“Si mi ta artista of no, no ta importa. Ami ta “pintadó di Djidji”. Mi ke hasi hende kontentu.”
“It doesn’t matter whether I’m an artist or not. I paint “GiGis”. I want to make people happy.”
– Andre Nagtegaal
Fiercely family-oriented, joker, doodler, dreamer, self-taught painter Andre Nagtegaal (45) shows us Curaçao traditions through whimsical caricatures of smiling women and men brimming with pride, entrepreneurial spirit, and family love. A sister tying an elaborate lensu di kabes (head scarf), a woman washing her family’s clothes on a washi (ribbed wooden panel), another cutting kadushi (candle cactus) to make cactus stew on a konfó (a portable stove), another selling briyèchi (lottery tickets)…
His GiGis (pronounced: GeeGees) are an homage to his maternal great-grandmother, ChiChi Cloudine Engelhardt, maternal grandmother Ruby Dòi and paternal Oma, Dika Nagtegaal. ChiChi Cloudine, the mother of his grandfather, papa John (a fisherman and cargo transporter between Curaçao and Bonaire) was a “feisty woman with a loud voice” who sold papa John’s fresh fish at Plaza Bieu (the old market in Punda). Ruby Dòi, Papa John’s wife, had a mouth like promèntè (hot peppers) and would often rail at Andre and his jokester antics. Ruby Dòi serves as the inspiration for Andre’s bigger Gigis (often found preparing delicious meals for the family).
His Opa Henk Nagtegaal (a Dutch emigrant) married Oma Dika; a tèngèlènge (skinny) mulata with deep black roots, famous for her candy shop in Janwe and impressive knitting. Oma Dika serves as the inspiration for Andre’s thinner GiGis. Andre’s a product of our multi-cultural society and he’s as proud, genuine and humble as we get.
“Hopi hende ta wak, pero nan no ta mira. Mester ontpluis kos.”(The majority of people see, but don’t observe. Certain things are worth researching) Many of our traditions have been passed down orally, so rather than picking up a book, Andre consults with our elders, often scratching his head in awe: “ata baina aki, mi’n ta sa!” (damn! I had no idea!) He enjoys sharing his cultural findings, so much so that his Dutch fans assume he’s “a short black man” before they meet him in-person.
A big heart, he feels lucky to be able to help those in need through his art. His playful paintings lift spirits at Siloam Village, a facility for terminally ill children. The shopping bag he designed for CliniClowns’ fundraiser sold like hot cakes. A few of his paintings have been auctioned off to benefit Fundashon Sinta Ros (in support of breast cancer patients) and Ride for the Roses Foundation (in support of cancer patients) resulting in over 50,000 guilders ($27,500).
An alum of the School of Hard Knocks, he considers painting his one true talent. Though he’s always been an avid doodler, it took him many years and many tries to discover and nail his signature style. He went in with very low expectations: “si mi bende un ta bon mes!” (would be great to sell one!) He kept trying. In 2006-2007 he found his unique humor, culture, doodles and whimsical caricatures converging into GiGis… He took a shot in the dark and decided to display this series at Senjora Elmodalek’s gallery Handmade by Me. All 9 paintings sold within a short week… people kept asking for more… “Asina e kos a pega!” (That’s how it stuck)
Andre’s paintings are very popular among yu’i Kòrsou and Dutch. He dreams of one day crossing the big ocean, “envision Dr. M.L. King’s “I Have a Dream” to the sound of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”… I hope to educate the world on our beautiful culture: I see my GiGis decorating the MoMA!”
[Americans, you might pause at seeing Andre’s colorful and content Afro-Caribbean experience] That’s because his strong GiGis don’t conform to your more familiar mental image of Caribbean destitution. That’s not to say destitution doesn’t exist in Curaçao, quite the contrary. I think Andre’s GiGis project his awesome strength of character and perspective — inherited from Chichi Cloudine Engelhardt, Ruby Dòi and Oma Dika Nagtegaal, no doubt — as well as his genuine desire to teach the world about our unique culture.