Textile as a starting point for history
We sneaked across the borders, through the forest, we hid in the trunk of a car, and finally we found him. He was with a woman.
They are sentences from work Lackadaisical Sunset to Sunset by Mounira Al Solh. In a richly embroidered tent she tells about Hind and her deaf mother, who both had to do with the patriarchal system of inequality in Lebanon.
Mounira Al Solh is one of eight artists whose work can be seen in Amsterdam’s A rose is a rose is a rose, where Touch/Trace presents the exhibition Interwoven Histories presents. In the exhibition, the textile medium forms the starting point for (re)telling stories about our social, economic and colonial history.
Like the work of Mounira Al Solh, where audio, image and text come together, the work is Fragments with dots (fustat) by Vincent Vulsma aptly. On an elevation lies a white cloth, woven from paper thread. The refined polka dot pattern in the rug is based on a fragment of an old Indian trade dress.
Using light, the pattern appears or disappears when you change position. With this Vulsma refers subtly to the importance of perspective when it comes to our trade history or cultural appropriation.
In addition to political topics, which can also be felt in the work shown here by Patricia Kaersenhout and the duo Antonio José Guzman and Iva Jankovic, there is Interwoven Histories attention to connection. The Feminist Handwerk Party, for example, is working on an ecclesiastical banner during the exhibition in four sessions. In this they transform the banner into a feminist banner.
Less loaded is the work Tresors by Sheila Hicks, in which Hicks wrapped her friends’ precious pieces of textiles in threads. You could think of the items as an ode to her friends and their stories. It fits perfectly Interwoven Histories where the topics range from personal stories to general pain points in history.
nightmares, bare rooms and birds
‘My dear, I’ll send you a rooibor pigeon / because no one will give a message what rooi is doesn’t ski‘.
This is how the opening lines of the poem by the South African writer and painter Breyten Breytenbach sounded, which a few years ago was proclaimed the most beautiful Afrikaans poem of all time. There is something soft in the rules, but whether they are is the question. At least not in his visual work – as the exhibition shows once again Breyten which now hangs in the Amsterdam Stevenson gallery.
For example, a portrait by Ai Weiwei shows the Chinese artist with a bird in his hand, but one also hangs dead over his shoulder. The red on these birds is certainly not the proud plumage that you see on the chest of the rooibor pigeon.
Breytenbach’s visual work includes many birds, dogs and insects. They are not there to show admiration for nature, but depict an evil that is not quite of this world: a pigeon with scissors at the throat, dogs with wings that are not very angelic.
So are the wings of the dogs on the collage Les Feuilles, who look perky between the pasted leaves on a work that refers to nineteenth-century science plates.
Breytenbach’s work shows a grotesque universe, which is a kind of écriture automatique being on canvas. There is no morality – unless you want to attach a political statement to an image of Ai Weiwei – they are rather images that enlarge life. Beautiful is a collage in which photos of men from a distant past have been pasted onto a background that is not very reassuring. ‘My dad go to heaven’, is the telling title.
What binds the works is a pain that speaks out, nightmares that have to be captured. A nightmare that seems to have come true in Bird of bad omen. A woman is under the covers, you don’t want to know what happened to her neck, especially when you see a black bird looking at her from the bed. A man watches from the window. “I have nightmares of people peeking through windows,” Breytenbach said in an interview in 2018. He linked it to what happens to you when you’re reduced to nothing in prison.
The woman who comes with the bird with the bad omen you would wish for a rooibor bird.
Johnny is now our new gaper
A crazy fantasy head of a light blue androgynous type, with a large gold-plated pill on the tongue. That is the ‘new gaper for a new era’ that artist Adriaan Rees made of baked clay for drugstore Het Heertje in Amsterdam. The colorful image can be seen above the store in Herenstraat from Thursday.
Earlier, the traditional gaper above the drug store, a black man with a turban and a pill on his tongue, was removed after a fuss about alleged racism. It became national news in July 2020. That was because Volkskrantcolumnist Sylvia Witteman tweeted a photo of what Black Pete-like gaper had tweeted with the text: “Amazing that this is still hanging here, in the middle of the city.” Outraged people came to watch. The image was removed. Nothing came back.
Artist Rees thought that was a loss. Just removing images as a result of the polarized discussion, he did not find the solution. He had just had an exhibition in the Beelden aan Zee museum, where ceramic portraits mounted on the wall were called ‘gapers’. “I then went to the drugstore and the property owner with the idea for a new modern gaper.” The Amsterdam Fund for the Arts supported the plan.
The new gender and race-transcending gaper, titled Oh Johnny (after Johnny Jordaan), is surrounded by tubes and pills; on his head coils of golden snakes. His hair is yellow tongues. In the drugstore window is more cheerful ceramic work by Rees (his gallery is Livingstone Gallery The Hague). The artist, who also works and exhibits in China and Japan, hopes with this project to “set the tone” and encourage other artists to create new images for shops. A black customer coming out of the drugstore shouts during the gaper installation: “Colorful! I appreciate it very much!”
NRC Culture Guide
What should you see, hear or listen to this week? Our editors review and tip