Macha Roesink

Epilogue: Flow of Identity

Omnipresent from Zomba to Almere

Macha Roesink, artistic & managing director of Museum De Paviljoens, art historian,

Macha Roesink ‘Epilogue: Flow of identity’, BLACK MY STORY, 2003, p. 166-188

There is this common Dutch expression. His (or her) thoughts arose in a steady flow. Imagine you could multiply parts of your identity as fluidly as you can switch of thoughts in a second? In the previous six stories you could read how all the artists and authors that contributed to the publication BLACK MY STORY already know how to do it. What if society could respond as easily to this fluidity and multiplicity of identity? Unfortunately marketing experts, politicians as well as policymakers still look out for every niche in the market and society for target groups to find out what they have in common, instead of approaching the uniqueness of everyone. The media landscape reflects this approach by publishing magazines and broadcasting programmes for groups instead of individuals. The vicious circle of the representation of an oversimplified worldview continues.

BLACK MY STORY is published by Museum De Paviljoens. Some of you are familiar with the institution Museum De Paviljoens in Almere and some of you only with the buildings of De Paviljoens from Documenta IX by artistic director Jan Hoet. These pavilions designed by the Belgian Architects Hilde Daem and Paul Robbrechts, are a perfect example of mobile architecture, and not only in theory. In 1994 the train wagon like buildings traveled all the way from Kassel to Almere as if the buildings emigrated from Germany to the Netherlands. Museum De Paviljoens concentrates on contemporary art and architecture and thrives to reflect socio-cultural developments of urban life around the world since the 1960s. In 2001, when I started to work in Almere, I realized that the city where Museum De Paviljoens is based has a completely different demographic structure than historical cities I was familiar with such as Amsterdam or Brussels.
Almere is a young city of barely 27 years old [NB in 2010, 34 years]. Looking at the demographic, Almere has a relatively small population of habitants between 20 and 30 years old. In contrast to other cities in the Netherlands, Almere has the highest percentage of young people under 18 years old comprising the whole population. Besides that, no one can claim to belong here because everyone is a new settler in this city built on reclaimed land from the former Zuiderzee.

Why all this information about the city? Historical awareness of the local socio-cultural and economic structure is an important parameter to take into account when curating. This structure influences my choice of artists for setting up a project like BLACK MY STORY.
Museum De Paviljoens aspires to enable artists to develop their work in and outside the museum space and sometimes acquires that work for safekeeping. To collect art is an important way of showing commitment to artists. The survival value of art reflects what a society perceives important to keep for upcoming generations. It reveals how we look upon society today.

Museums tell us who we are.

When I am curating I keep this concept of the museum being a witness of time for future generations in mind. The museum of art is not just the building, it is a mental space that creates the infrastructure to preserve, exhibit and collect everything that reflects upon society, whether they are real objects, installations, almost ephemeral web sites or archive material. It is as if a museum can distillate society by exhibiting just a few art works. Artists reflect upon life and it is the role of a museum to show these reflections as opposed to showing life itself with events like partying in the museum. Occasionally an architectural setting of a museum cries out for entertaining people. But the primary role of a museum is such that these kind of activities should happen when they are part of a performance approach, like when Chikako Watanabe is serving chai in her chikahome-2003/ALMERE/NL and inviting Yuka Kawabe to sing Zuiderzeeballads as part of her installations or when Samson Kambalu kicks his Holy Balls around the museum.

My first exhibition in Museum De Paviljoens was called NONLINEAR EDITING. It was meant as a statement on how I see the function of curating in a museum. Programming the content for a museum is a non-linear story that can be edited over and over, and still keeps a coherent mentality of crossover references linked to the collection, art history, political issues or the country and city where the museum is based.
It is an ongoing process to enliven the collection and to look after its cultural heritage. With the project BLACK MY STORY in Museum De Paviljoens the acquisition for De Collectie Almere of Flattened Toad Force (2000) by Remy Jungerman in 2000 is embedded in an international context with work by artists like Jimmy Durham, Samson Kambalu, Shirana Shahbazi and Chika Watanabe. Each of these artists gives an individual comment of their cultural background. They show awareness of the traps of social behaviour and communication in modern times of urbanization and immigration.
In short, the linkage in Museum De Paviljoens between contemporary art and contemporary architecture with contemporary graphic design in a contemporary city is a continuous bond in time. You can interrogate this museum as a witness for everyone who wants to know more about contemporary culture in Almere, and Flevoland in a Dutch and international context since the 1960s and 1970s until now.
Since 2000 the city council of Almere publishes the so-called Social Atlas of Almere which among other statistics categorizes habitants on the basis of their most significant cultural background. Defining someone is always a hazardous exercise.
The exhibition of publication BLACK MY STORY is not primarily concerned with non-western artists reflecting non-western issues. For me the term Western or Non-Western is just geographical indication where someone lives in the world when you put Africa in the center of the world map. Since the 20th century these terms no longer reflect whether someone takes part in a modern urban society or in a more rural traditional culture. A citizen from a metropolis like London probably has more things in common with someone in Bombay than with a farmer in the south of Italy.

Chikako Watanabe compares the connection between the rise of the suburbs and the loss of old traditional habits in areas like Tibet, China, Japan as well as in the Netherlands. Samson Kambalu knows by experience that learning another language means new opportunities, but can also lead to the loss of your mother tongue that is needed for understanding your own local traditions. The installation (Bookworm) The Fall of Man (2002) shows this ingeniously. Shirana Shahbazi plays with the combination of photographic images, as if she is an editor of a documentary, to create content about displacement with photographs that are seemingly meaningless on their own.
Jimmy Durham knows exactly how to deal with the codes of the international art world but always looks out for a poetical approach to address daily life. Remy Jungerman’s work makes you conscious of the difficulty of mutual understanding.

Your father is Dutch and your mother from Surinam or the other way around – how would you define yourself? What if you were born I Tehran but grew up in Germany since the age of ten and pursued your whole art education in Switzerland.
What to do with someone who knows Tokyo inside out but as a participant at art academies like the Sandberg Institute and the Rijksakademie is familiar with both the Amsterdam and the international art scene? What if you are Japanese and your little daughter learns to sing an old Dutch children’s song like Kabouter Spillebeen because your husband is Dutch.
What if you were a boarder at a public school, the ‘Eton of Africa’, since you were thirteen? You only received lessons from English teachers, learned Greek and Latin and had to walk 45 kn to the nearest village where the rest of your population would speak Chewa or Tumbuka as well as English. Who would you be(come)?

BLACK MY STORY questions how the first most dominant idea of representation of someone persistently stays in your mind, instead of just simply accepting and investigating the multitude of identities that someone develops in time, both as an artist and as an individual person. BLACK MY STORY researches the complexity of art, a person, nationality, religion or race and favors multitude instead of a worldview based on dichotomy.

Black My Story? What is your story?