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Van Abbemuseum’s ten-day caucus Be(com)ing More ended with House Rules?, a spectacular day of talks, music, and powerful dance. Convened by Frontier imaginaries and As Long As it Takes (Bijlmerpark Theater, HipHopHuis and University of Colour), the caucus (once again) did not fail to deliver a stimulating day revolving around questions such as “What different ways are there to organize the rules of cultural participation? What possibilities for change are there in the construct of the Museum as a historical and colonial space?” Brisbane based artist, activist and moderator Richard Bell made sure to add a humorous touch.

Staged in the Van Abbe Studio, with two staircases decorated with African-print pillows facing each other, the packed room was treated to an everything but dull afternoon of talks and dance. Significant was the colourful public from different backgrounds and ethnicities, which should become more recurrent in the art scene, as was also addressed during the day via a statement read by three youngsters from different backgrounds: “If museums want to attract people from their colour, then it is necessary to show their history and objects within the museum context.”

The women from As Long As It Takes opened the day, praising the Van Abbemuseum as probably one of the few museums in the world to actually do something radically different, like this. The group takes their name from their will to fight, regardless of how long this fight will last. They take their time for dialogues: patience as another type of democracy. Nancy Jouwe introduced this new type of democracy, originating from the Maluku Islands, where everybody has an equal say and is heard. They invest in a long process, which will have its value later on.

Samoan artist Yuki Kihara delivered a refreshing and intriguing presentation on “Becoming Pacific.” Hearing from this underrepresented area in decolonial discourse, left me with new perspectives, concepts and insights that are truly fascinating. Kihara talked about the colonial history of Samoa and the post-colonial body: becoming pacific seen through pacific tattoos. These tattoos, or tatau, as they are originally called, were meant (among other meanings) to remind men of the pain of childbirth as experienced by women. Nowadays, by means of cultural appropriation, similar tattoos can be found on bodies in the West.

The investigation into the history of this post-colonial body, led Kihara to initiate a dance performance called Them and Us in collaboration with German choreographer Jochen Roller, performed by three traditional Samoan dancers. The title plays on the “othering” of indigenous cultures by western standards and aims to re-write the narrative of what is considered them (indigenous cultures) and us (the west). Touring through Germany and Switzerland, they wanted to make the public aware of the German colonization of Samoa in the nineteen hundreds. The dance was constructed out of the traditional Samoan Fa’ataupati dance and the German schuhplattler dance. The result was a hilarious and hypnotizing synthesis that revealed the incredible dance skills of the performers. Along with the performance, a video was shown where Kihara and the dancers visited the curator of Pacific art in a Berlin museum. The encounter highlighted in a painfully humorous way the ignorance of the curator, as they ended up explaining to him – the curator as emblematic for western culture – what the objects actually were and how they should be used. Kihara concluded by highlighting the fact that it is imperative to look at the knowledge of their ancestors to make culture relevant today, but also in a reaction to globalization, which is threatening indigenous culture.

Midway through the caucus, the dance group of Bijlmerpark Theater provided their own answer in the form of a powerful and emotional performance. They aimed to express spirituality in a new way and let the audience feel. Energetic movement and vigorous echoes of drums filled the room and lingered there. The movements and music seemed to reach our very souls. Afterwards, the group was rewarded with an overwhelming standing ovation – rightfully so.

Grande dame and Winti-priest Mariam Markelo started her presentation with beautiful, harmonious singing and libation to praise the ancestors and mother earth. She talked about her own personal history with decolonization at the very young age of fourteen. In her quest to reconcile the African ancestors of her family in Surinam and give them the right place in history, she brought the African cultural traditions back to Surinam with the help of Dutch artist Boris van Berkum. Markelo and Van Berkum went to the Afrikamuseum in Berg en Dal; “the cemetery for African sculptures”, according to Markelo. There, Van Berkum used a 3D technique to scan a Kabramas statue, an ancestral statue, to create the Kabra mask. By bringing the statue back to life again, they wanted to make an end to the museum as cemetery. The Amsterdam Museum could acquire the mask on one condition: that the mask could be used in ceremonies and rituals by anyone who needs it, as the mask too needs different contexts. With this project, Markelo introduced a different way of dealing with these kind of artworks, which offers new perspectives to museums.

The day came to a close with three colourful performances, ranging from empowering to extremely passionate. The Eindhoven Waackers performed an energetic vogue-like dance, striking with force and fierceness. Malique Mohamud spat some emotional and impressive rimes, which left the room in awe, impressed by his story and talent. Junadry Leocaria closed the series of performances with a narrative dance that started off intimate and emotional and resulted in an empowering, overwhelming culmination. After that, DJ Rob Manga lured everyone to the dance floor to end the event on a happy and soulful note.

With this final day of Be(com)ing More, the Van Abbe “kept it real.” They did not enter in a decolonial “Water Mignolo-esque” debate, but presented concrete decolonial examples and focused the debate on how to implement decolonialization in practice, which made the caucus much more productive and potentially forceful. New concepts and strategies were discussed to serve the decolonial movement, for as long as it takes, for that matter.

All photos by Diewke van den Heuvel

More information on Be(com)ing More, HERE!

For a review of the second day of the program at the Van Abbemuseum, “Future Caucus”, click HERE! 

Corine van Emmerik

is art historian

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