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Aestheticizing Activism: The role of exhibitions in politics

Podium / 25 nov 2017 / 10:30

Stedelijk Museum x Amsterdam Art Weekend x De Balie

From documenta 14 to Stedelijk’s exhibition I Am a Native Foreigner, contemporary art and exhibitions are often political. Is it possible to influence political debate through art? Should this be an objective of exhibitions? What significance is left for the artistic or the aesthetic in such engaged frameworks? These questions will be the focus of the annual Stedelijk x Amsterdam Art Weekend x De Balie debate.

Bringing together artists, critics, and curators, the panel will consider the potential for activism in exhibitions and discuss how politically motivated exhibitions are received by various publics. Serving as cases in point are documenta 14 and the series of five exhibitions at the Stedelijk Museum dedicated to the theme of migration. The most recent editions of the Stedelijk’s exhibitions – I Am a Native Foreigner, showing a selection of works from the Stedelijk collection that represent artists’ views on migration, and the installation The Crossing by Carlos Motta – triggered strong responses in the press. This critical discourse at De Balie questions what significance is left for the artistic or the aesthetic in such engaged frameworks. Put another way, one might question whether political exhibitions can successfully communicate political urgency. Or even more fundamental: Can exhibitions sway opinion?

Maarten Doorman is writer and philosopher. He teaches philosophy at Maastricht University and is endowed professor of German Cultural History at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam for Duitsland Insituut Amsterdam (DIA). Some of his books are Art in Progress. A Philosophical Response to the End of the Avant-Garde (2003), De romantische orde (2004), Rousseau en ik (2012) and De navel van Daphne. Over kunst en engagement (2016).

Imara Limon is curator at the Amsterdam Museum, where she curated the exhibition ‘Zwart Amsterdam’ (‘Black Amsterdam’, 2016) about black role models. Limon has a background in Contemporary Art, Museology and Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam. She is curating an exhibition programme with The Black Archives, and setting up New Narratives; interactive museum tours from diverse perspectives that reconsider the narratives told by the institution. Limon was part of the New World Summit team, founded by artist Jonas Staal, and the manager of Frontier Imaginaries, founded by curator Vivian Ziherl, with international exhibitions and publications. She co-curated ‘Nieuw Amsterdams Peil’ (2017), a collaborative project with curator Alessandro Vincentelli (BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art) and six Amsterdam galleries. Limon is an advisor at the Mondriaan Fund and the Amsterdam Fund for the Arts (AFK), and winner of the Museum Talent Prize 2017. Richard Kofi is a visual artist and works as an exhibition curator at the the Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen (Dutch Museum of World Cultures), a combination of three ethnographic museums: the Tropenmuseum (Amsterdam), Museum Volkenkunde (Leiden) and the Afrika Museum (Berg en Dal). He co-curated the exhibition Het heden van het slavernijverleden (Afterlives of Slavery), currently at display at the Tropenmuseum. The exhibition addresses slavery and the personal accounts of the enslaved form part of a common history, shared by black and white – a past that continues to shape and influence Dutch society today. The Tropenmuseum has sought out personal stories from past and present that bring the history of slavery and its current-day legacies up close. The museum researches of the remnants of colonial ideas commences starting from the object in the museum collection. The exhibition is curated with considerable help from external advisors and the museum is eager to take critical responses to the exhibition’s content on board for the follow-up.

Patricia Kaersenhout is a Dutch visual artist, cultural activist and womanist of Surinamese heritage. She studied Social Studies at the Amstelhorn Amsterdam and Fine Arts at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. Her work investigates the fact of invisibility as a condition of the African Diaspora. It also looks at colonialism in relation to her upbringing in Western European culture. The political thread in her work raises questions about movements within the African Diaspora and its relation to the history of slavery, racism, feminism and sexuality. Rutger Pontzen is editor and senior art critic at de Volkskrant. Pontzen used to write as an art critic for Vrij Nederland and Metropolis M Magazine. He is author of the novel Nu ik (2015).

Moderator: Edo Dijksterhuis (freelance journalist and art critic).

Foto: Bertien van Manen, Turkse meisjes tijdens feest Schiedam, 1977, ontwikkelgelatinedruk. Collectie Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

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