In 1667, Britain swapped colonies with the Netherlands: the British got Manhattan Island in exchange for Suriname, which remained under Dutch control until 1975. By then, Manhattan had become the world’s artistic capital. Suriname, in contrast, was better known as a leading exporter of bauxite. The Inter-American Development Bank Cultural Center has mounted a major exhibition of contemporary Surinamese art that does much to enliven our picture of this South American island nation, where African, Indian, Portuguese, Javanese, Dutch, and indigenous cultures mix, at least three languages are spoken widely, and a vibrant, cosmopolitan art scene has been developing since the 1950s. Running through September 18, the exhibition includes 45 works by 17 artists working in a wide spectrum of media and styles. Rudi Getrouw, perhaps the eldest member of Suriname’s contemporary school, produces lively collagelike oil paintings exploring the diverse elements of Surinamese identity. Erwin de Vries’s nudes, with their jewel-like colors and bold black outlines, are reminiscent of stained-glass windows. Carlos Blaaker (whose Untitled, 1988, is pictured) combines sharply observed, expertly rendered figurative painting with handwritten text and collage, producing powerful, enigmatic canvases. German-born printmaker and watercolorist Anita Hartmann, one of the youngest artists represented, works in a simplified post-expressionist mode; her disturbing engraving series Slavery Times is something of a Surinamese counterpart to Jacob Lawrence’s great Migration of the Negro series, presenting horrifying historical scenes as if they were pages from an illustrated children’s storybook. Through September 13 at the Inter-American Development Bank’s Cultural Center Gallery, 1300 New York Ave. NW. Free. (202) 942-8287. (Leonard Roberge)

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