HOLLANDAISE was opened from 3 November 2012 – 6 January 2013 with Godfried Donkor, Abdoulaye Konaté, Wendelien van Oldenborgh, Willem de Rooij, Billie Zangewa Curator: Koyo Kouoh but the exhibition travels on to RAW Material Company, Dakar (Senegal)
HOLLANDAISE is a critical, contemporary art exhibition built around this typical textile. It is a journey into an iconic fabric. The idea for the exhibition is from curator Koyo Kouoh, who is director of her own art institution in Dakar, Senegal. She asked five artists to delve into the phenomenon of Hollandaise and the peculiar trading relations and cultural interchanges that it represents. They all produced new work especially for this exhibition, which after Amsterdam will travel on to Dakar.
Growing up in Africa, Kouoh became fascinated by Hollandaise. The exuberantly decorated textiles are used chiefly for clothing for special occasions, such as weddings and funerals. Some patterns are therefore emotionally identified with specific events in one’s own life history. But despite the success of Hollandaise on the African market and its strong identification as African, Africans themselves are hardly involved in the creative process for ‘their’ fabric at all. Furthermore, today the Dutch market leader is encountering heavy competition from the Far East. Yesterday’s imitator is being imitated in turn.
The history of wax prints is an emblematic tale of commercial domination that began in the middle of 19th century and continues down to today. It is also a tale of the – to put it mildly – transfer of the skills of the Indonesian batik tradition to Dutch textile manufacturing. The specific wax technique used today by the Dutch company Vlisco, and many others, was traditionally developed in Java, Indonesia and brought to the shores of Africa in a grand project of commercial expansion.
Koyo remembers “Growing up in Cameroon in a very style-conscious family, with a mother who would never let you go out without checking even the hems of your clothing, I learned at a very early stage how important dress and appearance was in Africa. Every occasion was good enough to have a new outfit tailored, be it individually, or collectively in the cases of marriages or funerals for instance. In the collective cases, it was also an ideal moment to have a specific fabric designed and produced for the event. This is why in many African families one can find collections of fabrics that retrace family events, a sort of textile narrative of the family history. Those fabrics were predominantly wax prints inspired by the Dutch wax”
Koyo Kouoh is the director of RAW Material Company in Dakar. She has been co-curator for exhibitions including ‘Hypocrisy: The Site Specificity of Morality’ in the National Museum for Art, Architecture, and Design, Oslo (2009) and ‘GEO-graphics, a map of African art practices past & present’ in BOZAR in Brussels (2010). She was alsoartistic advisor for Documenta 12 and 13.
Koyo Kouoh agrees, concerning wax prints, that
“one must on the one hand be aware of the multiple channels and routes that colonial powers used to promote their economies and estab- lish Western prosperity. On the other hand it is important to recognize the power of appropriation – and for this particular subject also of re-appropriation – within a context of competition and exploitation that led to an unrivaled shift of identity and representation attributes. The bright and distinctive wax prints are generally regarded as African fabrics, while there is nothing African about them, be it in their production technique, their design, their manufacture or their commercial marketing.”
The exhibition HOLLANDAISE is a creative and also critical examination of such historical, global developments and their local implications.
Godfried Donkor, based in London, made a two-channel video film about his mother and her friends in Ghana, who since the 1950s have built up collections of deeply cherished textiles. These collections, regarded as an investment, also reveal their life histories. Abdoulaye Konaté, who lives and works in Mali, incorporated Dutch Wax into a monumental textile-based representation of festive ceremonies in his country. Both the material used and the celebration scene raise issues regarding the ethnologically coloured concept of ‘authenticity’.Wendelien van Oldenborgh‘s La Javanaise was filmed in the Royal Institute for the Tropics in Amsterdam. The work addresses the inextricable link between colonialism and globalization, authenticity and imagination, performing and posing, especially in relation to the Wax Hollandais and its origins.Willem de Rooij developed a specific, industrially manufactured wax print that subtly refers to the currents of migration and trade among Africa, Europe and Indonesia. Billie Zangewa, living in Johannesburg, incorporates photography into textile works. For HOLLANDAISE she focused on classicVlisco patterns that in Africa are popularly known by exotic (women’s) names such as Aura and Angelina.
The exhibitors remind us that terms like Wax Hollandais, Hollandaise, Dutch Wax, wax prints or batik prints are used interchangeably, but the meaning is always the same: the exuberant and colourful textiles that we are familiar with from African countries, and in particular West Africa.
“It is less known that in the colonial era the Dutch and British imitated Indonesian hand-made batik to create these fabrics by means of industrial processes, and then found their most important market in Africa. Right down to this day the Dutch textile firm Vlisco is the market leader for this textile. This is how we got ‘Hollandaise’.
We are pleased that ‘Hollandaise’ will travel on from Amsterdam to Dakar, and perhaps further on to other African countries. It is almost impossible to imagine a more fitting closure for the exhibition programme of Project ‘1975’. (A final publication is still to come.)”