The year 2023 is a commemorative year in the Netherlands because 150 years ago Slavery was abolished in Suriname and the Caribbean parts of the Dutch Kingdom. In this context CBK Zuidoost initiated a collaboration with the Cultural Heritage Agency (RCE) to create the group exhibition Knights in Shining Armour (reappropriating the appropriated). The curator of this exhibition, Claudio Ritfeld, was inspired by the reappropriated definition of the word “N ”, and the artistic/political intentions of Mark Steven Greenfield; reappropriate in order to neutralise the effects of racial stereotypes.
Knights in Shining Armour shows an alternative approach on how to approximate historical objects and immaterial remnants stemming from our colonial past.
Black people thrive, celebrate and simply exist in their inexhaustible natural appeal, transcending all European beauty standards. Against all odds generations of Black Europeans have shown not to budge and continued keeping their backs and shoulders straight, and their chin up. Oftentimes Black communities in Europe consulted (inter) continental artists, writers and philosophers among others for guidance and support into a deeper understanding of the self for the sake of revaluation. In line with this the composition of contributors in this exhibition consists of mostly international artists: Joseph ‘Joblek’ Adebleku (GH), Kenneth Aidoo (NL), Ikechukwu ‘Amos Black’ Amos (NG), Ade Dare (NG), Giovanni Jona (SR), Madison Lewis (VS), Zella Vanie (VS/CI).
While the argument on “whether Blackface is actually racist or not” is gradually gaining ground in the Netherlands, fellow artists are reclaiming Black depictions as a means of empowerment by stealing the thunder of oppressing forces. The hypothesis and rhetoric suggested by this exhibition is crystal clear; is there any room for a sense of humour, satire, or comedy in the context of (institutional) racism and the monumental tools of oppression? Even though Ritfeld presents this research question as a rhetorical one, many would argue there is no room for such an approach when dealing with these hefty subjects. What happens when we rephrase the question by adding “in art”; is there any room for a sense of humour, satire, or comedy in the context of (institutional) racism and the monumental tools of oppression in art?
A magical playing field unfolds in front of us when dealing with contemporary art in relation to historical facts and objects. There’s an even more mystical power implicated when we use laughter as healing aid for otherwise incurable “diseases”. Alongside the theory of Greenfield, Knights in Shining Armour is also deeply inspired by the historical journey and linguistic transformation of the word “Nigger”.
The curator attempts to draw a parallel between this phenomenon and the act of contemporary artists reappropriating black stereotypes in figurative painting. In this regard the curator is interested in how humour can function as the ultimate “Armour” deflecting or even neutralising the weapons of racism and oppression.
There are many different stages and forms in the process of emancipation. The wounds of our colonial past are more felt by some than others, and along the way Black culture and Black identity has shown us its resilience using various strategies. This exhibition introduces another strategy in reference, one used by Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapists. Here it applies to the viewer’s gaze on figurative paintings accentuating or even exaggerating facial features and dark-skin complexion. EMDR is a therapeutic treatment method that is mainly used for people with post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). An essential element in this exhibition is the burdening of the “working memory”. While viewers gaze at the paintings, the portrayed characters may remind them of a traumatic racist experience. This working memory load is achieved, among other things, by eye movements. As the viewer strolls from painting to painting, and heritage object to heritage object, the immersive installation plays the actual percussive score of an altered EMDR therapy session. This treatment method is often used to restart the stalled processing of traumatic experiences, like a veteran in need of psychotherapy after coming home from an extremely violent battle.
Knights in Shining Armour, may 11 2023 - July 1 2023, CBK Amsterdam
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