Project 3 – Exercise 2: Telling a Story – Keti Koti

This exercise asks for a painting that creates a simple narrative, involving one or several human figures, and produces a painting that gives the viewer the clearest possible idea of what’s happening. Use all of the resources of colour, tone, shape and line to create a painting that goes beyond the merely figurative to convey a simple narrative. Use of exaggerated form or distort figures

Examples: Expression of one person, relationship between two persons or a group, relationship with objects or surrounding space, atmosphere that relates to a history period. A story from my own life or work or a new idea? Should I use photographs? If yes, what will be my interpretation of it?

Looking up some definition or guideline:

Narrative potential lies in everyday objects and materials, and their embedded cultural associations. Through extensive research, acts of appropriation, or performance, layers of meaning can be uncovered.  Individual experience as a means of conveying stories”  (Available from: [accessed 21 Sep 2016])

Final paintings:

Painting #1: ‘Keti Koti no1’ – Oil on sized linen (50 x 40 cm)

inspired by Michelangelo ‘Awakening Slave‘, 1519

Stefan513593 - Project 3 - Exercise 2 - #1

Stefan513593 – Project 3 – Exercise 2 – #1

Painting #2: ‘Keti Koti no2’- Oil on sized linen (50 x 60 cm)

  • inspired by Édouard Manet ‘Olympia‘ , 1863 (appropriation)


Stefan513593 - Project 3 - Exercise 2 - #2

Stefan513593 – Project 3 – Exercise 2 – #2


A) Crucifixion and modern ignorance and destruction:
I find the connection made by Adrian Genie in his work ‘Stigmata‘, 2010 to the italian renaissance and one work by Antonello da Messina and in his translation linked to nuclear test in the desert of Nevada quite amazing. I am wondering whether there is a story to tell with a different perspective.

– Antonello da Messina (1430 – 1479) ‘

– Adrian Ghenie (b. 1977) ‘Stigmata‘, 2010 (Available from:

B) Slavery:

When my wife and I spend our honeymoon on Curacao some years ago I was reminded of one dark side of dutch history. As I am Dutch I did wonder what happened and how this is been part of today’s cultural awareness.  The 1 July 1863 was the day of freedom of slavery for Suriname (Netherlands Antilles), called Keti Koti. Till today this day is celebrated in the Netherlands in remembrance of freedom, equality and solidarity. (Available from: )

Keti Koti, is a Surinaams word, meaning ‘Verbroken Ketenen (Broken Chains)’. This word symbolises the abolition of slavery on 1 July 1863 in the former dutch colonies Suriname in the Netherlands Antillen ending a dark period in the dutch history.

In August 1795 a major slave revolt occurred on the caribbean island Curacao. Tula was the leader of the uprising of around 50 slaves. The revolt with up to 1000 rebels at the peak and taken more than four months was at the end not successful in obtaining the freedom for the slaves. Seven weeks after the revolt Tula was publicly tortured to death. A statue on Curacao reminds us of this tragic event. (see: )

Is slavery truly abolished today? What is modern slavery? The U.S. Department of State differentiates the eight areas of modern slavery: Sex trafficking, child sex trafficking, forced labor, bonded labor or debt labor, domestic servitude, forced child labor, and unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers. (Available from:

45.8 million people are enslaved in the world today. – See what governments are doing to respond” (Source:

One key area of modern slavery is human trafficking and especially sexual slavery/trafficking. In the Netherlands around 18,000 people are considered today as enslaved. In the UK is is a similar total number.

One feature nowadays is branding women to show them as ‘property of their pimps’ with a tattoo, often a crown tattoo with the name of the captor. Beyond the physical and psychological abuse the branded tattoo reminds those women constantly about the violence and oppression (Kelly, 2014 and Graf, 2015)

There are people and organisations (e.g. Survivors’ Ink in USA) now who help those woman “to raise awareness and to empower human trafficking victims by breaking the psychological chains of enslavement through beautifying, removing or covering their physical scars, markings and brandings that are constant reminders of a violent past.” (from: ) [accessed 23 Sep 2016].

With that information I do think that I am going the ‘slavery abolition’ route and do a contextual research on how possibly I could visualise this subject in a painting.

Contextual from art history:

Michelangelo (1475 – 1564)
– ‘Awakening Slave‘, 1519. Sculpture Galleria dell’Academia Florence. Available from: 
=> An unfinished sculpture that depicts nicely the process of getting free.

“Michelangelo is famous for saying that he worked to liberate the forms imprisoned in the marble“. ( => Translated to painting this would mean for me that I am liberating forms from the paint, the support (depends).

In the context of ‘Keti Koti‘ (I really like this expression and will properly use it as the title for my painting) and the annual festival in Amsterdam reminding us of the values freedom, equality and solidarity I do feel a certain association to Michelangelo’s

  • Creation of Adam‘, 1508-12. Sistine Chapel’s. Available from:
    => In this fresco God is touching Adam and give life to all mankind. I do see the closeness of the hands also as symbol for ‘reaching out, living together’, and ‘solidarity, helping each other’. Perhaps a bit far stretched and not to be taken too literally this does give a meaning to me as I already connected Michelangelo’s fresco in my research on Eric Fischl.

As the slavery was ‘officially’ abolished in 1863 I was looking for paintings made in 1863 and came surprisingly to one painting done by Manet:

Édouard Manet (1832 – 1883) 
– ‘Olympia’ ,1863 , oil on canvas (Musée d’Orsay, Paris) [online image] Available from: [accessed 23 Sep 2016]

Some more in-depth analysis of this painting can be seen from:
–  ‘Édouard Manet, Olympia’  Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker (YouTube Video, 7:13 min) Available from: [accessed 23 Sep 2016] and
– ‘Olympia: Het schilderij dat de kunstwereld choqueerde (Olympia: The painting that shocked the art world)

=> What astonishes me is so much is talked about Manet’s depiction of a ‘real’ woman contrasting with the formerly ideal of Venus with perfection of beauty. The painting is clearly an appropriation of the ‘Venus of Urbino‘, 1538 by Titian ( Available from: ) The Venus is exchanged by Manet’s model Victorine depicted here as a prostitute staring at the viewer.  The dog is exchanged by a black cat, symbol for prostitution (remark: at that time, there are so many different symbolic meanings for a black cat that I am wondering if a symbolic meaning has a meaning at all).

What is ignored even today in the art critic is the servant woman in the background, a slave (?). I find this painting a wonderful example for my subject matter and I can see possible ways of appropriation. Woman, slavery, man/woman, black/white. What could be the aesthetic value of such a painting? Should it have one at all? Ignorance of subjects that are accepted as common and non-questionable truth.

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye (b. 1977) figurative paintings
Example – ‘9:30pm Friday‘, 2013
[online image] Available from: 7be733e5d783220b7ec13ddacc9ba703.jpg  [accessed 26 Sep 2016]
=> Depiction of a self-conscious black woman in a natural way with a questioning character

Francis Picabia (1879 – 1953)
– ‘Woman with Idol’, 1940-1943. Oil on board (105.4 x 74.8 cm) Private collection [online image] Available from: [accessed 26 Sep 2016]
=> another approach to visualise woman in context of prostitution and absurd idolisation

Lucian Freud (1922 – 2011)
– ‘Benefits Supervisor Sleeping’, 1995. Oil on canvas (151 x 219 cm)
[online image] Available from:  [accessed 27 Sep 2016]
=> depiction of form on a nude, unusual approach


Preparatory Work

Thinking about possible painting approach:

  • Figures: Woman and Man –  White and Black
  • Color use:  Broken colors in juxtaposition with saturated colors
  • Paint: Oil for its flexibility in transparency and body
  • Background: colors of a kunuku – a slave house. White or yellow-orange with red roof or just the color
  • Painting approach: rough bold strokes leaving canvas untouched, unfinished as a metaphor for unfinished, unresolved topic in our world,
  • My concerns: to be too accurate, a too finished appeal of the painting

For my compositions and checking various poses I referred to models from the series Art Models (available from: Based on this I worked directly from selected poses (painting #1 and part of #2) or I used them to pose my life model and worked from there (part of painting #2).



From my research and initial visual notes:

Stefan513593 - Project 3 - Exercise 2 - sketchbook #1

Stefan513593 – Project 3 – Exercise 2 – sketchbook #1

Sketchbook painting  – visual thinking process:


Stefan513593 - Project 3 - Exercise 2 - sketchbook #2

Stefan513593 – Project 3 – Exercise 2 – sketchbook #2

Work in progress

Painting #1: ‘Keti Koti no1’ -Oil on sized linen (50 x 40 cm)

I am planning to lean on Michelangelo Awakening Slave‘, 1519 in the context of modern slavery and human trafficking (sex slavery). In reference to the official abolition of slavery in Suriname (Netherlands Antilles) on 1 July 1863 I call this painting ‘Keti Koti no1‘ (broken chains)

  1. Outlining main shapes
  2. Tonal mapping of figure
  3. Blocking color on figure and surrounding space (shape of Kunuku (slave) house)
  4. Working on negative and positive space to merge together
  5. Adding chain and branded crown as narrative symbols for human trafficking and sex slavery.
  6. Refining form, color and expression
Stefan513593 - Project 3 - Exercise 2 - #1 - work in progress

Stefan513593 – Project 3 – Exercise 2 – #1 – work in progress

=> Overall I am ok with this painting, the final steps were more difficult (obtain gin overall pictorial appealing picture) and I feel that step #3 would be more successful and sufficient related to overall tonal and form expression. The final stage I worked most on atmospheric appeal. My intention was to achieve an un-finished picture appearance and I do think that I worked too much at the last stages (not enough uncovered space of support). This is something I need to be more cautious at as it seems as repetitive issue for me. Final painting at the top of this post.

Painting #2:  ‘Keti Koti no2’ – Oil on sized linen (50 x 60 cm)

I am planning to lean on  Édouard Manet ‘Olympia‘ , 1863 as an appropriation of his painting (which is itself an appropriation of Titian ‘Venus of Urbino‘, 1538) in the context of modern slavery and human trafficking (sex slavery). I call this painting ‘Keti Koti no2′. I am changing roles of woman and man, black and white. Manet’s female prostitute will be a man in my painting, and the black female servant as free black woman who breaks the chains – meaning those who were enslaved will free their captors, the men. I will leave further meaning of the final painting to the viewer and their experience based perception.

  1. Outlining main shapes
  2. Tonal mapping of figure
  3. Blocking color on figure and surrounding space and applying key elements form Manet’s painting (curtain, blanket, cushions)
  4. Working with very turp diluted paint to achieve a dripping effect across the reclining male figure
  5. Adding chain to the male figure and around the female figure as narrative symbols for human trafficking, sex slavery and historical context.
  6. Refining form, color and expression
Stefan513593 - Project 3 - Exercise 2 - #2 - work in progress

Stefan513593 – Project 3 – Exercise 2 – #2 – work in progress

Overall I am quite pleased with the painting, expression and mood. I stopped early enough to avoid more detailed rendering of the figures and kept the painting more expressive. Final painting at the top of this post.

Remark: The paintings may raise questions or concerns from the viewer that goes possibly in other directions. This is intended as I would like to get the viewer with her/his own experience engaged in the subject matter.


        • This exercise went much longer than I would have expected and I had to stop further research. Perhaps this would make more sense as an assignment work.
        • I really enjoyed working on this exercise as it allowed me to look in a wider context (cultural, social and art history) in relationship to today’s issues.
        • I have to be cautious when to finish a painting (see #1) as at times I tend to work too much on a subject.

Next time:

        • Appearance of unfinished touch, void, covering too much support space: I need to be more cautious at as it seems as repetitive issue for me.



  2 comments for “Project 3 – Exercise 2: Telling a Story – Keti Koti

  1. October 10, 2016 at 7:37 am

    I found it very interesting, a great concept and challenging subject. The outcomes I can spend a lot of time looking and thinking – not too resolved / finished. Great work!

    • Stefan
      October 10, 2016 at 9:23 am

      Thanks Jane for your comment – truly appreciate this! Yes I found myself into an area and while researching other ideas and emotions came up. I was struggling and thought a bit too much for just an exercise 😉 My intention was to keep them unfinished. Not only as the topic is not resolved in our culture yet, but also in a metaphorical sense for me to continue at a later stage (too finish then?) Would like to know your emotional response to that. Which of the two would you consider as more appealing and convincing? And why?

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