Searching for Oneself Outside
In the exhibition Searching for Oneself Outside, a group of artists living and working in the Netherlands suggest how to give shape to absent voices in public space and provide context to the voices present. How do you give shape to something hitherto invisible, secretly removed in the night, or always ignored?
This shared living room has been shaped, filled and changed over the past hundreds of years. It is a space through which we move daily, but also a place where persons and histories are honoured, represented or commemorated through monuments, buildings and street names. Like history itself, public space forms a story that is never finished. While societies are in flux and our view of history changes, these images stand dead still, frozen in time.
Monuments and street names represent what a (city) government has decided to preserve and mark as cultural heritage. As a result, they symbolise what is consciously or unconsciously remembered or celebrated. But what is proud for one person is a source of pain, anger or shame for another. Yet another shrugs his shoulders.
A society is made up of people all from unique backgrounds, and there is no single image that represents everyone. The selection for representation in public space thus automatically entails a strong exclusion mechanism. The idea that people or historical events in stone or bronze exist for eternity has therefore been questioned for some time.
In The Hague, but also in the Netherlands and abroad, awareness around representation has grown. Partly as a result of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations that followed worldwide after the murder of George Floyd in 2020. Statues were pulled from their pedestals, defaced and described. This is how a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol ended up in the moat. The statue of King Leopold II in Antwerp was defaced, set on fire and removed for restoration. Although no statues were knocked down in the Netherlands, discussions flared up around figures such as J.P. Coen, Johan Maurits, Piet Hein, Witte de With and Van Heutz and around their statues, busts, street names and namesakes. How does the living room become welcoming and truly everyone's?