News — 10 Jul 2017

Last Saturday, the South African writer/filmmaker Sibahle Nkumbi was injured after a push and a severe fall down a steep staircase when she was forcibly ejected from an Air BnB apartment. The artist and three of her colleagues had been invited by South African artist Zanele Muholi to work with her in Amsterdam and to attend the opening of Muholi’s exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum on Friday evening.

We are appalled and deeply distressed by what happened here. No one should have to experience such horrendous treatment. On Saturday, four of our colleagues went to see Sibahle in hospital, and stayed at her side. Later that night, the exhibition curator took Sibahle to another location, the Thami Mnyele Foundation artists residency, and checked in on her again Monday morning.

It’s hard to believe that this is happening now, of all times – on the eve of Zanele’s exhibition. Her work focuses on the black, lesbian and transgender community in South Africa, and chronicles the reality they face – living in a homophobic society, they spend every day of their lives in the shadow of horrendous violence.

The Stedelijk has long offered a podium to art that challenges society and its norms. In mid-September, the work of Colombian artist Carlos Motta, will go on display. Motta’s exhibit presents video portraits of LHBTQI refugees. Later in September, in the collection presentation I am a Native Foreigner, the Stedelijk opens another show that confronts different facets of migration, western views of refugees, and the Dutch colonial past.

It’s easy to think that, in a country like the Netherlands – which has long been known as a tolerant nation – these discussions and issues no longer need to be addressed. But this incident hammers home an unpalatable truth: this kind of thinking is still rampant and we need to tackle it head-on, however painful and confrontational that may be. The last few days have shown us how rapidly people take sides. Groups – for and against – have sprung up. Social media’s exploding with responses – everything from ‘don’t be so emotional, get over it’ to ‘this is out-and-out racism’.

This weekend, the mud’s going to fly, and we’re sure to get the worst of it. Given the responses we’ve seen, we know we must go on challenging the way we perceive others – discrimination and racism still need to be fought. And we will never stop addressing these themes.

For the moment, our energies are focused on supporting the victim, and keeping a close eye on the case. We wish Sibahle Nkumbi a full, and speedy, recovery.