In the Presence of Absence, proposals for the museum collection, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
5 september 2020 – 31 januari 2021

In the Presence of Absence shows a selection of artworks and design projects that challenge the idea of collective knowledge and public consciousness through stories that remain unseen, have been ignored or may be told more often within large public institutions.

Spanning more than 14 rooms and work by 23 artists and artist collectives, the interdisciplinary exhibition In the Presence of Absence presents a selection of (counter) narratives that challenge fixed ideas about our society and question how history is written. When not addressed by organizations such as schools, libraries, archives, and museums, the absence of these stories forms knowledge gaps within the public debates that shape our collective consciousness and memory.

Natasja Kensmil, Wedding portrait of  Johan de Witt en Wendela Bicker, 2020 oil on canvas (9x) 100 x 100 cm en (2x) 250 x 140 cm

In WEDDING PORTRAIT of Johan de Witt and Wendela Bicker (2020), Natasja Kensmil uses the archetype of the 17th-century marriage portrait to critically examine power relations and wealth. Johan de Witt became Grand Pensionary of Holland in 1653, making him one of the most important national political figures of the time. In 1655, De Witt married Wendela Bicker, who like him came from a wealthy and powerful patrician family. This installation of paintings shows the couple in full length, surrounded by nine smaller canvases that include depictions of heraldic symbols and coats of arms, and a portrait of a Black man.

In the process of painting, Kensmil dwells on the question of whether humanity is by nature good or evil. She is fascinated by all that is concealed, mysterious, and obscure, as well as by mythology, mysticism, religion, and history. When it comes to history, her main focus is on themes such as power and the consequences of its abuse, an example being her series on the downfall of the Romanovs, the Russian imperial family.

WEDDING PORTRAIT of Johan de Witt and Wendela Bicker also places wealthy families in another perspective, in the context of their position of power and their place in history and art history. These powerful Dutch families were great champions of freedom and equality in the Netherlands, but while the country was leading the world in science, art, and trade, it also excelled overseas in human trafficking, exploitation, and looting. So, what exactly did this freedom amount to? At what point must the freedom of one cost the freedom of another? Kensmil reveals this multi-layered past, linking multiple realities to challenge the ambivalence of the historical and art-historical narrative.

In the Presence of Absence, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam