Below you’ll find some installation views of the exhibition “Betwixt and Between”, with Nadine Hattom (IRQ/AUS), Ana Janeiro (POR), Maha Maamoun (EGY), Valentina Stellino (BE) and Malika Sqalli (MOR/AUT), which I curated for the “Braakland” project of Fotomuseum Antwerpen (BE) and which took place from 6 May to 4 Juni 2017 (read more here).
Nadine Hattom (IRQ/AUS)
Ana Janeiro (POR)
Maha Maamoun (EGY)
Valentina Stellino (BEL)
Malika Sqalli (MOR/AUT)
A middle ground between different places, different cultures and different identities,
An intermediary position to observe, to wonder, to record, to receive and to make sense from diverse sides,
A sphere in-between real-life and the world of art,
A transitional field between photography and other art media,
A meeting place for open-ended stories of potential and hope.
“Betwixt and Between” features work by five photographers who address voluntary or involuntary displacement and the effects it generates on one’s identity; artists whose work derives from the notion of finding one’s place in a new context. While culminating different cultural influences, they find themselves in a middle ground, in-between new and former cultures. Although the development of a feeling of belonging is more oft than not difficult and a seemingly never-ending process, other, more positive sensitivities are at play here as well, such as wonderment, enthusiasm about evident potential, deep introspection, hope or pure joy.
All too often, the very complex emotional assemblage that the struggle for fitting in a new environment constitutes, is being shown through photography from a perspective of docudrama. Indeed, there is a lot of activist potential of photojournalism, reportages or documentary series concerning the issue; yet this project consciously aims for different styles of photography, rather with a strong conceptual basis wherein a layered, more personal, sensitive and open-ended reading is possible.
The selected artists share an inclination to photography as their preferred medium due to the distance a camera creates to the subject. This allows for observation and drawing closer to it, thus endowing it with an auxiliary social use. However, in each of their practices, photography is only a means to convey artistic ideas and all of them have expanded their body of work well beyond the limits of it.
Furthermore, it is noteworthy that family is an aspect that is frequently covered, as migration often involves entire families and as within the family context, issues such as the role of traditions, diverging assimilation processes and the collective awareness of being other, become pertinently clear.
Another significant common feature is the use of multi-layered, narrative structures. It lays bare the fact that migration cannot be framed in simplistic slogans. This relates poignantly to the main ambition of this exhibition: to show more complex and even positive artistic perspectives on the theme that were born out of the medium of photography.
Since the earliest stages of her career, Nadine Hattom (b. 1980, Baghdad) has set out to bridge the distance between photography and sculpture, introducing three-dimensional elements in her works or translating images into objects. Moreover, this idea of translation has become central in her practise: she engages the public to read an image analogous to reading a word so that shifts in meaning can occur. Invariably, her series resemble narrative constructions in which identity, the middle-eastern landscape and personal memories play a crucial role. Hattom comes from the Mandaean community in Iraq, a tiny, age-old religious minority. Due to the Iran-Iraq conflict, her parents moved to Abu Dhabi and later to Australia. Now, Hattom lives in Berlin. These multiple, cultural components constitute her identity and through her art, she is able to let them speak in unison. All these traits are clearly present in her new work entitled “Amman Pasha Hotel”. The installation’s primary piece is a print of a cityscape of Amman, Jordan’s capital, a shot that Hattom took randomly, and features the well-known Pasha Hotel. Its flamboyant, entrepreneurial owner is a Palestinian who once moved with his family to Australia, which obviously resonates with Hattom’s biography, and who eventually returned to the Middle East.
Although India asserted its independence from Britain in 1947, a few regions remained under French and Portuguese rule. Portugal kept Goa, Daman and Diu on the western coast. The Portuguese presence in India dated back to the end of the fifteenth century and ended only in 1961 after two decades of tension. Artist Ana Janeiro’s grandparents migrated and lived there from 1951 to 1961. After finding photographs and letters concerning this period of her family’s history, Janeiro (b. 1978, Lisbon) matched these with the stories that she had heard numerous times at family gatherings, and assimilated her ruminations in her series “Album India Portuguesa 1951-1961” (2010). However, the work does not attempt to be conclusive history writing, rather, a retelling of a constructed narrative about her family and her country’s past. This is a constant in Janeiro’s oeuvre: taking clues from diverse historical sources and turning them in a new, open-ended narrative. In this case, shots of official documents and letters, original pictures as well as photos of re-enactments are combined. A remarkable feature of the series is the appearance of legs of doorframes that intersect the action in several images and divide the picture plane into two separate spaces. This calls to mind the notion of reframing, as well as the idea of border crossing.
Maha Maamoun was born in California (b. 1972); however, she followed her parents back to their native country Egypt when still a child. In Cairo, she studied economics and later Middle Eastern History at the American University, where she developed a love for the photographic medium. In 2004, she cofounded the Contemporary Image Collective (CIC), a photography-centred organisation. Maamoun’s oeuvre evolved with the inclusion of film, although her core themes remain consistent. She ingeniously reveals the ways in which a national identity and national symbols are formed through popular culture. It is no surprise that she takes Egypt as a prime example; her stance as an artist and specifically as a photographer discloses a strong affinity that is clearly expressed in an aloof manner. This regularly imbues her photographs with a sharp but tender wittiness. Often, she consciously but subtly manipulates images, consigns them to particular sequences or uses rather awkward points of view to direct the viewer towards new and unexpected meanings and interpretations. “Domestic Tourism” consists of two series, which are a study into the influence of tourism and leisure on the representations of a nation’s identity. As the title indicates, the primary subject matter is Egyptians enjoying the tourism complex in their own country.
Central in previous series of Valentina Stellino (b. 1992, Brasschaat) are the diaspora and lifestyle of specific family branches as well as of some of her acquaintances, which are of Italian descent. In these works, psychological tension and a perplexing ambiance are prevalent; the movements and gestures of her models seem to be frozen, which often results in scenes that resemble tableaux vivants. Indeed, Stellino asked her sitters to re-enact their own domestic rituals and mundane activities in a familiar and unmediated environment. The outcomes are more often than not poses that are neither self-assured nor completely unnatural in depictions of a time in-between actions or events. Moreover, we may well situate Stellino’s work between fiction and non-fiction; it inhabits a zone between real-life events and a reconstruction thereof. Hence, the obvious analogy with film stills; combined with the sequential nature of a series, a narrative aspect comes into play, though Stellino only provides clues for possible readings. In her new series “Cut” (2016-17), she takes this further with a collection of photographs taken all over the world, in which the notions of leaving and returning are imperative. A certain sense of melancholy and of loneliness is inherent to the ensemble’s concept.
Malika Sqalli (b. 1977, Rabat) was born and raised in Morocco before moving to France in her teens, where she would study arts. She went on to live in London while also regularly returning to her native country. Furthermore, she travels extensively, attempting to tie all the different heritages in her to the cultures she visits. Through a holistic personal view on the world and driven by a propensity for optimism, she habitually detects links between places, congruencies in landscapes and weather conditions, similarities between people’s traits and behaviour, and common wisdoms. Fragments of landscapes or skylines, deserts in different parts of the world, patterns and colours as well as moods and feelings are connected in a dense network of references. For instance, for her series “Latitude 34” (2013), initiated in Santa Monica on her 34th birthday, she travelled to cities along the thirty-fourth degree of latitude, on which her birthplace Rabat lies. Aptly, motives such as lines and threads appear regularly in Sqalli’s work. However, one line always returns home. The artist’s nomadic lifestyle estranges her from the feeling of belonging, which translates in a position neither here nor there, in terms of identity as well as physically; thus, questions about the idea of home are raised prominently.
Lately, I wrote quite a few articles about several topics. Firstly, I would like to mention a short, biographical text I did for art photographer Valentina Stellino, which you can find here. For Antwerp’s Fotografiemuseum (Fomu), I was appointed as an expert to write pieces about five selected artists for the Portfolio Days of the museum, in the framework of a project called Braakland. My contributions about Ville Anderssen, Zaza Bertrand, Hendrik Braet, Aurore Dal Mas and Dieter Daemen were written in Dutch and translated in English, and can be read here. Furthermore, I produced an extensive feature about the twentieth anniversary of UK techno label Blueprint for the online platform about dance music Pulse, including interviews with artists James Ruskin, Oliver Ho, Mark Broom and Surgeon; read it here. This summer, Antwerp’s M HKA museum put up an exhibition about rave culture; I reviewed it critically for the cultural magazine Rektoverso. This is Dutch only and is published here.
The ideal birthday should be a joyous communal celebration of the fact that you’re fully alive.
But what if you were born on a day that doesn’t happen on a yearly basis, but only every four years? Well, that just means you have to party super hard – an extra 150 percent at least!
Dr. Poppers (né Tom Nys), curator and writer about dance music and contemporary art, happens to have his birthday on that notorious leap day 29 February. This year he turns forty, which in leap years means he turns ten, effectively becoming a teenager!
For this momentous occasion, Poppers teamed up with Ampere, a relatively new club in Antwerp already voted second in Red Bull Electropedia’s Music Awards for the category “Best Club”in its first year of existence . Together they plan to put on a most memorable tenth birthday party – and everybody’s invited to join the festivities.
Poppers is certainly no stranger to the Belgian party scene. He was a member of the infamous Oase de Pleasure collective in his hometown Leuven who programmed djs such as Koenie, Smos & Baby Bee, Aphrodite Terra (FR), Timmy Richardson (US), Elliot Eastwick (UK) and Keb Darge (UK). Later he organised his own Popperola parties featuring the likes of Crispin J. Glover (UK) and Stefan Goldmann (DL). All of the artists mentioned above deal in the deep and funky house which holds a special place in Poppers’ heart, and this is exactly the music that will fuel TEEN – along with that sweet house party vibe to match.
The evening will kick off with Ampère resident Pirrès, a sure bet to get the partygoers started on the dance floor.
Next up is Raoul Belmans; a long-time friend (and neighbor) of Dr. Poppers. Raoul is also a highly respected veteran of the Belgian funky house scene with considerable international renown. He was a resident at the legendary Food club nights, label owner of the seminal house label Aroma, former dj at Belgian national radio Studio Brussel and one half of the producers duo Swirl People. This is most definitely the man to bring the party to the next level!
We should have a good vibe going by the time Londoner Luke Solomon dives in. Luke is another longtime deep house mainstay: resident at Bar Rumba in London, co-founder of Classic Music (truly a well deserved name) along with Derrick Carter. and Music For Freaks with Justin Harris. Justin and Luke also formed the core of the musical project Freaks, whose “Where Were You When The Lights Went Out” became a dancefloor hit. Recently Luke is also involved in Powerdance, a new live project featuring several interesting figures in today’s dance scene.
Last but not least we present Brett Johnson, who has his roots in the lone star state Texas but now lives in the German capital. His quirky and boompty productions were rapidly picked up by Classic Music. His own label Easoteric built up a respectable catalogue, and presently Brett has regular releases on high-profile labels such as Cynosure, Visionquest, Get Physical, Legwork and Bang The Box (the imprint he ran with Lance De Sardi). Apart from all that, Brett is an excellent and highly skilled dj as well as an extremely lovable guy.
Club Ampere is guaranteed to be the ideal club for this stellar line-up, offering a superb sound system, great facilities and a top-notch staff. It should be clear that TEEN will make a legendary night out, as well as a birthday well celebrated!
27 February 2016; doors 23h00
Ampere, Simonsstraat 21, 2018 Antwerp (B.)
Presale tickets €12.00
All artwork by Uber and Kosher (www.uberandkosher.com)
In a previous post, I mentioned a national awareness campaign about abortion stigma I was working on with six Belgian photographers. It was organized by LUNA and IPPF Europe in relation to the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Belgian law concerning pregnancy termination in 2015. We have now finished the project and I’m proud to present you the result:
The last months, I have been coordinating a project that perfectly combines my work in the arts with my interest and activism in sexual and reproductive rights. It is a national awareness campaign about abortion stigma, in relation to the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Belgian law concerning pregnancy termination in 2015.
The actualization of this law came after a very long period of feminist activism, public debate and outrage, political procrastination, catholic obstruction and even a short but precarious constitutional crisis. Nowadays, Belgium has a solid system of easy access to safe abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy which is covered by health insurance. Moreover, it is one of the three countries with the lowest abortion rates worldwide. Still, the taboo persists.
On April 3 2015, LUNA and IPPF Europe, two associations in the field of abortion care and sexual and reproductive rights, jointly organize an international conference about abortion stigma in Brussels, in relation to the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Belgian abortion law.
The primary aim of the conference is to introduce and discuss the issue of abortion stigma on several levels; the topic will be enclosed and highlighted from the perspective of women who had an abortion as well as from professionals working in abortion care. Furthermore, the prevalence and mechanisms of abortion stigma in different regional parts of the world will be discussed. Lastly, abortion stigma in Belgium will be tackled in relation to the 25-year old legislation, and a resolution with points for the (near) future in regard to abortion care will be presented to Minister of Health Maggie De Block. Thus, a current state of affairs in research and in practice will be given, which can be of interest for professionals, academics and activists as well as for people who are simply interested in this topic.
Speakers at the conference are dr. Anne Verougstraete, MD (Sjerp-Dilemma, VUB, Erasmus Hospital Brussels; chair woman), Vicky Claeys (IPPF Europe), prof. Piet Bracke (Dep. Sociology, UGent, Ghent), dr. Anu Kumar, PhD, MPH (Executive Vice President IPAS), Krystyna Kacpura (Executive Director Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning, ASTRA Network), Jon O’Brien (President Catholics for Choice) and Ann Furedi (Chief Executive BPAS).
Now, the campaign I came up with and organized for LUNA and IPPF, was inspired by the action “No More Names”, set up in 2012 by the English organization BPAS (British Pregnancy Advisory Service). Here, photos of various women were combined with the slogan “How do you call a woman who’s had an abortion ? Mother. Daughter. Sister. Friend. Abortion: no more names ” (more info can be found on www.bpas.org/nomorenames).
For our version we have retained the basic idea of the BPAS campaign. However, we did not work with professional models but instead launched a call to Belgian women who had an abortion and who agree to be photographed. This call coincided with the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion (Sept. 28th) and was immediately picked up by all important news outlets in Belgium. All portraits were taken by Belgian art photographer Charlotte Lybeer and a team of five young colleagues: Ulla Deventer, Eva Donckers, Vesna Faassen, Ingrid Leonard and Valentina Stellino. I am extremely grateful to these people for all their efforts and their commitment and I am stunned by the beauty and diversity of all the portraits.
At this moment, photographer and graphic designer Charlotte Boeyden is compiling the photos into an image, which will be combined with the slogan “25 years abortion law in Belgium – For your sister, your friend, your daughter, your colleagues, your mother“. This image will be distributed to the press and used for all activities around the conference organized in 2015.
At the start of this new year, I felt that Popperola’s old graphic costume had gotten worn out a bit and that it could use a fresh touch. I hope you like the makeover!
Other news: I’ve started writing for dance music website Pulse Radio. So far, I’ve done a review of the ‘Cookies Vol. 3’ compilation EP from Terminal M, a review of ‘Unknown Landscapes Vol. 2′, Christian Wünsch’ mix compilation for Pole Group, and an interview with Boris Werner. There’ll be more this year, so keep an eye on the site!