Tuesday, August 26, 2008

READ THE MASKS. TRADITION IS NOT GIVEN by Petra Bauer and Anette Kraus

Dear colleagues and friends,

If you happen to be in The Netherlands on Saturday it would be great if you joined us for a demonstration against the Dutch phenomenon of Zwarte Piet on the 30th of August at 2pm at the Van Abbemuseum.

The demonstration is a a part of an art project whit the titel:


which is about the political and social implications of the Dutch phenomenon of the Zwarte Pieten on Dutch society. The project is initiated by me, Petra Bauer, and Annette Krauss in collaboration with Doorbraak and Untold.

Last spring, we (Petra Bauer and Annette Krauss) were invited by the Van Abbemuseum to participate in the exhibition, Be(com)ing Dutch. We decided to use the occasion of the invitation to further develop a project that addresses the Dutch phenomenon, Zwarte Piet and its implication on Dutch society. In the folklore and legends of the Netherlands and Flanders, Zwarte Piet (meaning Black Pete) is a companion of Saint Nicholas (Dutch: Sinterklaas) who appear in the Netherlands every year at the end of November. Zwarte Piet appeared the firs time around 1850. Zwarte Piet is blackfaced, googly-eyed and red-lipped. Zwarte Piet dolls, Zwarte Piet sweets and Zwarte Piet images can be seen in store windows alongside brightly packaged and displayed, holiday merchandise.

The past 50 years have seen moments of protest against Zwarte Piet arise now and then, the colonial past and racist structure of the tradition being brought periodically to the surface. While there have been some changes in the way this tradition is played out, we think it remains problematic. We wonder if it is possible to re-open the discussion about a cultural tradition that has been depoliticized, neutralized and incorporated into collective memory and contemporary consciousness? What would this involve? Who has the right and the means to initiate such a discussion?

On 30th August 2008, as a moment of the broader project, we will organize a demonstration and performance (with the actor Anne Stam) that aim to voice a public critique of the Zwarte Piet phenomenon.

The demonstration and the performance stem from collaboration between Petra Bauer, Annette Krauss, Doorbraak and Untold. Doorbraak is an activist group that deals with issues of racism and (post)colonialism in Dutch society; Untold is an organization that works with the history and the present situation of black people in The Netherlands, their main target group are the young. Together with these groups we have decided to address the issue of Zwarte Piet all through autumn. We will create several events that open spaces of critical discussion around the phenomenon and it’s underlying history and structure. There will be debates, actions, screenings, etc., and the event on 30th marks the launch of the broader project. The project is an umbrella under which other organizations, events, artists, platforms, etc. are welcome to gather and contribute to an initiative that aims to reopen the discussion around Zwarte Piet.

The structure of the Day is as follows – everybody is welcome to join:

11.00 Workshop in the Van Abbemuseum. We will prepare more banners and
slogans that we will use in the demonstration.
14.00 Performance and Demonstration. We will gather in the Museum.
During the march there will be music performances and speeches.
15.30 A public picnic for the participants will be held in a park close to the

Please, join us in critiquing the figure of Zwarte Piet on 30th August, 2pm in the Van Abbemuseum!

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