Museum director Marian Duff: ‘It’s time to claim my place’

“Until this conversation, I had never really considered that I am the first black woman in the Netherlands to have an art museum. I saw that something was missing young professionals of color and just started filling it. That’s how it always goes in my career.” The art museum that Marian Duff (44) mentions is Oscam, the Open Space Contemporary Art Museum in Amsterdam-Zuidoost.

Duff knows how unique her position is and how white the world of art is: as a journalist at Amsterdam Fashion Week, she already noticed this. “Even the team of a well-known Surinamese designer was very white. Then I’m MAFB (Music and Fashion Battle, red.) started. It was a competition and a showcase for fashion designers from Bijlmer.” MAFB grew into a national event and was even organized in Suriname and French Guiana, where Duff also has roots. “Major fashion brands such as Daily Paper and Filling Pieces showed their first designs at MAFB’s One Day Shop back then. When we let the designers work with art from museum deposits, I entered the museum world as a curator. But always independently; I must be free, because I am stubborn.”

Oscam stays in Bijlmer: every district deserves a museum

Oscam was intended as a pop-up museum, says Duff. The Amsterdam-Zuidoost district had asked her to create an exhibition around Bijlmer’s 50th anniversary. “But I was too busy at the time. On a work trip to Suriname, where I exhibited MAFB talents in the museum of the artist Marcel Pinas, near my family village of Albina, I changed my mind. When Pinas talked about his philosophy, I thought: this is me I found the way he involves the local residents in exhibitions and goes back to his roots so inspiring and recognizable that when I came home I told the district that I wanted to create a pop-up museum in the Ganzenhoef neighborhood. “

After the initial delay, things moved quickly: “In two weeks we selected seventeen artists, mainly from the southeast, we stood day and night making pedestals, and we even had works by Pinas from Surinam.”

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“Museums come to visit us now.”

Picture of:
Jonathan Hoost

Museum with roller shutters

Oscam is now located in Bijlmer-Centre. In the middle of a shopping street. “Why not? Art isn’t just on a channel. Oscam is literally accessible; you can walk in right away, we’re in a shop with a shutter. We also don’t ask for admission, but use pay as you wish. In a few years in a permanent place, preferably with a door and no shutters, because it is sometimes quite cold! But we stay in Bijlmer, because every district deserves a museum.”

“We have a department for long-term exhibitions such as The Black Archives, where their Black Manifesto has been translated into art. We have a multidisciplinary art section, such as ‘BLKNWS’ by Black American filmmaker Khalil Jones, about how information is filtered. And in our Young OSCAM Art Kitchen, young autodidacts present their work for the first time. We also offer them a training program: how do you decide your price, how do you hang something well, how do you promote it? The Nigerian-Dutch expressionist Nikè Marchand has sold almost all of his work from Oscam within a few weeks. It now hangs in people’s homes, it makes me so happy.”

I do what I do so that young people of color – like my son – see themselves in the world

Duff has a young team and little money, but knows how to make an impact. She is proud of that: “Museums now visit us to see how we handle colonial languages, for example. We also work with fashion brands and stores such as Patta and De Bijenkorf. At our opening parties, artists, academics, museum directors and local residents end up on the dance floor together.”

Oscam turns five in November. “It’s really time to claim that I’m the first black woman to start an art museum. Even though I didn’t study art history – it sometimes prevents me from fully taking my place. Ultimately, I do what I do to help young people of color, like my 11-year-old son Jaden, see themselves in the world. Especially in museums. They belong to everyone.”

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