October 27, 2012

Interview with artist Cécile Verwaaijen

by Sabine Bolk
translated by Yvonne Bolk (thank you so much!)
During Cécile Verwaaijen's lecture at the Breda's Museum she showed her new work 'Donde estan los 60 milliones de artistas muertos?'

Cécile, how long have you been active as an artist?

I have been active for exactly 20 years, because I graduated from St. Joost art academy in Breda in 1992. After that I attended the Jan van Eyck academy in Maastricht. I travelled for a number of years and was able to concentrate on being an artist fulltime after that. Since 1996 I have been fulltime at work in my studio.

Have you always known you wanted to be an artist?

No, although I always enjoyed drawing and things like that. What attracted me most was noticing that, when someone was working on something with utmost concentration, like my father or my mother, they were so relaxed and carefree. I actually liked them best like that. I think it inspired me to create something.

Is it because it gives a kind of relaxation?

Yes, having to be concentrated, a bit closed off, but bringing out the best of yourself as well. At least that is my vision. When you are making art, you will not start an argument with your neighbour. It evokes harmony.

Is that why you choose labour intensive, detailed techniques in your work?

Yes, I do think so. I enjoy spending a long time on my work, because you are building something. You need more concentration, it is more layered. I see it like building a relationship.

I attended your lecture at the Breda’s Museum (during Café Lumière on 24 august). You told about your trip to South America. Why did you go there?

As I indicated during my lecture, I had been interested in Indians for a long time. Ever since I was young I had a fascination for everything to do with South America. I don’t really know exactly why. I have an explanation, but whether it is THE explanation I don’t know. At home we had an album with Portuguese and Spanish texts and songs. I thought it was fantastic. For a child the world is quite cruel and not always fun. The album allowed me to dream away. It became the ultimate exotic area. I was able to project everything on it.

Did you miss anything in Dutch culture?

Yes indeed, beautiful landscapes, warmth.

Warmth, because the people are cold or the climate?

Especially the first, because people are cold. I wanted to be somewhere else. It was a form of escapism. I also didn’t like the Dutch language, let alone the dialect spoken around me. I immediately loved the language on the album. I thought: I have to go there.

Is this feeling specific because of where you grew up?

It had mostly to do with my small world, not as much the place I grew up. Although I must say that when I was older, the Achterhoek was very suffocating. You can’t stand out. You have to be average. The attitude is down to earth and basic. You shouldn’t value beauty much, which I detested of course.

Let’s go back to South America for a while. Is this trip still influencing your work? You indicated you travelled a lot, what were you looking for?

I am always looking for inspiration and I am always very curious about people. When you are abroad you have a totally different view. You look at people differently. Nobody knows me, so I can be a spectator, even more so then here. People know me here, I have a kind of roll here, a position, while when I am travelling I am totally anonymous.
I focus mainly on people. I let their stories inspire me. I prefer to go into peoples homes. By the way, I am always looking for and I am always interested in people living at the bottom of society. It is their stories I want to hear. That is what I want to relate to.
'Ali S.'
Pastel on paper, 150 x 160 cm, 2011 by Cécile Verwaaijen

I understand that your portraits are mostly of immigrants, is that because of it?

I feel like an immigrant myself actually. I came to the Achterhoek from North-Holland as a kind of import. I always felt like an outsider, I didn’t speak the dialect and didn’t understand it. But apart from that I would probably have felt like an immigrant always. There is something inside me that hardly ever gives me the feeling of being part of a larger group. And I probably don’t want to be. At the same time, I am fascinated by those groups. Those Indians were so captivating, because I could identify with them. They were damaged and trampled upon. I wanted, partly because of my upbringing in my childhood, to be connected to people who struggle. I wanted to do something for these people. I wanted to make something for them.

In the history of art only important people had their portrait done. That makes it interesting for me to portrait people that are not important at all in the eyes of society. Therefore I want to portrait them literally really big. Because they are treated with disdain, I put them on a pedestal.
I always travel to areas where people are not well off. I want to connect to those people. People who are doing great don’t do it for me.

Do you think also artists being seen in our society as immigrants?

They are in fact, I think. We find ourselves in a marginal position. Because I choose to be an artist, I feel responsible. Because I choose this position I find it important to do something with it. Of course I get the opportunity to do this in this country. If I had lived in Kenya, I would never have been able to apply myself to my art for 20 years. I would have been a mother of 12 children.
I don’t think that we, artists, have a very good position in the Netherlands, but compared to the rest of the world, we are reasonably well off.

Is there a story that you encountered often with the people that inspired you, something that connects them besides the fact that they live at the bottom of society?

What always connects them is a sense of humour and vitality. That is often hard to find here. They live outside more often, are more social, more sharing. Here, everyone has his own little castle with a wall around it.
Maybe solidarity is what I am always looking for. Another notion nobody uses anymore. It is what I love about developing countries, people share and are involved.

On another subject, Frida Kahlo, we talked about her before. Would you have made her portrait and what is so special about her for you?

Yes, absolutely! Her talent and bravery to be personal, that is what I found most fascinating about Frida Kahlo in the past. The last few years I find her assertiveness really interesting. I am not only speaking about her battle against her disease, but her fight for the ‘indigenas’. I am realising more and more that those two thing go hand in hand. The moment you dare to be personal, you can start to be assertive and visa versa. At least that happened to me. Now that I allow personal aspects into my work, this comes with a kind of assertiveness. So two things, personal and assertive, applying yourself to something bigger than your own life.

This is a fairly new aspect in my work. This battle exposes itself differently for everyone. For you it would become visible or tangible differently from me, fortunately so, because that makes our work different. You also need a number of setbacks in your life in order to feel the anger you need to create. In the past I think I was afraid of that anger, now I embrace it. Now I think, there is such power in it, I can use it. I believe there has to be a necessity to make art.

Typical Dutch (Fries) Sampler, found on Berthi's Weblog

We mentioned the new direction of your work. In your new work you refer to samplers.

I grew up with samplers. My sisters embroidered, I watched for hours. So relaxing. I like the fact that you can put all sorts of things into them. Everyone make their own personal sampler, even though there were rules and regulations within the form. It was of course within a frame. Still the sampler made by my one sister was different from the sampler made by my other sister.

I use a traditional, typical feminine medium with which I refer to history, but I do something totally different. I didn’t want to use it like all those tens of thousands of women in the Netherlands have used it, I turned it into a protest. That is, of course, not the intention at all. You are supposed to show how content and happy you are with your life. A sampler was made in preparation of marriage (more about Samplers in my blogpost 'Sampler vs. Tampan').

I want to tell a story and find materials to do so. I am not an artist who thinks from the material. Working with this I am of course thinking from the material a bit, but content is priority. I have painted with oils for a long time, until that didn’t work anymore. Then in pastels, until both subject and material ware exhausted. Content is priority and that enforces the material upon me.

After making the switch from oil to pastels, I stopped making self portraits. I wanted to show the other. It also had to do with the fact that I became a mother. I literally had no more time to look at myself. I was only busy with the other and found it totally implausible to make self-portraits anymore. In pastels I only made portraits of immigrants, right up to the start of the crisis. We as artists have found things getting worse. Also the way we were portrait in the media. At the start of the interview I said I see myself as an immigrant. At certain stages you feel it stronger than at others. I felt strongly as an immagraint again. This is what it must feel like to be an immigrant, to be kicked out. Go do it yourself, we are not helping you anymore. No protection, no welcome.

That is how I came back to a more personal subject. I really wanted to be saved myself. Nobody saved me of course, that’s life!(laughing)
'Donde estan los 60 milliones de artistas muertos?'
embroidered with wool, 100 x 85 cm, 2012 by Cécile Verwaaijen

More about Cécile Verwaaijen on her website www.cecileverwaaijen.nl. In 2014 her work will be shown in an exhibition at the Noordbrabants Museum in Den Bosch. Her work is in the collection of the Breda's Museum and is often on display there.

October 20, 2012

Batik Statement V

Sometimes you just get knocked of your feet by surpises. Synchronicity is a constant factor in my collaboration with Emmy Dijkstra (see also 'Synchronicity III Tapa'). Not only in our work and what inspires us, but in much more. It is really great to learn more about and from Emmy. We had a really great exhibition in the forest at De Koekoek in Etten-Leur (see www.sabinebolk.nl) and last weekend I went to visit her in Enschede to see her exhibition at Eerst!.
We were at her studio and I was looking around. She got this picture out of her display cabinet: "I don't know if you had seen this picture before, when I saw your Batik pictures, I though you might like this one".
Like doesn't quite cover it, this was exacly what I was hoping for when I started my 'Batik Statements'. This was what I meant with my pattern-pattern-pattern-pattern-works.

The pictures is made in 2006. A stylist asked Emmy to pose for her with her work. Emmy couldn't remember her name, if you recognize this picture, please let me know so I can add your information. In my post 'Big trend' I told about the African Batiks in Emmy's work, like the one she is holding in her hand. For the picture Emmy is wearing a African Batik dress from her mother. The cloth on the floor and in the background are also from her mother. The hat was a present from her sister brought from Cape Verde, the cloth on the floor is also from Cape Verde. The cloth on th background is from Guinea.

What a wonder 'Batik Statement' suprise it is! I already suspected she was a African Batik queen, thanks for sharing!

Got inspired? Get your Batik on! Make a picture of yourself wearing your favorite Batik and send it to me by email or post it on my Facebook wall. For inspiration see the previous 'Batik Statements' (tip: sunny, nice locations, lots of colours and good memories).
On 24 november during the WinterFashionFair at Taman Indonesia I will make during a Batik Fashion Photo-shoot 'Batik Statements' of the visitors in the park. So bring your favorite Batik(clothing) with you! Also an exhibition is made of the 'Batik Statements' with Batiks. For more information, in Dutch, see 'Een reis naar Batik in dierenpark Taman Indonesia'

October 16, 2012

Batik Statement IV

Received this beautiful 'Batik Statement' from Ine WawoRuntu. In September she went with other members of the Stichting Hibiscus to Indonesia.
This photo is taken at Imogiri. Imogiri is a royal graveyard complex in Yogyakarta, in south-central Java, Indonesia, as well as a modern village located near the graveyard in Bantul regency. It is the final resting place of the rulers of Mataram, the 'Soesoehoenans' of Soerakarta, the sultans of Jogjakarta other Javanese noblemen. The name is from Sanskrit and means 'snow mountain' or 'Himalajah'.

The most important graves are from Sultan Agung (the first Sultan of Mataram, later divided in Yogyakarta and Surakarta) and Hamengkubuwono IX. The last ruler laid to rest at Imogiri is Soesoehoenan Pakoeboewono XII of Surakarta in 2004.

The lovely ladies in the picture are wearing 'dodot', traditional Javanese clothing.
Thank you for sharing this wonderful 'Batik Statement' with us!

Got inspired? Get your Batik on! Make a picture of yourself wearing your favorite Batik and send it to me by email or post it on my Facebook wall. For inspiration see the previous 'Batik Statements' (tip: sunny, nice locations, lots of colours and good memories).
On 24 november during the WinterFashionFair at Taman Indonesia I will make during a Batik Fashion Photo-shoot 'Batik Statements' of the visitors in the park. So bring your favorite Batik(clothing) with you! Also an exhibition is made of the 'Batik Statements' with Batiks. For more information, in Dutch, see 'Een reis naar Batik in dierenpark Taman Indonesia'

October 10, 2012

From Gold to Prada

As promised, I went to see the exhibition 'Gold from Java - Silver from Batavia'. The items on display were created by the best craftsmen from Indonesia during the pre-colonial Javanese court culture (0-1500 AD) and in Batavia in the 17th and 18th centuries for functionaries of the Dutch East India Company (VOC).

The silver is interesting to see. It is full typical Dutch preferences of what was considered pretty or fashion. A great example are the 'plooischotels'. These silver dishes were made after an example populair in Europe. They were much more extravagant then the original. With an oriental translation of the Dutch flower border filled with angels, masks and palmettes.
Also beautifully decorated Sirih or betel boxes with matching spit bowl made for western residents of Batavia. They are intimately associated with the indigenous habit of betel-chewing, which was widely adopted by the Dutch community. It was a part of receiving guests and was considered an insult when guests refused it.
The gold is much more spectacular. The mystical power of gold was used in this jewellery to attract good luck and protect the wearer against the forces of evil. Most pieces are really small, but so full of detail. The silver fades next to it. Its not just a ring or an earring, they are a Hindu temples, a godlike bumblebee, a scary looking mask. Small sculptures made with such a great craft.
The exhibition is small, but its a feast for the eyes. 'Gold from Java - Silver from Batavia' till 4 November at the Gemeentenmuseum Den Haag.

We were in luck, because there was much much more to see. Like the exhibition 'Happy Days -Art in the Hague 1947 - 1967'. The Happy Days exhibition is designed to showcase the rich cultural life of a city in which major figures like Paul Verhoeven, Jan Cremer and Paul van Vliet began their careers in the cultural arena of the Posthoorn gallery, Pulchri Studio and art dealers Boucher. So in short fun, fun, fun! Raw art, next to high fashion. And apparently one of my favorite artist, Yayoi Kusama, was quite one of the family. 'Happy Days' is till 20 January 2013 at the Gemeentenmuseum Den Haag.
Dress in New Look style made op parachute fabric, Dutch East Indies around 1947
Macaroni shirt by Yayoi Kusama, 1965
Polka Dots room by Yayoi Kusama

Also the exhibition 'Fabulous Fifties, Fabulous Fashion' started Saturday. Yes, I'm also hooked on Mad Men and its great to see so much Betty and Joan dresses in one space! Nice combination of real dresses from the fifties and new inspired by the fifties fashion like the Prada collection. A real must see and for the boyfriends there a little-Marilyn Monroe-and-Jayne Mansfield-Pin-up exhibition next to it! 'Fabulous Fifties, Fabulous Fashion' till 3 february 2013 at the Gemeentenmuseum Den Haag.
We ended our great day at the Gemeentemuseum by saying hello to Edith (by Egon Schiele) and went back to Breda.

October 7, 2012

Put It In A Love Song

edbe 'Love Is In The Air'***

Sometimes I miss some new developments in Batik, because I read so much about the history. I noticed that African batik (and prints) is getting very popular. First in the Fashion industry, read about it in my post 'Big trend' from January 2011. The trend really exploded ever since Beyoncé went on Holiday wearing a Dries Van Noten, Ikat printed blouse on a Vlisco '8 bougies' short, I spotted African batik everywhere.

I kept a close eye on what Vlisco was doing (tip: sign in on their newsletter and get great inspiration on what to do with your Batik fabrics) and I started following some pages on Facebook. Great one is African Fashion , full of beautiful pictures of beautiful African women wearing beautiful creations of African Batik!

Not only African batik is doing well, Batik from Indonesia is also becoming more popular. Last year they ask designers to show their batik collections at the World Batik Summit at the Jakarta Convention Center. This was part of the special events organized around Batik Day.

The 'Love Is In The Air' collection by Eddy Betty really caught my eye. **“Batik is not all about formal wear and evening dresses,” fashion designer Eddy Betty said. “The textile can also be made into something fun and exciting.”.
Eddy Betty created this ready to wear collection, with Batik skinny jeans and other easy to combine items of clothing. His collection on the catwalk is so much fun to see. ** Its a bright, unconventional, combination of traditional batik motifs of lereng and parang collided with fun, playful patterns of yellow rubber ducks, Russian matryoshka dolls and bouncing balls.

“The batik was all done by women living in villages on the slopes of Mount Merapi,” the 41-year-old designer said. After last year’s deadly eruption (october 2010) that destroyed most of their crops and livestock, many of the villages around the volcano in Central and Yogyakarta had no means of income.
Some of the wives and daughters in the villages have taken on batik-making to earn a living for their families, while a nongovernmental organization has been teaching women to draw on batik.
“I just gave them my sketches and asked them to replicate them on the fabric,” Eddy said. “They’re not perfect. Yet, it’s exactly what makes batik so enchanting.”

This makes the collection even more beautiful. My dear friend and inspiring Batik expert William Kwan told me about these project. Since 2000 he started up different projects, IPI, on Java to restore, rebuild and research the Batik culture. In October 2009 I had the honor of meeting William Kwan and I visit one of is projects in Jeruk (see blogpost 'Jeruk'). It was the most beautiful and inspiring place I visited during my Journey to Batik!
The Merapi batik projects have been conducted in Sleman (Eddy Betty cs), Boyolali (guided by a university in Solo) and Magelang (trained firstly by IPI and continued by the people of Sirahan village, one of the most damaged village caused by the flood of lava).

In September Eddy Betty released a new collection. This time inspired on the Ikat culture of Indonesia. His collection was shown in the Harper's Bazaar Indonesia with a great photo-shoot. Hope to shop me some edbe clothing one day! Enjoy the pictures!
edbe 'Love Is In The Air'***
edbe 'Love Is In The Air'***
edbe 'Love Is In The Air'***
edbe 'Love Is In The Air'***
edbe 'Love Is In The Air'***
edbe 'Love Is In The Air'***
edbe 'Love Is In The Air'***
From Harper's Bazaar Indonesia, september 2012
From Harper's Bazaar Indonesia, september 2012
From Harper's Bazaar Indonesia, september 2012

More about Eddy Betty on www.eddybettycouture.com

* titel blogpost 'Put It In A Love Song' from single Alicia Keys Ft. Beyoncé. In the video clip, which unfortunately never has been released, they wear all kind of beautiful African batik outfits.
** from Jakarta Globe article 'Designers Make the Nation’s Batik Chic'
*** photos from Eddy Betty's 'Love Is In The Air' runwayshow from VIVAnews/Febry Abdinnah and Mohammad Abduh/Wolipop

October 4, 2012


The Batik day website, www.batikday.com, is really starting become an interesting platform for Batik. See also this interview with Indonesia's Minister of Tourism and Culture Mari Elka Pangestu. The interviewer Shinta Dhanuwardoyo is wearing a beautiful sarong by Iwan Tirta. Maybe Batik is no longer a forgotten industry, but is starting to become a blooming business again!

Saturday I try to visit the exhibition 'Gold from Java - Silver from Batavia' at the Gemeentemuseum in Den Haag, looking forward to it, I'll keep you posted!

October 2, 2012

Happy Batik-day!

And today is also my birthday! Made two new Batik statements for you!
In the first one I'm wearing a really beautiful seventies dress from my mother. On it the very special heart shaped belt by Vlisco. The best engagement ring a girl can wish for, thanks Koen!

On the second picture I'm wearing a Batik from my mothers Batik collection. Hopefully we get some more sunny days this fall and I will try to make some more!

Go for more Batik day fun to www.batikday.com!

Got inspired? Get your Batik on! Make a picture of yourself wearing your favorite Batik and send it to me by email or post it on my Facebook wall. For inspiration see the previous "Batik Statements" or check out photos from fashion-bloggers and in fashion-magazines (tip: sunny, nice locations, lots of colours and good memories).
If you're not sure if your favorite patterned fabric is a Batik, don't hesitate to share. Maybe it's printed, or with the same technique as Batik, just tell me why you like this pattern and add a detail picture so I can find out what kind of fabric it is! Looking forward to your Batik fashion statements!