Part of the
exhibition

In the Presence of Absence proposals for the museum collection

5 Sep 2020 until 31 Jan 2021

Artist Profile — 2 Sep 2020

In the Presence of Absence, the bi-annual show of proposals for the museum collection, presents 23 artists (collectives). This artist page includes a text on the work and an artist contribution.

This Surely Must Be Paradise is a photography project set on the island of Saint Martin that addresses the imaging and imagining of the Caribbean. Gilleam Trapenberg, currently based in Amsterdam, was born in Curaçao and frequently visited Saint Martin, where his father’s business is located, as a youngster. His photo installation contains portraits of personal acquaintances and friends, images of Saint Martin’s landscapes and residential areas, as well as panoramas that are commonly featured in travel brochures. 

In this work, life on Saint Martin is captured through a critical use of landscape imagery and local portraits. Western European and North American tourism profoundly impacts daily life in the Caribbean. Tourists often know the Caribbean through the lens of travel advertisements. But behind the exoticized image of white sandy beaches, dazzling golden sunsets, and glossy tourist attractions lies a multifaceted daily life. A couple embracing on the beach, high-school students, a woman worker Trapenberg encountered in a hotel patio, a friend whom he met in the street, and another at a local carnival, are presented alongside photos with visual details and overviews from the surrounding environment. In this manner, Trapenberg juxtaposes different aspects of the island and creates a more nuanced understanding of Saint Martin.

Illustration by Haitham Haddad after Gilleam Trapenberg's “This Surely Must Be Paradise,” 2020
Illustration by Haitham Haddad after Gilleam Trapenberg's “This Surely Must Be Paradise,” 2020

The work’s title is inspired by the book Last Resorts: The Cost of Tourism in the Caribbean by Polly Pattullo. “This surely must be paradise,” was a hotel review cited in the book, written by a tourist about her trip to Green Turtle Cay in the Bahamas. Such reviews illustrate how the collective foreign imagination essentializes the Caribbean. Trapenberg uses this tourist’s quote as an opportunity to complicate such sentiments, and to suggest a more critical view of the Caribbean that goes beyond oversimplified tourist depictions.   

Gilleam Trapenberg (b. 1991) received his bachelor's degree in photography from the Royal Academy of Art. His work has been published in W magazine, i-D magazine, Volkskrant Magazine, Refinery 29, and It's Nice That, among others. Exhibitions of his work have taken place at Fotodok in Utrecht, Unfair in Amsterdam, and La Cité in Paris. In 2017 he won the Lensculture Emerging Talent Award and he is the 2020 recipient of the Florentine Riem Vis Grant. His first solo exhibition will be on view at Foam, Amsterdam at the end of 2020.

Gilleam Trapenberg, Installation view “Big Papi,” 2017 at KABK Graduation Show 2017. Photo Gilleam Trapenberg
Gilleam Trapenberg, Installation view “Big Papi,” 2017 at KABK Graduation Show 2017. Photo Gilleam Trapenberg

Artist Contribution

  • Gilleam Trapenberg, “Steven,” 2020. Courtesy the artist.
  • Gilleam Trapenberg, “Boring Sunset,” 2020. Courtesy of the artist
  • Gilleam Trapenberg, “Maho Beach Tourists,” 2019. Courtesy of the artist
  • Gilleam Trapenberg, “Ann,” 2019. Courtesy of the artist
  • Gilleam Trapenberg, “Maho Beach Tourists,” 2019. Courtesy of the artist