javanese sugar towns were originally erected by the Dutch mainly for the purposes of producing white sugar that could be shipped to Europe and then distributed to other takers. After the Dutch left, the factories continued to produce sugar, albeit under less favourable circumstances. Nowadays the Indonesian sugar industry has many facets; some truly modern, some still harking back to the days when the Dutch were in charge. The Polish photographer Tomasz Tomaszewski documented the sugar towns in Java, starting his journey from the Perayaan Buka Giling, the traditional sugar festival that is intended to bring good luck for the coming production season.
The Vierverlaten sugar factory in the village of Hoogkerk is one of the two factories that survived the radical EU policy changes in 2006. During the almost 100 years of its existence the factory became part of the DNA of this small village. In Hoogkerk sugar means work, living in the shade of the factory’s sugar silos, the 24/7 coming and going of beet trucks, and the sweet smell that fills the air every harvest season. In contrast with the laissez-faire of Indonesian sugar towns, this Dutch counterpart might just as well have been on another planet: a regulated, clean, sterile and virginal place, the dominion of almost total automation.
Francesco Zizola investigated the life and work of sugar cane cutters in the North-east of Brazil. The Dutch landed briefly in this region in the early 17th century, fighting over sugar profits with the Portuguese. Remnants of colonial power structures remain visible in the local society today, while strenuous manual labour by cane cutters is still an essential part of the sugar industry. Yet significant improvements have been taking place in the Brazilian industry. Due to the country’s economic boom, a shortage of cheap manual labour has ushered in a rapid increase in wages and close scrutiny of labour conditions by the state.
Francesco Zizola documented the industrialized practice of sugar beet harvest in the Northern part of The Netherlands. It was only a few decades ago that Dutch agriculture was small scale, labour oriented and family owned. A modern sugar beet farm could hardly be more different: large scale, rationalized, industrial. But the ongoing fight for efficiency cannot guarantee profits in a global economy. To survive the international rat race, farmers either need political protection or production at the lowest possible prices.