Column | The statue of a young black woman on Nikes in Rotterdam is an insult

Column | The statue of a young black woman on Nikes in Rotterdam is an insult
Column | The statue of a young black woman on Nikes in Rotterdam is an insult

There is a new statue in front of Rotterdam Central Station. A girl, excuse me young woman, four meters high. She could be Antillean or Surinamese. Her hair is in a bun. She wears sweatpants and Nikes.

Why she deserves a statue? Ask creator Thomas Price and like artists do, he bounces back the question. The whole idea of ​​the artwork is to ‘question’ who should be seen. With his work he wants to ‘explore, investigate and criticize’ and of course raise awareness. The bingo card of art clichés is not yet completely full. Our current views on art in the outdoor space also need to be challenged. Who should be represented? Who seen?

All of these would be very exciting and urgent questions, but not in a country where every roundabout, every square, every flowerbed is chock-full of art that only questions, investigates and challenges. Walk a few hundred meters further on the Mauritsweg and there you will find a six-meter-high gnome with a butt plug in his hand on a pedestal. Hasn’t Rotterdam researched, explored and criticized enough?

And awareness? Serious? We have just passed a decade of iconoclasm. If you still want to ‘explore’ who deserves a statue in 2023, you really have to pull out a little more. The word ‘awareness’ alone brings out the furious consumer in me who bangs her fist on the counter. I don’t just want to ask. I am already aware. You have to try harder. I want my money back.

And not just because it’s boring, but also because I simply don’t believe the artist when he says to just ‘explore’. He lies that he is bursting. The artist wants to shout it out, just like the activists who pulled the bronze white men from their horses in recent years. But he doesn’t. He stays neatly in line. In accordance with the jargon of his art colleagues, who also only ask questions and want to raise awareness.

And you know, it’s worse than boring and insincere. This work is a product of a social current in which it is enough to be a marginalized party to gain sympathy. Just being a woman, having a disability, wearing a headscarf, a dark skin color or preferably a combination of these is enough to be raised on the shield, and especially in the cultural sector. The museum boards, research committees, programmers, art prize juries, and other cultural powerhouses give you the benefit of the doubt. Are you black? Are you female? Are you otherwise a minority historical victim? Then we let you participate in the paralympics. The bar is lowered. You don’t have to perform the same as the other, because purely because you are not a seven-fincher and we therefore assume for the sake of convenience that you have had a hard time in life, we make the world a little easier for you.

Or no, we’ll erect a statue for you.

For someone casual, in Nikes and sweatpants. Didn’t do anything special. People used to say: just act normal, then you’re already acting crazy enough. Now we say: we’re all kings and queens, the theme of the Rotterdam King’s Day. Ordinary people were put on a sash and were portrayed. Just act normal and we’ll applaud you, purely because of irrelevant peripheral phenomena such as gender or ethnicity. Who knows, maybe this woman is a hero. Or maybe she’s a bitch, someone who lies, cheats, hates, blackmails, and bullies. It does not matter. The group she belonged to was marginalized and that is why she is now being overcompensated. Maximized.

I once asked a cleaning lady why she voted VVD. And she explained to me why people who circle around the subsistence level sometimes choose the right. Because she worked very hard but saw how some acquaintances and family could cut corners. Without consequences.

There is only one thing worse than false meritocracy and that is no meritocracy at all. A statue for everyone is an insult to people who do heroic deeds.

Rosanne Hertzberger is a microbiologist.

A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper on June 3, 2023.

The article is in Dutch

Tags: Column statue young black woman Nikes Rotterdam insult