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 plantaDons have been completely swallowed by jungle. The ArgenDne 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.
“Suriname is a strange place, unlike any other. In August 2011, when I woke up in downtown Paramaribo, I had the feeling of being in a movie filmed a long Dme ago: all the buildings were made of wood, following the typical Dutch design architecture. When listening to the first dialogues, some in Dutch and others in Sranan Tongo, I found it hard to believe that I was sDll in South America. The strong sugar industry and its constant demand for manpower, aNracted large flows of migrants to Suriname at different Dmes in its history: Africans brought as slaves, Indians from BriDsh India and Javanese.
My task was to explore and photograph the remnants of the sugar industry aTer its downfall in the 80’s. PracDcally no factory has been preserved, since there is no policy to safeguard industrial-cultural heritage. I came across some of these factories in the middle of the jungle, aTer sailing for several hours along the Commewijne River. Machines had either been stolen or dismantled, to be sold as scrap. The tropical weather, Dme and rust had shaNered the few remaining structures. Implacable, the jungle revived again and covered it all. I also took pictures of a centenarian train used in the plantaDons, which was later destroyed and sold by what its iron was worth.
I walked through the remnants of the factories at night, amongst ghosts and bats, only guided by the light of lanterns. I tried hard to imagine what these places would have looked like in full operaDon, with people working in the jungle. These photos record a part of Suriname’s history that is disappearing. Stories of power, ambiDon and migraDon but, above all, one that depicts the exploitaDon of man by man, is silently concealed under these ruins.” A.C.