A pedestal for everyone(Winning article Hans Baaij Essay prize 2012, edited for Vrij Nederland, May 2013), 31.05.2013
Spring 2012. A few young people hang out by an inland waterway on the Rotterdam Feijenor Island, in a sleepy neighborhood. Fat gulls are a reminder that a city harbor was once active here, now only a pancake boat sails past in the distance. A woman is reading in her garden on the Brightness Square, probably with difficulty. Because a few meters away, fat beatboxes are set up, the music physically thunders through the stone walls between the stamp-sized gardens. The lyrics are even louder than the decibels: “I grew up in peace and quiet, without any problems. But life on the street kept taking my breath away. I was introduced to jealousy and hatred. I don't have any friends, that's a phenomenon for me that doesn't exist for me. ” The cynical rap lyrics are by mc Brightness after which the square is named and which act as work vitamins on this unusually warm Saturday at the end of May. The Brightness Square is full of building materials for a job day, bottles of orange juice are ready to compensate for the sweat.
The local residents let the noise come over them, mc Clarity itself is only present in memory. In 2004, he died unexpectedly in his sleep, aged just 25. He left his lyrics to his rap group De Tuigcommissie. They are about how hard life is but that you have to face your problems. Feijenoord is a harsh world where art - read urban culture - is a way to make your voice heard, to stand out from the crowd. Art, as in rap, graffiti, video clips, poetry, is a necessity.
Brightness mother, Joany Muskiet, had no idea, rather she thought her son had gone down the wrong path. "Then bring it up positively," she responded concerned when he told him to become a rapper. He did. After his death, she discovered that his critical texts had an exemplary function in the youth community in Rotterdam South and beyond. “I opened my doors and a lot of boys came by. That's how I discovered what he had meant to young people. ” 'Hear every lesson for a reason and ignore folly' - the initial letters of this edifying sentence form the word clarity, the pseudonym under which Breyten Mosquito rapped about street life.
Street life is now doing something in return for Brightness. Last year, fans started decorating the Brightness Square together with his mother, cultural foundation Zuidzijde and community workers. A few years earlier, the square had been renamed with the help of local politicians whose agenda it fit. It turned out to be a questionable tribute: firstly, 'square' is already a big word for this row of parking spaces, and rubbish is also dumped.
The politicians concerned had already lifted their heels, so fans and Breytens mother decided to set up a Brightness group. He has since organized an annual rap festival with a Helderheidbokaal, a designer designed with them a grand monument, complete with built-in stage, grandstands and meeting places. Construction started on that hot spring day in 2012: graffiti artists sprayed a piece, others built on the stage, the heat made no difference to anyone. Art can take some effort. The beat boxes were on, music rumbling about Brightness tribute under construction. A monument, a work of art. There is no more beautiful and honorable than art. Justice. It is a promise for the future: in a year's time we will be able to review the current situation.
Brightness is a nice name for a rapper in South Rotterdam, a district that has been built up through the clear line. Clarity was also an ideal that the planners had in mind when they sat down at the table in 1946 to restore the ruins of the port city. Forward, on to the future, they draw the first lines with a precise pen - of staggered street corners with uniform rows of façades. The aesthetics of the visual arts were leading. The planners who went to work immediately after the liberation had been trained at the Bauhaus and related circles, where the clear lines of Mondrian and Van Doesburg had ensured that geometric compositions served as a blueprint for a harmonious world. Functional and businesslike, that's how Rotterdam is known, not as the work of art that it is.
The XNUMXs were a decade of ideologies - political as well as artistic. This artistic idealism was reflected on the Rotterdam drawing tables, when the street plans of Zuid were drawn: axial structures with alternating horizontals and verticals, mass versus emptiness, like paintings by Mondrian. In this way, art was built into the city to become part of the DNA. Those post-war construction drawings contained suggestions for bright color accents that did not materialize - even then there was a lack of money - but sixty years later in an unexpected way: the monument for Brightness consists of a pattern of white and orange squares, designed by a Rotterdam design office with the remarkable name De Stijlgroep.
Rotterdam commemorates its designers with respect. Not far from the Helderheidplein, the street names refer to the proponents of the harmony of sixty years ago: the reconstruction architects have been immortalized in the neat streets and squares behind the Kop van Zuid Courthouse. This is also South but another South, more center, more grandeur, more promise. No dirt is dumped here.
Claiming a street name is one of the ways to commemorate and the pressure on such public memorial functions is growing. Because of civilian lobbies, the number of monuments for ordinary people is increasing, especially in the working class city of Rotterdam. Cors Bloot, a community worker in Hoogvliet, Edo Fimmen, a trade unionist in Katendrecht, Kane-Lee Ricardo Rustveld, a traffic victim whose family wanted more than a temporary roadside monument. Sometimes the applicants for a work of art broaden the demand. At the Maas Tunnel, a work of art is situated between the passing traffic that commemorates all traffic victims. Migrant groups lobbied for a guest worker monument on Afrikaanderplein, while other groups want to commemorate their past with a slavery memorial. This boat-cum-musical note, built of ship's steel, rises between the creative industry in the former city harbors, where 'industrial steel is turning into cultural steel', according to city philosopher Henk Oosterling - a development to which the musical Brightness group also testifies.
These works of art tell life stories of a rapper, a traffic victim, a guest worker. Naval heroes and stadholders are left behind. The monument business is now in the hands of ordinary people, who sometimes - literally and figuratively - want to stand on a pedestal. This development gives the makers - artists, designers - a new task: the autonomous freedom of art is no longer placed on a pedestal. They have to make art subservient to the common man. Most notable in this new line of outdoor sculptures is the monument to the Giant of Rotterdam, erected in 2011: a man whose only feat was his height. He was bullied with this during his life, so that this work of art in fact functions as a monument to the underdog. It is designed as a house with a similar image of 2,38 meters in size. This way you can stand next to him on the pedestal, very close, very normal, nothing more than another.
The artwork for the Reus is a way to be right. Yes, we too get art, we too, ordinary people who had nothing to do with government art that, moreover, became more and more abstract after the war, taking the side of a subdued city and not of the human dimension. At the City Initiative, a municipal competition, there was a Tribute to the Rotterdammers in the running last year: a plan to have the names of all city dwellers light up in turns on the lift bridge.
All these new works of art have one thing in common: they are citizens' initiatives, born out of a desire for justice. With a monument to every niche - dockers, migrants, rappers - there is ultimately a plinth for everyone. It is no coincidence that a symposium will be devoted in June to the question of how Rotterdam should deal with its enormously grown sculpture collection. It is not surprising that art is emerging precisely in Rotterdam through citizen participation. After all, it was in the city of Pim Fortuyn where populism emerged. Populist or individualist - the view that everyone is equal is louder than ever in the working-class city of Rotterdam. This political development is accompanied by this art, a reflection of a political landslide in the Netherlands, and a harbinger of what awaits art in the rest of the country.
For example in Feijenoord, reason to take a look again a year after the start. On paper, the Brightness Monument is and will remain an ambitious project, where art and design are widely supported. Where every year, no doubt, crowds of people come from all over the country: young people, for whom art is a must but a different art from that of the professional visual artists - who were just as absent as the politicians at the opening in May. It looked beautiful on paper: the Brightness Monument as a statement of visibility, in bold shapes and bright colors, the visual language of modernism.
But paper and reality do not always overlap. The Helderheidplein is located behind the Nijverheidstraat, which reminds in name of the activity of the port when the port was still flourishing. In May 2013 there are hopeful building boards in the void, just like after the war, and the Unilever building with two giant pots of Calvé peanut butter as a kind of unintended pop art sculpture.
The Brightness Square looks like it got stuck in good intentions again. The stage is there, but no monument, no gathering places. “We are not finished with the square yet,” says Joany Muskiet, “and are continuing to look for sponsors for the monument”. Herman van Wamelen of the Zuidzijde Foundation also emphasizes that patience is needed: “These things take time. At first nobody knew the Brightness group, now they are surfacing. ”
However, the parking spaces have concrete sleepers with Trespa hammered on them, the building material that has given Rotterdam urban development a bad name. The sleepers are a kind of seating in front of the stage that is little more than a small elevation. However, the square is regularly packed, both during the week and at the weekend. Mothers with buggies, loiterers, community workers trying to tame noisy schoolchildren. They sing and draw with sources of inspiration: throughout the area the name Brightness pops off in swinging graffiti letters from walls and fences.
In this sense, this small monument is nevertheless a success. And the Helderheidgroep is making progress in more areas. This year Joany Muskiet and the rappers were guests in literary café Chekhov and youth gallery RAAF and in the multi-arts festival Motel Mozaïekque in the center. Two rappers from the Helderheidgroep, Stryder and Gaza, release albums and have a growing audience.
But they don't just want a foot in the door in the cultural world. Van Wamelen hopes that the group will be able to connect with the National Program Rotterdam South: the multi-million investment from the government to get Rotterdam South out of the doldrums under the leadership of top civil servant Marco Pastors. “The national program and the Brightness Group have the same ideals: fighting youth unemployment, combating crime, developing talent,” says Van Wamelen. “They should fit one on one. In theory."
But there is a gap between government goals and the daily lives of troubled youth, about which 'so much policy has already been poured out', as Van Wamelen says. The Bright Boys would like to mediate towards street boys, who do listen to them. Marco Pastors and rapping young people. That doesn't seem to do. But this spring, Zuidzijde, the national program and business associations will move into one office building in the Tarwewijk, where Pastors must have already seen how the slogan Clarity in bold capitals is chalked on a support pillar - quite by coincidence a symbolic place connecting street and height.
In the meantime, the name Helderheid is milled in on the stage on the Helderheidplein, with related words such as foolishness, wisdom, as if it hints at the personifications of virtues and vices from art-historical symbolism. It is and remains a monument full of promise, a symbol of how the city could develop, started out of sight of the arts and anyone else, but the eyes are starting to turn their way.
Joany Muskiet continues to propagate her son's mission. As a gospel singer - Breyten had his talent from no stranger - she has been visiting young people in prisons for years, nowadays together with Bright Rappers. She sings, the boys rap, after which she says to the juvenile delinquents: "And now you." That works, she says. “In this way they can express their fear and anger, find an audience for their story. The Brightness guys I bring have also been detained at times. They understand those detainees, but convey a positive message. We want to bring clarity to the hearts of young people. Just like Breyten. ” Or as her son once put it: “There is no time to stand still, we have to make do with what we have and keep going. Progression, the mission must succeed. No more time for nonsense in these dark days. ”