Stories of Belonging at de Appel, photo: Fouad Lakbir
Finding and making ‘home’ – Stories of Belonging at de Appel Amsterdam
What is ‘home’? It is simply impossible to provide a universal definition beyond a very loose one, perhaps, of it being ‘a sense of belonging’. The exhibition and public program Stories of Belonging currently running at de Appel, shows work from 36 of its neighbouring high-school students as well as from artists Mehraneh Atashi, Gershwin Bonevacia, Fouad Lakbir, Narges Mohammadi, Mark Nieuwenhuis and Bonnie Ogilvie. All are are attentive towards both finding and making ‘home’.
It’s quite funny that wanting to feel and be ‘at home’ is an experience that pretty much everyone has in common, and yet its meaning varies so much from person to person. And, although looking for what and where home is for each of us is certainly a worthwhile pursuit that yields beautiful individual stories, it’s important to not forget that home is not simply something or someplace out there waiting to be found. It (or at least a sense of it) can be created individually and collectively in the places where we find ourselves located.
The exhibition and public program Stories of Belonging currently running at de Appel are attentive towards both finding and making ‘home’. 36 students from the Comenius Lyceum on Jacob Geelstraat in Amsterdam Nieuw-West, along with artists Mehraneh Atashi, Gershwin Bonevacia, Fouad Lakbir, Narges Mohammadi, Mark Nieuwenhuis and Bonnie Ogilvie have been occupied with creating a shared space in De Appel while reflecting on what and where makes them feel like they belong. The students involved worked in two groups; one focusing on arts and crafts and the other on sounds and music. The outcome, consisting of both existing and newly-created works, resulted in a heartwarming multimedia exhibition through which the leading artists and the students share their own stories about where, what and who makes them feel welcome and happy. De Appel is not simply housing the event; when the art space moved into Amsterdam Nieuw-West in 2017, it did what any cool newcomer to the neighbourhood would do; get to know its neighbours and start building ties. The project is the fruitful result of a long-standing relationship between the two institutions. Therefore, on this occasion it feels more like De Appel invited a friend to stay over and asked more friends (us, the visitors) to join the party and think (and feel) along.
[blockquote]De Appel is not simply housing the event; when the art space moved into Amsterdam Nieuw-West in 2017, it did what any cool newcomer to the neighbourhood would do; get to know its neighbours and start building ties
As I walked around, I looked at objects and listened to stories and poems, while, inevitably perhaps, reflecting on my own feelings about home. Through sound showers interspersed around the space, a series of handmade clay objects with accompanying stories and a collective ‘family album’, I felt like I was starting to get to know these young people and could really relate to some of their feelings. As I heard and read their stories, I found out about personal anecdotes, childhood memories of family holidays, the importance of animals in making people feel ‘at home’ and people’s happy places on sunny islands with sandy beaches, among many other things. I couldn’t help but smile to myself every now and then. One object in particular caught my attention; a clay teapot complete with clay cup, teaspoon and sugar cubes. It belonged to Safae, who simply wrote “tea gives me a feeling of home.” You know what? Me too! I instantly feel comfortable wherever I can sit down for a while with a cup of tea.
The exhibition’s centrepiece by artist Mehraneh Atashi titled Memory Capsule (2022) is highly symbolic, acting as a unifying thread among all the different components in the room. A small circular stage embellished with decorative elements is filled with local soil out of which black-eyed bean plants slowly but steadily grow under a number of purple-lit heat lamps. Within the context of the project especially, the sprouts evidently refer to notions of hope, new life, and feeling rooted in a place. But even though the reference is self-evident, it’s still terribly effective. It’s true that it takes time, patience and care to adjust to a new place and be able to thrive in it. It’s also true that conditions need to be favourable and hospitable – like this small patch of fertile soil – to be able to do all of those things. Furthermore, it’s always satisfying and rather comforting to spend some time ruminating around a place of growth. In that moment, I was there alone, but the piece is meant for people to gather around it together. At the same time, knowing that De Appel will soon have to move out of its current location after having made a home here over the past years, made this work feel somewhat poignant. I had to think of all those movies in which the child from next door moves to a different city, leaving their heartbroken best friend behind. Sure, the memories are there to stay, but it’s simply not the same without the friend there.
It is a heartwarming multimedia exhibition through which the leading artists and the students share their own stories about where, what and who makes them feel welcome and happy
Stories of Belonging is an uplifting project about creating a safe space where everyone can feel comfortable and be themselves. Yet I find that it still speaks to wider issues of placelessness, homelessness, displacement, and learning to live together out there in an increasingly polarised society. If anything, these pressing matters make this topic even more urgent and important to explore through projects such as this.
Stories of Belonging is on view at de Appel until March 27th, 2022
Manuela Zammitis a writer and researcher