News — 25 Oct 2018

The exhibition Spirits of the Soil opens on 25 November, featuring work by Raquel van Haver (1989, Bogotá, Colombia). Van Haver has created a new series of monumental paintings especially for the Stedelijk Museum, including the gigantic painting We Don’t Sleep As We Parade All Through The Night (4 by 9 meters). In a raw, expressive style, her latest work captures her experiences in the Bijlmermeer Amsterdam, where she lives and works, and reflects on her stay in the 'barrios' and 'favelas' in megacities such as those found in Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America. Van Haver refers to her work as ‘loud’ paintings in which she emphasizes the similarities between groups of people, with empathy for groups on the fringes of society. Raquel van Haver was recently awarded the Dutch Royal Award for Modern Painting 2018. 

Raquel van Haver, Change the Rhythm of the Dancehall… It’s Still the Same Groove, 2018. Oil on burlap, homemade paint, cardboard, tar, plastic, charcoal, chalk, gel, resin, hair, posters, paper, beer caps, beads. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Wim Hanenberg

With her raw, narrative and figurative style of painting, Van Haver challenges the Euro-American canon. Her imagery is nurtured by art from ‘other’ regions and with that she tells ‘other’ stories. Although the format of her canvases is reminiscent of history painting, her compositions do not depict the exploits of figures from the west. At the heart of her work are the ‘spirits of the soil’, the central figures in the histories of colonialism, imperialism, migration and diaspora.

— exhibition curator Martijn van Nieuwenhuyzen

The new ensemble of paintings Spirits of the Soil originated in a journey that Van Haver made in 2017 to Lagos, Nigeria at the invitation of the African Artists Foundation. There, she immersed herself in the marginal communities of the metropolis with the aim of collecting stories and images that, later in her paintings, will merge with images from other communities she visited. Van Haver established friendships with the 'area boys' in Lagos Island: loosely organized gangs of teenagers and street children. She photographed and sketched life in these social spaces, revealing how interaction revolves around meal times, when people come together to chill out, chat, swap news, and connect.

Back in Amsterdam, the photos and drawings provide the basis for a new sequence of figurative compositions entitled Spirits of the Soil in which the artist interweaves experiences from Amsterdam (Zuidoost), Zimbabwe, Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba, London and other places. The paintings are characterized by a highly specific sense of form and a great material complexity. They are monumental, collage-like constructs painted layer over layer on burlap with gypsum, oil paint, spray paint, plastics, charcoal, tar, paper, ashes, and hair. Some parts of the image surface appear almost molded and transform into reliefs, while adjacent areas are marked by a sparseness very similar to drawing. 

Photo: Martijn van Nieuwenhuyzen

The exhibition Spirits of the Soil opens with an introductory gallery presenting photo collages Van Haver made in 2017 during the Lagos Festival, followed by a sequence of four gallery spaces, each featuring a large, new painting. The exhibition reaches its apotheosis in a huge space in which the central painting is embedded in a spatial installation: We Don’t Sleep As We Parade All Through The Night, 2018. This colossal painting measuring 4 by 9 meters, deftly blends the imagery from all the previous galleries. Loosely modelled on Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, the composition portrays a group of people seated at a table spread with food and drink. The central company around the table fans out into flanking scenes of people eating, drinking, and playing cards. The architecture of the painted neighborhood – informal and decidedly homespun – unfurls into a spatial installation with wooden partitions, steps and elevations.

Van Haver usually works in a tiny ground floor studio in one of the Bijlmer’s classic sixties style apartment blocks. Last year, to create her centerpiece We Don’t Sleep As We Parade All Through The Night, she was invited to work in a large space in the studio of the National Opera & Ballet. The studio was provided to her by the Dutch National Opera & Ballet, on the recommendation of CBK Zuidoost. Since 2001, the Stedelijk Museum and CBK Zuidoost have been partners in the BijlmAIR residency program, which gives young international artists the opportunity to work in Amsterdam Zuidoost.

Spirits of the Soil is the latest presentation in an exhibition program in which the Stedelijk highlights multiple perspectives, different aesthetic frameworks and diverse histories. Previous exhibitions in this Stedelijk series include solos by Zanele Muholi (1972, Umlazi, Durban), Carlos Motta (Bogotá, 1978), Nalini Malani (1946, Karachi) and the Indonesian artists’ collective Tromarama.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a publication with an essay by Azu Nwagbogu, executive director and chief curator of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town and a foreword by Martijn van Nieuwenhuyzen, curator at the Stedelijk Museum. The publication is designed by, a creative studio in Amsterdam Zuidoost. €32,50, ISBN 9789050062046, English and Dutch.
The exhibition Raquel van Haver – Spirits of the Soil opens in conjunction with the show Freedom of Movement Municipal Art Acquisitions 2018 during Amsterdam Art Weekend 2018.

The exhibition Raquel van Haver – Spirits of the Soil is generously supported by Ammodo, the AFK (Amsterdam Fund for the Arts) and Stadsdeel Zuidoost. The Mondriaan Fund contributed to the artist’s wage through the Experimental Regulations.

The exhibition is part of the 50 Jaar Bijlmer manifestation, with support from CBK Zuidoost


The Stedelijk Museum regularly presents dynamic solo exhibitions by a young generation of artists. Many of these are new productions and recent purchases that tie in with the museum’s acquisitions policy. The Stedelijk seeks to respond to current events and stimulate contemporary talent by, in some cases, also taking on the position of commissioner. Its commitment to developing lasting relationships with young artists shapes the future identity of the museum’s collection.

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