ZUTPHEN – The exhibition project takes place in Dat Bolwerck from 16 July to 18 September Gender trilogy exhibited with work by photographer and visual artist Diana Blok. The project surprisingly shows that everything in nature has feminine and masculine qualities and invites you to address these in yourself.
By Emy Vesseur
The exhibition Gender trilogy consists of images and videos that challenge our stereotypes of being male and female and blur the boundaries between the sexes. In doing so, artist Diana Blok makes use of the ambiguity of nature and actors who take on the role of a figure of a different gender. Block: “There are masculine and feminine qualities in each of us, and we can only be fully human if we accept them. Young people already think much less binary, but the elderly can learn something from it. ”
Artist Diana Blok grew up in a diplomatic family and lived as a child in various countries in South America. It broadened her horizons and made her curious early on. “I always asked questions, also about the traditional division of roles between men and women, which my parents were the epitome of.” She has captured the gender roles between her Dutch father and Argentine mother in a self-portrait dressed as her father with an adoring woman at her feet. The picture hangs in Dat Bolwerck’s hall and is a telling introduction to the exhibition.
The exhibition consists of three series that together show the development and continuity of Blok’s work, from the 1990s to today. For the photo series Adventures in Cross Casting (1997-2018) Blok used personalities from the Dutch theater world. She asked them what role of the opposite sex they would like to play, or what of the opposite sex they would like to be if they were born again. We see Albert Mol as Queen Elisabeth I of England and Kitty Courbois as Don Corleone. The square portraits are beautiful in terms of decoration, color and details and come into their own in Dat Bolwerck’s space, where time has stood still. But they are more than a fancy dress up. The actors have crawled so deep into the skin of their character that they have let go of them completely. Their metamorphosis and thus gender transition shows that sexual identity is not a fixed thing and that gender boundaries are not always clear.
In the video installation Gender monologues (2016-2022) the artist goes a step further: Dutch, Brazilian, Spanish and Surinamese actors take on the role of a character of the opposite sex and bring them to life through a self-chosen monologue. The twelve characters speak and move on six vertical screens scattered in Dat Bolwerck’s dimly lit basement. Under the old vaults, they look at you and alternately give a poetic commentary to the world for six minutes. Everywhere the video installation goes, two portraits are dropped and two new ones are added, played by actors from the region. “This creates an ever-growing archive of cross-cast icons from different cultures that I can make all sorts of combinations with,” Blok explains. For the exhibition in Dat Bolwerck, Kharim Amier from Toneelgroep Oostpool from Arnhem plays the character Antigone from the Greek tragedy of the same name, and Zutphen actress Serah Doku Meijboom portrays the American rapper Tupac.
To flip through
The characters and monologues are so fascinating that one keeps listening hypnotized and only leaves the basement after 45 minutes. A new surprise awaits in the attic with the third part of the exhibition, In addition to gender (2021). Block was inspired by nature for this. During the last lockdown in Brazil, she was more or less forced to collect special wooden leaves that she found in the area. With her Iphone 12, she captured the striking leaf shapes and complex grain structures in close-ups. They make us realize that every magazine is unique and queer, just like every human being. Nice detail: the pictures printed on paper hang like leaves from the attic beams, as if they have found their way to the tree branch again. Iranian composer Aftab Darvishi recently created a piece of music for one image from the series. The installation of this magazine can be seen in a separate room where ‘Requiem for one leaf’ can be heard with headphones.
As an extra number, there is the extra exhibition in the side wing Drawing of the waves (2022), a recent collaboration between Diana Blok and Israeli artist Ruthi Helbitz Cohen. Drawings that Helbitz made on pages of Virgina Woolf’s novel The Waves have been specially highlighted by Blok and placed in the Dutch North Sea surf and the Greek Mediterranean. The unexpected transformations this results in, and the influence of waves, foam, wind, salt and sounds were captured by her in photo and film. The work symbolizes the power of the sea, which plays with our fragile worlds of fantasy, fantasies and dreams, in all languages and cultures.
Lectures and much more
Inspired by Diana Block’s work, the youth theater group Woest Oost will perform a play in Dat Bolwerck, young people from Beeld Brengers will film and there will be a collaboration with Walhallab. In addition, Maaike Meijer, Professor Emeritus of Gender Studies at Maastricht University, will give a lecture, and Zutphen philosopher Peter van der Boom will write a mini-essay on the subject.
Look for the program on the website.