HOLLANDAISE: a journey into an iconic fabric

Raw Material Company, Dakar, Senegal
10 Apr 2013 - 01 Jun 2013

‘HOLLANDAISEa journey into an iconic fabric’ features newly commissioned works by Godfried Donkor, Abdoulaye Konate, Wendelien van Oldenborgh, Willem de Rooij and Billie Zangewa. The project is the result of a curatorial collaboration between Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam (SMBA) and Raw Material Company in the context of Project 1975.

Fabrics have played an important role in the decolonization of knowledge. Fabrics tell stories, family stories, stories of commerce, of labor, of creativity, of skills.The background for this exhibition is the long-standing commercial relationship between The Netherlands and Africa. The title refers to the colourful printed fabrics that are exported from The Netherlands to Africa, and are generally known in West Africa as Hollandaise, or Dutch Wax. It was Dutch textile companies, such as Vlisco, who developed mass production and commercial applications for Indonesian, Javanese batik in the middle of the 19th century, and found their largest markets at the Atlantic shores of Africa. Today the bright and distinctive wax prints are regarded as typically African, while there is nothing African to them. It is the result of complex globalization processes that created a constructed image of Africanness.

Wax prints belong to the history of alternative cartography. It is the history of the appropriation of knowledge and skills that were invented and produced in Java, became incorporated in Dutch colonial trade routes, traveled and eventually acquired a new identity in Africa. By making the wax prints their own, Africans challenged the ideas that link culture with authenticity, identity with territory, as well as the opposition of modernity versus tradition. The colourful and indeed irresistibly beautiful fabric is an all-time business for women traders across West Africa. Generations of women in Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Ghana have built commercial empires, and such wealth with the trade of Dutch Wax prints that they are referred to as “Nana-Benz,” by virtue of their ability to afford the German car. It is fascinating how quickly this purely European product was appropriated, embraced and adopted as a means of self-expression to embody what is today generally perceived as the quintessential sign of African authenticity.

‘HOLLANDAISEa journey into an iconic fabric’ is curated by Koyo Kouoh. Five artists from diverse practices and backgrounds were commissioned new works that interpret the trading relations and the cultural aesthetics embedded in the history of this fabric.

The educational programme during the opening days includes master classes with students and faculty of Dakar’s Ecole Nationale des Arts with artists Willem de Rooij and Billie Zangewa as well as a two-day video workshop for young emerging women artists lead by Wendelien van Oldenborgh. The programme continues in May 2013 with lectures by Abdoulaye Konate (May 10) and Françoise Vergès (May 22). 



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