The only thing separating us from each other are six simple handshakes. So, you know someone, who knows someone and before you know it your fist bumping Barack Obama. As a figure of speech of course. But it’s true. Everybody is connected in some way or another. Yesterday I discovered my connection to an artist of whom I didn’t know who he was or that his work had crossed my path more than once.
Being shot in Milan
The first time was Milan, 2006. I found this picture, shot in Paris, one of the ultimate signs of freedom, pasted on a wall. I love street art and Milan is full of it. When seeing this picture from a distance, I thought the guy was pointing a gun at whoever dared to mock him. Only when I came closer did I see that he was holding a camera. Instead of holding someone captured he was merely capturing their image which is, oddly enough, one of the ultimate signs of freedom. It was one of those moments which confronted me with stereotypes I didn’t know I had. We all have stereotypical ideas. They only become bad when we stay unaware of the fact that we have them. Ever since, this image has been one of my favorite photographs which, unfortunately, never seems to lose relevance.
Being watched in Nairobi
The second time was Kenya, 2010. When I went to Kenya to study the effects of cultural differences on aid effectiveness, I heard about this amazing art project in the Kibera slums in Nairobi. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to see the project properly but I did catch a glimpse when I rode the train from Nairobi to Mombasa. I love the idea of giving eyes to those who are often the ones being watched. Both by the eyes of tourists as by the scapegoat perception of locals and authority. Over the years, Kibera has become a true tourist attraction. Of course, this brings opportunities but it is also a bit shameless to go and watch ’the poor people’. Now, with their lively stares reaching all the way up to space, they will always win the staring contest.
Being informed by TED
The third time was TED, 2016. Last night I spend my evening watching TEDtalks to find some writing inspiration. After scrolling through the video’s for a while, a came across a video called: “My wish: Use art to turn the world inside out”. I personally love art as a form of communication or education if you will.
The video showed a presentation by a French artist called JR who uses the streets as his canvas. By exhibiting his photographs on the streets, he brings art to unexpected places. Triggering conversations about freedom, identity, justice and so on. In the video, he talks about the wonder and confusion he encountered while working on a project in Monrovia, Liberia. It reminded me of what I considered signs of true poverty while living in Kenya. It was never the lack of money, resources or facilities. It was a combination of how people are portrayed to the outside world and a lack of artistic input and skills from the locals. People are creative, very creative in fact, but they are not artistic. Of course, there are always exceptions but there were less artistic outlets then I had seen in other countries.
I found the true poverty of Kenya to be the lack of ability to think outside the box. Which to me, is the true sign of an artistic mind. How can anyone improve their situation if they can not see beyond the borders of their own restrictions?
Seeing is not the same as watching – a personal note
When you are looking at something you can define what it is you see, you can register it without really seeing it. Before studying psychology and working for an NGO in Kenya, I studied graphics & photography at the academy of art in The Hague. Although I loved studying there, I found it not to be the right direction for me. But the most important thing it taught me, of which I will forever be grateful, is to see. It helped me to truly see the world, which is a privilege that reaches far beyond just acknowledging its existence.
I believe everybody needs art in one way or another. Not just in the form of fancy galleries and museums but in everyday life. As a trigger to question situations and to invite people to examine the things they tolerate.