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Becoming a member of NSC? - Academy of Arts stage of desperate search for engagement

"The vote for Wilders may be a dissenting vote, but apparently explicit racism is not a dealbreaker for all those people. That's terrible for someone of colour." In the stately Trippenhuis, seat of the Academy of Arts, this high word from Karin Amatmoekrim sounded extra emphatic. She was responding from the stage to a late-arriving audience member, who felt that in the face of the climate disaster hanging over our heads, "we" should show understanding for the discontent that had led to the PVV's gains.

With Amatmoekrim's response, it was suddenly crystal clear to the predominantly white and older audience how absurd it actually is that (white) pointers PVV's monster victory attribute to a general dissatisfaction among people who would have voted for leftist parties in the past.

For white people, the racism of Wilders' one-man party with 37 seats is apparently an afterthought, which does not even need to be shelved. Nor has it been an issue for the intended coalition partners until now. 'Imagine what that is like for someone with a different skin colour,' they echoed from the podium.

Wonderful essay.

The spirit of essayist and media personality Anil Ramdas value this evening emphatically around the Trippenhuis. Academy member, author and transdisciplinary artist Neske Beks had convened the evening following the PhD thesis on Anil Ramdas by novelist and NRC columnist Karin Amatmoekrim. Under the title 'Engagement! - Engagement?' it was about the role that art can - or should - play in the struggle for principled freedoms and rights in a world where these are coming under further pressure every day.

By way of keynote, Amatmoekrim read a beautiful essay on Anil Ramdas. She outlined how the star of Ramdas, born a Hindustani Surinamese, was able to rise within the white elite of the late 1980s: he was critical of Suriname's artistic achievements, and Dutch intellectuals thought that was quite brave. That migrants actually saw him as a nest polluter was 'collateral damage'. Things eventually went wrong when Ramdas started demanding his much-acclaimed self-critical ability from his white colleagues as well.

Professional crisis

Amatmoekrim's reading made a deep impression, not only because of its content, but also because of the extremely controlled way she narrated. The words resonated for a long time, inviting long and silent processing. Partly because of this, the discussion with Charl Landvreugd was somewhat difficult to start, although this also had to do with the professional crisis to which Landvreugd seemed to be referring. He mentioned his employer, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, where he is Head of Research, only with the utmost reluctance, without going into details.

What did become clear was that both were struggling with their commitment in their own ways. The conversation thus formed the question mark part of the evening's title. Amatmoekrim explained that for her, art loses power when reality gets too close. According to her, the artist is there to add imagination, to give the audience other eyes on reality. Because of the atrocities in Gaza, she has therefore taken a break as an NRC columnist since November: she could no longer write without becoming pamphleteering.

Open fascism

One who has no problem with pamphleteering is Jonas Staal. The Prix de Rome laureate, whose work is now on display at the Stedelijk, opened his closing speech with a furious outburst towards Israel's actions in Gaza. Immediately afterwards, the artist, known for his strongly socially driven work, aimed his arrows at the PVV, which he called an openly fascist movement.

From Staal this evening, we did not have to expect woolly interpretation of the 20 per cent of Dutch voters who put Wilders in the saddle. He emphasised once again how absurd it is that the House has Martin Bosma, racist, apartheid apologist and supporter of anti-Semitic population theories, elected president, and that one of the first actions of that new president was to ban the Chamber from making any more comparisons with fascism and racism.

Devastation drive

Staal described the rise of the far right as a penchant for "fascist pleasure", an urge, "just because we can", to destroy everything that is different. Not social discontent but an ideology of evil that overpowers more and more people in more and more countries, and is monetised by cynical leaders.

If the title of the evening put both a question mark and an exclamation mark after the word 'engagement', Staal was the chocolate letter headline.



But what to do? Is art powerless, as Arnon Grunberg, quoted by Amatmoekrim, told Anil Ramdas, or can art still turn history for the better? Staal's call to join political parties and trade unions en masse from now on to influence negotiators was welcomed by those present.

Whether it helps anything? Time will tell. After all, we still live in a country, the panellists stressed, in which we can talk about it. Fleeing won't be necessary, Amatmoekrim and Landvreugd acknowledged. Already confessed last they had once calculated at breakfast at home this week how long they could survive - possibly - from the proceeds of their Rotterdam home in Suriname.

Watch the registration of the evening:

Attended: 'Engagement! - Engagement?' at the Royal Academy of Arts, Amsterdam.

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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

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