Wendelien van Oldenborgh
Artist page — 2 Sep 2020
In the Presence of Absence, the bi-annual show of proposals for the museum collection, presents 23 artists (collectives). This artist page includes a text on the work and an artist contribution.
Prologue: Squat/Anti-Squat (2016) is a film installation in two parts. The film was shot in Amsterdam in the Tripolis office building, which was designed by the architect Aldo van Eyck. In this building, Wendelien van Oldenborgh gathers together a group of individuals from different generations who all have a background in activism and/or architecture. Several of them are members of the University of Colour, the collective that in 2015 was involved in the student occupation of the University of Amsterdam’s Maagdenhuis building and pressed for the decolonization of the university’s curriculum. The film shows the group talking with one another as they explore the empty Tripolis building. The topics of conversation range from the changing views on housing and property to the issues surrounding decolonization, diversity, and racism. Van Oldenborgh always selects the locations for her films with great care—they are themselves characters, ones that expresses themselves and that represent a specific ideological stance. Van Eyck’s architecture asks how we can learn together, coexist, and cohabitate.
Prologue: Squat/Anti-Squat also spotlights a large squatting action in the Bijlmer district of Amsterdam in the 1970s by a group of Dutch-Caribbean activists. After having remained empty for many years, the Tripolis building was squatted in 2016, by the activist refugee collective We Are Here. Both squatting actions expose the problems associated with housing, and municipal policy related to it.
With Tirza Balk, Abel Blom, Hellen Felter, Quinsy Gario, Roel Griffioen, Gina Lafour, Lucien Lafour, Juanita Lalji, Khadija al Mourabit, Max de Ploeg, André Reeder, and Kees Visser.
Wendelien van Oldenborgh (b. 1962) studied at Goldsmiths College, University of London. Exhibitions of her work have been staged at CA2M in Madrid, The Showroom in London, and Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam. In 2017 she represented the Netherlands at the 57th Venice Biennale. Van Oldenborgh won the 2014 Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for Art and the 2011 Hendrik Chabot Prize.
Prologue: Squat/Anti-Squat (2016)
At the center of the film work Prologue: Squat/Anti-Squat is an episode of migration in the 1970s from former Dutch colonies, particularly from Suriname, to the Netherlands. “Wave,” “engulfed,” and “flooded” were words used by the media at the time to describe this immigration. We are seeing the same terms used in recent years for people fleeing war, violence, and ongoing destruction in the Middle East and Africa.
This period of migration in the 1970s was also a period when squatting of buildings was used as a political tool against property speculation in cities, unfair housing policies, city renewal plans, and generally bad living conditions for various groups in society.
Against this backdrop, more than one hundred flats were squatted by a Caribbean Dutch group of activists between 1974 and 1976. The main aim of the actions was to house people who upon arrival in the Netherlands needed a home but were generally being directed towards exploitative boarding houses. The squatted flats were located in two buildings within a huge newly finished housing project called the Bijlmermeer. The housing cooperations had difficulties finding occupants for the flats, but the newly arriving families were not allowed to rent these flats because of racist housing policies. Marxist anti-racist groups like the LOSON (Landelijk Overleg van Surinaamse Organisaties in Nederland), as well as other squatting movements in the city of Amsterdam such as the Nieuwmarkt squatters, supported the occupation of these buildings.
This large-scale squat in the Bijlmer took place at a time when squatting was a prominent form of resistance in the major cities of the Netherlands. In Amsterdam, this history has now become a part of the city’s identity. However, the squat in the Bijlmer by and for Caribbean Dutch is barely mentioned in the vast amount of literature that exists around the phenomenon. The squatters conjured up in public memory are generally politically motivated young, white, middle-class people who acted against the prevailing structures.
In Prologue: Squat/Anti-Squat, the history of the Bijlmer squat is associated with two recent squatting and occupation actions. First, there was the occupation of the Maagdenhuis in 2015 by students of the University of Amsterdam, which among other things resulted in the founding of the University of Colour. The UoC, which seeks greater diversity among the faculty and staff of the UvA as well as changes in the curriculum, also wanted to increase awareness of existing discriminatory tendencies within the protest movement itself. A second moment leads to the group of rejected asylum seekers named “We Are Here,” which, like the Surinamese immigrants forty years ago, are looking for housing. Additionally, they also campaign for the simple right to exist. With the help of the still-active Amsterdam squatter movement this group occupied various buildings, including the Tripolis building in March 2016 where the filming took place. They were evicted time and time again but there were no major riots like those in the 70s and 80s that accompanied these evictions.
Background reading and viewing
- The film Onderneming Onderdak (1982) by André Reeder
- Miguel Heilbron, “‘Niet voor Surinamers.’ Amsterdam sloot complete wijken voor niet-witte Nederlanders” (2017)
- Miguel Heilbron, “Zwartboek: Segregatie in Amsterdam en de rol van discriminerend ‘spreidingsbeleid’ door de gemeente in de jaren ’70” (2017)
- Deanne Dadusc on “We Are Here”
- University of Colour
- Wendelien van Oldenborgh, “Asset as Set: Filmmaking in Relation to a Certain Realness of Site” (2018)