Skip to content

Faustin Linyekula and the tearfulness of the travelling artist

'Aid workers come to my city to leave again. I come there to stay.' You cannot get Faustin Linyekula any more concise. 'Aid workers do not create a bond with the people they want to help. Their work is gone as soon as they leave. I don't come to help, but because I want to be there. If I help a few people in the process, that's a bonus.' The world-renowned Congolese artist is this year, with William Kentridge, associate artist of the Holland Festival.

On Thursday 9 May, Linyekula was a guest at the Amsterdam debate centre De Balie. There, he spoke about what it is like to run an arts centre in times of war and conflict and under difficult circumstances.

Conversation partners were Dessy Gavrilova, who set up a twin institute of De Balie in the Bulgarian capital Sofia, and filmmaker Beri Shalmashi, who returned to Iraqi Kurdistan after studying at the Amsterdam Film Academy to set up a film house there. By the way, discussion leader Yoeri Albrecht is currently boss of an arts centre in conflict zone. This happened after a group of extreme right-wingers called for the deportation of Muslims during a meeting in his building, De Balie.


Albrecht had prepared thoroughly, but was soon able to throw his notes of questions in the bin once Linyekula took the floor. For Faustin Linyeluka is a man of tremendous charisma. He may be known as a choreographer, but he himself prefers to call himself a storyteller. That is the art he inherited from home. That is the art with which he deeply impresses the entire packed hall here. Purely chosen words, meaningful silences and eyes that really look at you. This is also how he manages to put into words exactly what prompts the other two guests to take the conversation to a much more personal level.

Ultimately, Linyekula argues, art is a tremendously lonely profession because you are condemned to the role of outsider. He returned to his hometown to set up an arts centre there - after great successes in the rest of the world. He did so not as development work or as an aid worker, but because he yearns to be at home. In doing so, he touched his interlocutors in the heart, as they too set aside opportunities for an international career and the luxuries that come with it, for work in their home country or city. Dessy Gavrilova does just that in Bulgaria, while the brain drain in that country is in full swing. More than two million people have already left for other countries, and these are often the very intellectuals and artists her debate centre relies on.

Leaving is not an option

To persevere in such a situation, while the world around you becomes increasingly empty, requires courage. Courage that Beri Shalmashi cannot be denied either. When she returned to Erbil, the war in nearby Syria was getting worse. 'IS was twenty kilometres away, and no one was sure they wouldn't take Erbil too.' The artists who were still there when she came fled or went to war, leaving the city empty.

Yet leaving is not an option for these returnees, they reported. For that, your own story, your own background and language is too important. Dessy Gavrilova, for instance, hopes her centre, The Red House, will be ready if ever the Bulgarian elite regains its self-confidence and finds its way back to Sofia. Beri Shalmashi has her eye on an empty art-deco cinema building, at the foot of Erbil's medieval castle, where she plans to open herr film house as soon as she can.

And Faustin Linyekula hopes that one day artists like him and his colleagues in Congo will regain the same honourable reputation they once had, even if it was under the horror of Mobutu's dictatorship. Tornness cannot be denied to any artist in conflct territory.

Good to know Good to know
Faustin Linyekula is associate artist of the 2019 Holland Festival. Information.

Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

Private Membership (month)
5€ / Maand
For natural persons and self-employed persons.
No annoying banners
A special newsletter
Own mastodon account
Access to our archives
Small Membership (month)
18€ / Maand
For cultural institutions with a turnover/subsidy of less than €250,000 per year
No annoying banners
A premium newsletter
All our podcasts
Your own Mastodon account
Access to archives
Posting press releases yourself
Extra attention in news coverage
Large Membership (month)
36€ / Maand
For cultural institutions with a turnover/subsidy of more than €250,000 per year.
No annoying banners
A special newsletter
Your own Mastodon account
Access to archives
Share press releases with our audience
Extra attention in news coverage
Premium Newsletter (substack)
5 trial subscriptions
All our podcasts

Payments are made via iDeal, Paypal, Credit Card, Bancontact or Direct Debit. If you prefer to pay manually, based on an invoice in advance, we charge a 10€ administration fee

*Only for annual membership or after 12 monthly payments

en_GBEnglish (UK)