Statement: Marlene Dumas on Europe

Artist Marlene Dumas spoke at the opening of the Forum on European Culture. Read the full statement:

My Europe

I have now been living in Europe for 40 years and this is the first time that I publicly describe myself also as a European. I come from a country, South Africa, that has been a colony both of Holland and of the British.

I was born in 1953 in South Africa. The politics of Apartheid were installed by a man born in the Netherlands. Signs were put up in the cities and on the beaches that read: Europeans Only, or Non-Europeans not allowed. The first defined the White and the second  the black South –Africans.  So my first encounter with the word European was negative. Europe did not stand for Liberty, Equality and Brotherhood in Africa. It specifically stood for ‘White’ supremacy.

Speaking of purity and oppression: Amos Oz in his book ‘How to cure a fanatic’, writes about the Israeli-Arab conflict. He mentions that they were victims of the same oppressor.  This Europe, which colonized the Arab world, exploited it, humiliated it, and trampled on its culture, was the same Europe, that discriminated against the Jews, persecuted them and finally mass-murdered them.

Speaking about culture: I quote the filmmaker Jean Luc Godard from the 60’s: ‘Culture is an alibi of imperialism.’ There is a Ministry of War. There is a Ministry of Culture. Therefore culture is war. He also said: ‘In order to criticize a movie, you have to make another movie.’ And he is still making movies.

Having said all of this, back to culture and art: I want to use one of my favourite lines from Lionel Trilling; ‘Art is there to free us from the tyranny of our culture.’  The emphasis is on what we call our own. We are born in cultures that we did not chose. Art is a moving  factor. Pasolini  says about appreciating art that it is about feeling free enough to enjoy the freedom of others.

Art as an open and empathic ‘system’: We should stop defining European culture, only or mainly by its classics from the past. Or as a closed national identity. Art always slept around. Take Europe and Morocco. Read and see what Matisse got from Morocco. And Jean Genet who is buried in Morocco. And the filmmaker Werner Fassbinder’s main male actor in ‘Fear eats the soul’ was from there. PC Hoofdprijs Astrid Roemer from Suriname….  (With Suriname I am married, Netherlands is my lover, with Africa I have a homosexual relation and with other countries I tend to have one night stands).

I came to Europe, because of its art. Europe is also a wonderful collection of stories and images. And works about stories and images. It has values to cherish like dialogue (Socrates) doubt (Kierkegaard) and We are doomed to freedom (Satre). It teaches that you must speak in your own name. But one should also realize that this name, this I, is part of the words, wounds and works made by others. If this continent does not learn from its past and does not manage to unite and delight in a union of diversity, then Hitler has lost the battle, but won the War.

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