A pedestal for everyone

Sandra Smets (Winning article Hans Baaij Essay prize 2012, edited for Vrij Nederland, May 2013), 31.05.2013
Aad Hoogendoorn

Spring 2012. A few young people hang out at an inland waterway on Feijenoorde Island in Rotterdam, in a sleepy neighborhood. Thick seagulls recall that a city harbor was once active here, now only a Pancake boat sails in the distance. A woman is reading in her garden on Helderheidplein, probably with difficulty. Because a few meters away thick beat boxes are set up, the music is thundering physically through the stone walls between the stamp-sized gardens. The lyrics are even louder than the decibels: “I grew up in peace and tranquility, without problems. But life on the street kept taking my breath away. I was introduced to jealousy and hatred. I have no friends, which is a phenomenon that does not exist for me. ”The cynical rap texts are from mc Clarity to which the square is named and which act as working vitamins on this rare warm Saturday at the end of May. The Helderheidplein is full of building materials for a DIY day, bottles of orange are ready to compensate for sweat.

The local residents let the sound come over them, mc Clarity itself is only present in memory. In 2004 he died unexpectedly in his sleep, only 25 years old. He left his lyrics to his rap group De Tuigcommissie. They are about how heavy life is but that you have to face your problems. Feijenoord is a tough 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.

Clarity mother, Joany Muskiet, had no idea, she rather thought her son was on the wrong path. "Then bring it positively," she responded with concern when he said he was becoming a rapper. He did that. After his death, she discovered that his critical texts had an exemplary role in the youth community in Rotterdam South and beyond. “I opened my doors and a lot of boys came by. This is how I discovered what he had meant for young people. ”“ Hear every lesson that has a reason and ignore foolishness ”- the initial letters of this edifying sentence form the word clarity, the pseudonym under which Breyten Muskiet raped about street life.

That street life now gives something back to Clarity. Together with his mother, cultural foundation Zuidzijde and community workers, fans started to decorate Helderheidplein last year. The square was renamed a few years earlier with the cooperation of local politicians whose agenda fitted this. It became a questionable tribute: firstly, 'square' is already a big word for this list of parking spaces, and moreover, landfill is 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.


Clarity is a nice name for a rapper in Rotterdam-Zuid, a city district that is built via the clear line. Clarity was also an ideal that the planners had in mind when they sat down at the table in 1946 to repair the ruins of the port city. Moving forward, towards the future, they set the first stripes with a surefire 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 were trained at the Bauhaus and related circles, where the clear lines of Mondriaan and Van Doesburg had ensured that geometric compositions served as a blueprint for a harmonious world. Rotterdam is known as functional and businesslike, not as the work of art that it is.

The XNUMXs were a decade of ideologies - both political and artistic. This artistic idealism was reflected in the Rotterdam drawing tables, when the street plans of Zuid were drawn: axis structures with alternating horizontals and verticals, mass versus emptiness, as paintings by Mondrian. In this way, art was bricked into the city to become part of the DNA. The post-war construction drawings contained suggestions for bright color accents that did not come - even then there was a lack of money - but sixty years later in an unexpected way: the monument to Brightness consists of a pattern of white and orange squares, designed by a Rotterdam design agency 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 remember and the pressure on such public reminder functions is growing. Citizen lobbies are increasing the number of monuments for ordinary people, certainly in the working-class city of Rotterdam. Cors Bloot, a community worker in Hoogvliet, Edo Fimmen, a trade unionist at Katendrecht, Kane-Lee Ricardo Rustveld, a traffic victim whose family wanted more than a provisional roadside memorial. Sometimes applicants for a work of art broaden the demand. At the Maas Tunnel there is a work of art between the rushing traffic that reminds us of all road casualties. Migrant groups lobbied for a guest worker monument on Afrikaanderplein, while other groups wanted to commemorate their history with a slavery monument. This boat annex musical note, constructed from ship's steel, rises between the creative industry in the former city ports, where 'industrial steel turns into cultural steel', according to city philosopher Henk Oosterling - a development also witnessed by the musical Clarity Group.

These works of art tell life stories, from a rapper, a traffic victim, a guest worker. Sea heroes and stadholders have to check it out. 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 must make the art subservient to the common man. The most remarkable in this new line of outdoor sculptures is the monument to the Giant of Rotterdam, which was founded in 2011: a man whose only feat was his height. He was bullied with this during his life, so that this work of art actually acts as a monument to the underdog. It is designed as a house with a similar image of 2,38 meters in size. So you can stand next to him on the base, very close, very ordinary, 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 of a desire for justice. With a monument for every niche - port workers, migrants, rappers - there is ultimately a pedestal for everyone. It is not without reason that a symposium is devoted in June to the question of how Rotterdam should deal with its enormously grown collection of images. It is not surprising that art is emerging in Rotterdam through citizen participation. After all, it was in the city of Pim Fortuyn where populism emerged. Populist or individualistic - the notion that everyone is equal sounds louder than ever in the working-class city of Rotterdam. Part of this political development is this art, a reflection of a political landslide in the Netherlands, and a prelude to what art awaits in the rest of the country.


For example in Feijenoord, reason to take a look again one year after the start. On paper, the Helderheidmonument is and remains an ambitious project, where art and design are widely supported. Where every year undoubtedly all over again come from all over the country: young people, for whom art is a must but another art than that of the professional visual artists - who were just as absent from the politicians at the opening in May. On paper it looked beautiful: the Clarity 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 Helderheidplein looks like it has stuck in good intentions again. The stage is there, but no monument, no gathering places. "We are not done with the square yet," says Joany Muskiet, "and are still looking for sponsors for the monument." Herman van Wamelen of Stichting Zuidzijde also emphasizes that a long breath is necessary: ​​“These things take time. At first no one knew the Helderheidgroep, now they come to the surface. ”

However, there are concrete sleepers with Trespa on it, the building material that has given Rotterdam urban development a bad name. The sleepers are a kind of seating area in front of the stage that is little more than a raiser. However, the square is regularly packed, both during the week and at the weekend. Mothers with buggies, hanging kids, community workers trying to tame noisy school children. There is singing and drawing with sources of inspiration everywhere: throughout the area the name Clarity pops 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 foothold in the cultural world. Van Wamelen hopes that the group can join the National Program Rotterdam South: the investment of millions from the government to pull Rotterdam South out of the slop under the leadership of top official Marco Pastors. "The national program and the Clarity Group have the same ideals: combating youth unemployment, combating crime, talent development," says Van Wamelen. “They should fit one on one. In theory."

But there is a gap between government objectives and the daily lives of problem youngsters about whom so much policy has already been poured out, as Van Wamelen says. The Helderheidjongens would like to intermediate towards street boys, who do listen to them. Marco Pastors and rapping youngsters. That doesn't seem to do that. But this spring, Zuidzijde, the national program and business associations are moving into one office building in the Tarwewijk, where Pastors must have already seen how the slogan Clarity in fat capital is scaled on a support pillar - coincidentally 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 Helderheidrappers. She sings, the boys rap, after which she says to the juvenile delinquents, "And now you." That works, she says. “That way they can express their fear and anger, find a hearing for their story. The Brightness boys that I take with me have sometimes been detained. 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 said:" There is no time to stand still, we have to row with the straps that we have and carry on. Progression, the mission must succeed. No more time for nonsense in these dark days. "