Monday, February 27, 2012

National Identities

Journalist and photographer Jan Banning challenges the forces of xenophobia in the NL with art... one picture at a time. The exposition National Identities has just finished on 25th February. However, since most of this blog readers are from outside NL I think it is interesting valid posting about it.  The idea of tis serie National Identies is to question narrow, divisive assumptions about European culture and ethnicity. On Banning's website he reminds readers that during the Dutch golden age of the 17th century, "(...) the percentage of immigrants was about the same as it is now."  The same !  And since I live here I hear the Dutch complaining that  Holland is already too full of immigrants...

Vermeer: "Girl reading a letter at an open window"
Vermeer: "The Milkmaid"
Nissrine, a Moroccan girl, reads an application for an inburgeringscursus (citizenship course) at a closed window. Photo: Jan Banning. Looking at the work of Vermeer in particular, he says: "It struck me that so many of the women in his paintings are wearing scarves". But now, he says, scarves are the lightning rod of debate and a symbol of "other"because Muslim women wear them. "People are making such a fuss !", he says.
Rembrandt: portrait of Jan Six, mayor of Amsterdam.

Celal Akin Coskun, a proud Turkish contruction worker at the reconstruction site of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Photo: Jan Banning. "I have no problem putting messages in my work that are commenting about society, and raising questions. What I try to stray away from is suggesting a one-dimensional solution to things".
Manet: Olympia.

A migrant version with a Jamaican woman, Yanique, as Olympia. Photo: Jan Banning. "His creative solution to addressing the hypocrisy in the right wing's position on immigration in Europe is brilliant," says Newsweek senior photo editor Jamie Wellford.

The following text is from Jan Banning, the author of the photographs above. I have copied it from Newsweek magazine. The title is  "The Clasp of Civilizations" - A subversive reimagining of three European masterpieces.                   

"Xenophobia, and especially Islamophobia, is on the rise in many European countries. In my native Netherlands, as well as in Italy, Austria, Denmark, and Hungary, for example, anti-immigration parties are involved in the national governments. In others, such as France, Sweden, Poland, and the Czech Republic, similar parties are represented in national parliaments. These anti-immigration parties have thrived on resentment, antiglobalism, rising inequalities, and the economic crisis with the resulting uncertainties, and are scapegoating non-Western immigrants.

Given these circumstances, I feel it is important to take a stand on these developments in European society, and mobilize against intolerance and narrow-mindedness. In this series (National Identities), based on national cultural symbols, I give immigrants a main role by using them as models in my photographic variations on classic iconic paintings. By doing this, I question the concept of homogeneous “national identities” of European countries.

The Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, with its political leader, Geert Wilders, demands strict measures against immigrants, presenting them as a safety risk for “ordinary Dutch citizens.” It demands that foreigners, especially if they are “nonwhite,” should assimilate and adapt to Dutch culture at breakneck speed or else pack up and leave.

But what is this supposedly monolithic and static national culture, in Holland and elsewhere? Migration is not a new phenomenon, and often immigrants have played an influential and constructive role in different sectors of society, such as economics and culture

The 17th century was economically and culturally Holland’s golden age. The percentage of immigrants in the Netherlands was about the same as it is now. One quarter to one half of all the sailors, soldiers, and other employees of the Dutch colonial VOC (Dutch East India Co.) fleet were from foreign countries. Many of the “Dutch” national figures were immigrants or the descendents of immigrants: philosophers Descartes (France) and Spinoza (Portugal), the great writer Joost van den Vondel (Germany), and painters such as Frans Hals and Gerard de Lairesse (Flanders), Govert Flinck and Caspar Netscher (Germany). These men are all considered protagonists of Dutch national culture. Many of the people in the Parliament or government now who are concerned with the cultural assimilation of immigrants are themselves descendants of incoming foreigners. "

(Jan Banning was born in the Netherlands in 1954 to immigrant parents from the Dutch East Indies. He studies social and economic history at the universtiy of Nijmegen  and has been working as  photographer since 1981. The central theme of Banning's practice is state power. He has recently finished a portrait series of World War II “Comfort Women” in Indonesia - gosh, shocking stories ! Other amazing series are Bureaucratics, The Face of Poverty, Law&Order. )

Follow me on Twitter: @AnnaGFH


Zoe said...

Even after leaving Holland, i still come here to check some news about the country I lived for 4 years! Ver Nice post Anita! And very nice work of Jan Banning!

Anita said...