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10.04.2018 |
After a winter break, Het Klaslokaal returns with a brand new trilogy on Art, Politics and Activism. Every edition, a different discours in modern art is discussed. Please note that classes are in English.

We asked the the initiator, Léon Kruijswijk some questions on the series. 

Q) Could you please explain why you chose these three topics – especially since the field of research is immense. Please elaborate a bit on every topic.


The field of contemporary visual art indeed is immense, but I think anyone working within it has his/her/their own specific interest. I personally feel a need to stay connected to humanity and society, as art has the ability to show you a new, alternative perspective on certain issues or histories. However, this does not mean I cannot enjoy a work of art because of its sheer beauty. 

During the first class I will tell more about artists who take issues relating to war and conflict as a recurrent theme within their practice. If you ask me why I find this interesting, I think I would have to go back to my childhood. When on holiday, my parents used to take my siblings and me quite often to sites relating to WWI or WWII. I still go to such sites when I am visiting a country that has been at war in modern times, for example in Bosnia, Poland, Vietnam and Cambodia. While studying art history, I came across intriguing artworks dealing with war and conflict, and there you go, two personal interests meet. 

The second class’ theme (The Body, Gender & Identity) is an obvious one as it relates to my previous lecture trilogy on modern and contemporary queer art practices. However, the angle will be different which allows me to also discuss feminist art practices for example. Yep, I am a feminist. 

The third theme on (New) Media interests me because it is ever topical. A couple of artists have been able to visualise the crazy flow and pace of imagery and information in our digital, post-Internet era. This is apparent in installations by Ryan Trecartin and Hito Steyerl, among others. These installations I found truly mesmerising. 

Q) In your introduction you mention the world-renowned, modernist painting Guernica by Pablo Picasso. Why is this a classic example of political engagement in art?

A) Guernica depicts the bombing of Guernica, a Basque Country village in northern Spain, during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). The bombing was done by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italian warplanes at the request of the Spanish Nationalists. It is a large, monumental painting measuring 3,49 x 7,76 m that has been exhibited throughout Europe and North America right after completion in 1937. Through this monumental, traveling painting, Picasso successfully drew attention to the horrors of the Spanish Civil War that was still taking place and made the suffering of the people visible to a large audience.

Q) What criteria does a work of art need to meet to be qualified as engaging or activist?

A) Good question. There is not really a clear distinction that can be made. When an artist addresses a socio-political issue in order to question, criticise or represent it I would consider it engaged art. Some of the artists I will discuss would identify as activist, but not all of them. This leads to the questions: what do we consider activism today? Protesting on the streets? Posting your opinion on Facebook? Correcting your friend when using a racist word? Wanting to make changes in the world? I think it all is a matter of context. Within the arts field, most of the artists I selected do show activist characteristics by striving for improvement on a specific cause. 

Q) Could you name a recent example in which a form of art actually made a large political difference? For the better, but does this also happen for worse?

A) The Dutch artist Jonas Staal started the New World Summit, which is an artistic and political organisation that explores the space of art to develop parliaments for stateless states, autonomist groups and blacklisted political organisations. Between 2015 and now, the New World Summit for example collaborated with people from Rojava, a de facto autonomous government in Northern Syria, to design and produce a new public parliament and an international summit in the region. In this way, the project aimed to advance the process of democratisation of stateless people. 

Historically, it did happen for the worse. You can think about the strong Nazi visual culture used for propaganda purposes to create a new world. The Nazis deployed art as tool to convey their ideology. 

Q) Is there anything you can announce?

In the first class I will discuss works by the Amsterdam-based artist Ronald Ophuis. He will also be present to answer some questions from the audience and me.  In all classes I will touch upon highly interesting artistic practices with a lot of images and videos, as well as suggestions on where to go see these artworks. I hope the visitors will go home with tons of inspiration. 


– Tickets for Het Klaslokaal: Art, Politics & Activism by Léon Kruijswijk are still available online (link) and at the door.
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