Award-winning artist Herman Van Bergen creates remarkable works of art with sumpiña’s, the thorns of the acacia tortuosa. This dessert tree is abundantly present on his home island of Curaçao in the Dutch Caribbean. His visionary work with these incredibly spiny thorns express Mother Nature’s struggle to survive in dry arid conditions after European invaders virtually wiped out the indigenous hard wood Wayaca trees on the island. His works of art symbolize her fight against today’s biggest threats: the destructive pollution by humanity. Despite all, the thorn bushes could thrive. After observing this for many years, Van Bergen envisioned a series of sculptures created from this unusual material that would tell the many aspects of a turbulent history and honor the power of nature and a creative spirit.
Thorns become art
His first work was a tall thorn tower that resembled the Greek god Atlas and it was first exhibited between two strong paintings inspired by Francisco Zurbarán’s St. Serapion, depicting religious power. Van Bergen recognized the light shining through the thorns as a sign of human enlightenment and enhanced this aspect of the medium by actually incorporating lights within his works. The orbs of light continued to be a significant part of the creative process. In 2002, it resulted in Thorns The Light Within – a dramatic installation with Atlas and dozens of glowing thorn lights casting surreal shadow patterns. The following year, thorn-art was nominated for the Curaçao Innovation Award.
Getting more familiarized with the material, Van Bergen sculpted heads, torsos and objects, such as ‘Harvest’ and ‘Useless Islands’ in 2015. Famous is ‘Nature’s Kiss’, a gift to the Dutch King and Queen on behalf of Curaçao in 2013. In addition to exhibitions on Curaçao, his work was selected for international events like Art Prize 2012 in Michigan and Tropical Kingdom 2013/14 in the Netherlands. He is regularly invited to talk about his work, including a presentation at TEDxCuraçao (2011) and a lecture at the University of Louisville, Kentucky (2015).
The ultimate thorns sculpture
The Cathedral of Thorns will be a building-sized illuminated labyrinth. Visitors are invited to walk through its corridors and experience an artistic journey through a troublesome history toward a bright future – both sides represented by the hostile yet beautiful thorns.
From a distance the labyrinth resembles a native Arawak-man, inspired by a rock formation on Curaçao, and symbolizing the exploitation of slaves during the colonial area. To raise awareness of the similarities between religions, the design includes symbols of today’s world religions and ancient nature-based religions. The walls have niches that hold objects of contemporary art from guest artists to express mankind’s ability to change, share and collaborate through creativity. In addition, the labyrinth also functions as a stage for performances.
In 2015, the Cathedral of Thorns earned a top spot in the Coda Video Awards. In 2016, National Geographic mentioned it as a must-see sight on Curaçao.
An artistic journey
The monumental artistic concept, the Cathedral of Thorns preserves and tells a story that the world must not forget. It will help all who visit it, reflect on lessons from the past – the ecological and humanitarian disaster caused by the exploration of the ‘New World’. It celebrates the power of nature and the new direction in which mankind is capable of going when art is part of the thought process. It is also job skills training program, giving unemployed, uneducated youth a well deserved second chance. The Cathedral of Thorns will united all themes of previous thorn-art sculptures into one expansive project: a building honoring Mother Nature and the Free Spirit that achieves change through creativity.