I’ve just returned back home from a couple of wonderful and inspirational days in Amsterdam and Utrecht where I was part of a workshop related to the ‘The Rise of Populism in Europe’ exhibition.

Together with photographers Jan-Joseph Stok, Dirk-Jan Visser, Rami HanafiEd Thompson, Nico Baumgarten and Frank and Tinka Dietz, we brainstormed with students on how to tackle abstract themes like Populism in stories and what challenges we all faced in making our individual projects. It was a wonderful and an enlightening day.

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

The exhibition opened on the 1st of September and the response so far has been wonderful. Newspapers like NRC, NRC Next, and Trouw have written about the project. Belgian magazine Rekto Verso sent a journalist who wrote an excellent article and who really grasped what we try to do with the exhibition. Michiel Leen, the journalist who wrote the article, told me he is working on an English translation. As soon as I have it, I’ll post it on the blog so English speaking people can read it too.

Sadly during the evening of the workshop day, an unknown individual attacked and destroyed my image on the advertising cube of the exhibition standing in the city center of Utrecht.

© Fotodok / Tom Janssen

© Fotodok / Tom Janssen

I was a bit shocked after hearing about the vandalization of my image… What must a person feel, think or have been through already to become so violent and aggressive towards an image and literally destroy it.

I understand a image of a woman in a burka and bikini with the slogan ‘Freedom or Islam? Dare to choose’ is horrible to see in our public sphere… I felt the exact same thing when I saw the original election poster of Belgian extreme-right party Vlaams Belang in real life last year during the local elections.  After more then 20 years of this type of campaigning in Belgium by this particular party, somehow nothing happened with this poster and people accept it in their streets. That alone of course says a lot about the changes in society today.  Whereas countries like for instance Finland are still dealing with the first waves of this type of political extremism, Belgium has gotten used to it already and people hardly react anymore.  20 years ago already 1/3 of our population voted for Vlaams Belang but when asked, nobody dared to admit they had. That too changed over the years and now people are shamelessly ok admitting they hold racist views…

At the same time I think the attack on the exhibition cube shows just how relevant our project is and how important it is to keep telling stories like ours and let people think, discuss and interact on our work and thus our society. Hopefully next time though not in a literal physical way…

You can still visit the exhibition until the 21st of September in het Zijdebalen theater in Utrecht.

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