For the fifth edition of the exhibition series Positions, the Van Abbemuseum includes new and recent work by five artists living and working in the Netherlands. These solo presentations, shown in dialogue with one another, constitute some of the most compelling artistic practices being made in the country today. With Mounira al Solh, Mercedes Azpilicueta, Anna Dasović, Em’kal Eyongakpa and Quinsy Gario. Having presented their work abroad, they are now making their museum solo debuts in the Netherlands.
The artists in Positions #5 work with different forms of storytelling, witnessing and giving testimony. They do this in relation to forgotten, marginalised or silenced histories. These stories span nineteenth-century novels in Argentina, voices from the rivers of Cameroon or the 1969 uprisings in Curaçao. They range from deeply personal accounts to classified state documents. The stories the artist’s work with are mediated through diverse and imaginative formats. Tapestries, embroidery, hand-crafted dolls and sound compositions can all be seen, heard and felt throughout the series of exhibitions. Taken together Positions #5: Telling Untold Stories invites visitors to experience and encounter stories in myriad ways.
Sǒ bàtú project, (2016-ongoing), translates as “to bathe one’s ears,” in the Kenyaŋ (Kenyang) language spoken in the cross-river basin of Manyu, Cameroon. Through water and sound Em’kal Eyongakpa imagines a refuge within the central galleries of the museum. Household materials, plant fibres, calabashes and mycelium (fungi) landscapes create a sculptural environment hosting a multichannel sound composition that interacts with live sounds from the sculptures. The work draws on folklore from Manyu and beyond, where “other worlds” can be found in caves used as hideouts during times of peril.
Quinsy Gario explores the mechanisms of storytelling, historiography and the postcolonial Dutch Caribbean. Gario visited Soualiga (St. Maarten/St. Martin) and Curacao this summer together with Glenda Martinus, his mother, where they made several works. These are presented alongside an installation by Family Connection, a collective of Gario’s family that has been working since 2005. They look at the 1969 uprising on Curacao and the way history is remembered and shared. Gario also reconfigures two installations Bevrijdingskunst(Liberation Art, 2017) and Black, Basically a Genealogical Materialist Analysis (2016).
Encounters and conversations with others form the starting point for Mounira Al Solh‘s work. Since 2012 Al Solh (Lebanon, 1978) has been drawing portraits of people forced to leave their homes due to conflict, based on the extensive conversations she has had with them. The press called the project I strongly believe in our right to be frivolous one of the high points of Documenta 14, after which there was a solo in the Art Institute of Chicago in 2018. There are also a number of embroidery works to be seen, made partly in collaboration with Stichting Ik Wil from Eindhoven (a foundation committed to an inclusive society). The film Freedom is a habit I am trying to learn is a new work. Al Solh spent 24 hours with each of four women – Rogin, Waad, Hanin and Zeina – in the cities to which they moved from Lebanon and Syria (Zutphen, Washington DC, Oslo and Sharjah).
The starting point for Mercedes Azpilicueta’s presentation is the legend of Lucìa Miranda, as recorded by the 19th century female author Eduarda Mansilla. It inspired Azpilicueta (Argentina, 1981) to produce new work consisting of sound, video, costumes and tapestries. Miranda was the first Cautiva, a European woman captured by the indigenous people on her arrival in 16th century Argentina. Mansilla wrote a version of the story which emphasised the strength of both the indigenous people and Miranda in their resistance to domination. The tapestries, woven in the TextielLab in Tilburg, and costumes are inspired by the era in which Mansilla lived. The videos and sounds refer to characters from Mansilla’s books. Azpilicueta recently had her European solo debut with an exhibition in CentroCentro in Madrid.
An ongoing body of work by Anna Dasović’s (The Netherlands, 1982) centres on the decision by the Dutch government to send Dutch Blue Helmets to Srebrenica, declared a ‘safe haven’ by the UN, in the east of Bosnia and Herzegovina, to protect the area. Following the fall of the enclave in July of 1995, 8,372 people were murdered. The way in which these events were remembered, or rather concealed, in the Netherlands was the motive for Anna Dasović’s ongoing research into the language and images used to describe and contextualise ‘Srebenica’, before and after the fall of the enclave. For the first time, in Positions #5, various works are presented together, composed of images, video material and documents from the archives of the Dutch Ministry of Defence, obtained by the artist by invoking the WOB (the Dutch Freedom of Information Act).