Spirits of the Soil | Stedelijk Museum | Amsterdam | 2018
The Stedelijk Museum dedicates six galleries to the exhibition Spirits of the Soil by Raquel van Haver. Especially for this exhibition Van Haver will produce a new series of monumental paintings. The exhibition at the Stedelijk is Van Haver's first solo exhibition at an Amsterdam museum.
Raquel van Haver (1989, Bogotá, Colombia) refers to her work as ‘loud’ paintings that sympathetically portray people on the fringes of society.
FAVELAS, BARRIOS AND SLUMS
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. Raquel van Haver was recently awarded the Dutch Royal Award for Modern Painting 2018.
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.
"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 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 drinks. 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.
"Eating and drinking is the main connecting factor in these communities. The meal is the moment when everyone comes together and exchanges news, and when the social order is established." — Raquel van Haver
Photos of artworks by Gert Jan de Rooij