The Dutch series
The Dutch series was created in Amsterdam during 2005-2006. It expresses the sensation of returning to the Netherlands after my long stay in Japan. The Netherlands I returned to was in many aspects a different land from the land I had left 8 years earlier. I returned to the 'New Netherlands' of the European Union wealth, of the post September 11 reality and of the Rita Verdonk1 era. A land divided by social and racial differences, sober of its social utopian dream and where the Other seemed no longer to be celebrated but rather marginalized and feared. Relocating myself at Amsterdam's Diamant neighbourhood, a classic 1930s Amsterdam school red bricks décor, predominately inhabited now by immigrants. A neighbourhood that has turned very much into a showcase of the problematic coexistence of the Dutch society with its new arrivals, led me to focus my work on the new reality I witnessed and become a player in.
The Dutch series consists of two sub-series: 'De schoonheid van ons land' (The Beauty/purity of our land) and 'De Ramp'(The disaster). In both I use iconic Dutch images in order to question matters of national identity and cultural diversity. The series 'De Ramp' is based on images of the famous 1953 flood, a traumatic event in Dutch collective memory. The paintings are based on images taken from the national publication that commemorated the disaster, a cheap print black and white book that horrified and fascinated me as a child with its images of dead cows floating on their puffed bellies and flooded villages. In 'De Ramp' I return to these images and use them to represent the immigration waves that, in the view of some, have 'flooded' the Netherlands since the 1970s: Immigration waves that evoke sentiments of resentment and the fear of losing local identity in the Dutch street. Painting these dark images with bright colours -- where the gushing water of the flood breaks the dikes and swirls in fantastic colours and where flooded villages are bathing in bright pools of pink and yellow colours -- allows one to bring together both the 'apocalyptic' view towards the changes the Dutch (European) culture is undergoing and the view that promotes cultural diversity and embrace the ethnic and cultural landscape changes as a great elevating development. In the 'De schoonheid van ons land' I apply an anthropological-like view to document the, in many aspects, extinct classic culture of the local indigenous: the Dutch. I portray traditional rituals, folkloric costumes and country landscapes. I let the description of these images oscillate between the nationalistic and the voyeuristic, at times sentimentalized and at times ridiculed. My subjective view, that of a naturalized Dutch citizen, born to a Dutch mother and a Yemeni father, inevitably fills these images with new political and social meaning and allows me to examine my relationship with the Netherlands or to fulfil, as some demand, my 'inburgering' duties
1 Rita Verdonk, a hardline Dutch minister of for Immigration and Integration during 2002-2007. Verdonk was nicknamed 'Iron Rita' for her series of tough anti-immigration measures and draconian policies to enforce ‘Dutchness’ on contemporary multi cultural Dutch society.