BY Hera Chan in Interviews | 18 MAR 21

Artists Campaign to Enter Dutch Parliament

Hera Chan speaks to BIJ1 party members about why artists should be involved in electoral politics

BY Hera Chan in Interviews | 18 MAR 21

As the Dutch general election came to a close yesterday evening with Prime Minister Mark Rutte set to secure a fourth term, a new political party is on the brink of gaining at least one seat in the country’s coalition parliament. Founded in 2016, by Sylvana Simons – a former VJ on TMF (Dutch MTV) and the first Black woman to form a political party in Europe – the self-defined ‘radical’ BIJ1 party has a staunchly anti-racist, anti-colonial and anti-capitalist agenda. The party was running on a full platform with a team of more than 500 volunteers and an impressive slate of candidates, including an advocate against ablism, a sex workers’ rights activist, a social worker and an artist. Influenced by scholar Gloria Wekker’s study of the vehement denial and wilful ignorance of racial discrimination in the Netherlands, White Innocence: Paradoxes of Colonialism and Race (2016), BIJ1 calls for inclusivity within the electoral system.

Running mate to Simons is artist Quinsy Gario, founder of the successful 2011 anti-Blackface campaign ‘Zwarte Piet Is Racism’. Since the party was widely ignored by the media, Gario and I created our own talk show, KomBIJ1 TV, which quickly grew to comprise a team of 20 artists, activists and writers. The four episodes we created aired this March on RTV-7 – a private broadcaster in the Netherlands and a public one in the Caribbean, where the Dutch Kingdom still holds land. As we waited for election results, I spoke with Gario, director Ehsan Fardjadniya and co-producer and filmmaker Astrid Feringa about what it means to be an artist actively engaged with electoral politics.

'Zwarte Piet Is Racism' campaign. Courtesy: Quinsy Gario
'Zwarte Piet Is Racism' campaign. Courtesy: Quinsy Gario

Hera Chan: Quinsy, running for parliament gives you sense of being in the belly of the beast. How would you compare the politics of standing as a BIJ1 candidate to your ‘Zwarte Piet Is Racism,’ campaign which had – and I mean to say this positively – a somewhat antagonistic relationship to the institutional structure?

Quinsy Gario: The key distinction is that as an artist, even if you have a socially engaged practice, the artwork has a limit. Standing for election is a whole new level of commitment. It is a different kind of engagement with the public and their trust. It’s not something that will end up in a gallery or a museum. It’s not something that I can be done with and then step away. My name will forever be synonymous with BIJ1, whatever happens. What we made together will always be something that we can share and say: This is us. This is what we did.

HC: BIJI’s call for inclusivity in parliament mirrors certain conversations happening in the art world. How would you characterize the political speech of the party?

Ehsan Fardjadniya: In BIJ1, we see politics not only political but also personal. Our candidates’ connection and attachment is also very personal, which creates a different, more poetic kind of political speech. What is really interesting for me is the making of history. When I’m editing the videos of the candidate interviews where they talk about their activism, I have this profound sense that we are making history right now. And if we don’t get attention now, then it will come later, I’m sure.

From left to right: KomBIJ1 TV co-host Olympia Latupeirissa, interviewee and BIJ1 candidate number 5 Daryll Ricardo Landbrug and co-host Quinsy Gario. Courtesy: KomBIJ1 TV

HC: Was there a moment that catalysed the need for BIJ1 for you?

Astrid Feringa: For me, it was really the start of the Zwarte Piet discussion. Coming from a very small Frisian village, I was forced to verbalize my feelings against my family and community. Those discussions stirred up so much shit: it really made me aware of what needs to be dredged up from the riverbed. The start of the Zwarte Piet protests and the ‘Zwarte Piet Is Racism’ t-shirt you wore, Quinsy, which started the movement, that image is seared onto my memory.

QG: If we want to talk about the rise of the right wing, we have to talk about the 1980s and the rise of politicians and political groups who were starting to say that they’d had enough of anti-racism and post-war tolerance towards migrant groups. That’s when politicians like Centre Democrats founder, Hans Janmaat, argued that immigrants should assimilate to Dutch culture or return to their country of birth. He said this in 1984, a year after the 15-year-old Kerwin Duinmeijer was murdered in what was called the first racist murder after World War II in the Netherlands. This need for change has been brewing for a while and most of it is a backlash against emancipation and the presence of people of colour. When Suriname gained independence in 1975, a lot of Surinamese people came to the Netherlands. Their presence, and our presence – that of Dutch Caribbean immigrants – led to the formation of collectives, emancipation movements, to calls for integration and to the thinking-through of race and colonial structures. I consider the rise of right-wing extremist figures today as a response against the unstoppable process of emancipation.

Nos Idiomas segment on the topic of decolonization, 2021, video still. Courtesy: KomBIJ1 TV
Nos Idiomas segment on the topic of gentrification, 2021, video still. Courtesy: KomBIJ1 TV

HC: Astrid, you’ve been spearheading a series of video works and desktop documentaries, shown as clips on KomBIJ1 TV, called Nos Idiomas (2021–ongoing), which translates to ‘Our Vocabulary’ in Papiamentu, a creole language spoken in the Dutch Caribbean. How do you find your art practice contextualized by BIJ1?

AF: Within my practice in general, I’ve always tried to break out of this gatekeeping. I’m not sure if it’s really the right word, but I mean the barriers that keep art in a separate space from the wider world and make it inaccessible. The idea with Nos Idiomas was to break things down, to make politics more accessible and to explain the jargon being used in activist circles. I think it’s important to form this kind of connection and raise awareness around communication. That way, you create a network and don’t position yourself as an individual or a group that has knowledge, as opposed to others who don't.

From left to right: Director Ehsan Fardjadniya, cameraman and assistant director Bob Schoo, and co-host Quinsy Gario filming the live band Kanipchen-Fit. Courtesy: KomBIJ1 TV

EF: In KomBIJ1 TV, this idea of directing but not really giving directions was very present. Everyone was welcome to direct [the filmed interviews] – what I really liked. Usually, you always have strict hierarchies within these productions and we wondered how can we change that. How do you allow moments when everyone is participating and everyone is taking space, having opinions? We wanted to create a kind of micro platform for democracy and that is what we are dealing with right now. We are dismantling and rebuilding our democratic systems.

The full KomBIJ1 TV team includes Timothy Aarons, Anneloes Bakker, April Cain, Naomí Combrink, Masha Demers, Jörgen Gario, Maarten de Groot, Hayden Hook, Cilia Hulspas, Julius Koetsier, Olympia Latupeirissa, Ava Meijer, Jasper ter Mors, Joeri Pruys, Bob Schoo, Jarmil Soe-Agnie and Rachel Walker.

Main image: Nos Idiomas segment on the topic of decolonization, video still. Courtesy: KomBIJ1 TV

Hera Chan is based in Amsterdam by way of Hong Kong. She is the Adjunct Curator of Greater China, Supported by the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation at Tate.