‘I like that I don’t necessarily preach for my own parish’

Maaike Rikhof in the Singer Laren Museum.Statue of Daphne Lucker

The 25-year-old Rikhof has the exhibition The new woman curated at Singer, which can be seen from last month until early January. In it, she shows in six rooms the emancipation of women in the Dutch visual arts from the end of the 19th century, in the different facets of life: work, studies, freedom of movement and of course also: art.

Just three months before the opening of the exhibition, Rikhof completed his curatorial studies at the University of Amsterdam and the Free University.

Why are you the right person to create this exhibition?

“I can combine my two greatest passions in this way: gender history and art around 1900. Social upheavals like those at that time fascinate me. That period laid the foundation for our modern society, especially when it comes to how we view gender. Think of women’s suffrage, or the fact that women could have a paid job.”

“Around 1,900 people spoke of ‘the new woman’ as something negative: she was depicted as a smoking lady, her loose-fitting corsetless dresses were called ‘hobby bags’ and she was the subject of cartoons. I also wanted to express this explicitly in the exhibition, for example in the hall’s texts. As you walk through the exhibit, you’ll come across a poster from the late 1890s of a woman on a bicycle being waved goodbye by her children. When you see it, you might think: nice. But do you know what it means, since back then it was believed that women became infertile as soon as they started cycling?

Do you assume with the exhibition that women’s liberation is complete?

“Definitely not. The exhibition shows that history is not linear. It is not by chance that the world now looks the way it does. Women are still expected to act out of a so-called natural innate caring role. What fascinates me is that women who worked in education and government until 1957 were automatically fired as soon as they got married. They also only became legally competent from that year onwards, thanks to MP Corry Tendeloo. What few people know, by the way, is that the restrictive laws were first introduced in the crisis years after the stock market crash of 1929 to reduce competition for men in the labor market.”

The exhibit also includes contemporary portraits of women of color. What is it like to show that exhibition in Laren?

“I like that I don’t necessarily preach for my own parish. I dissect and explain ideas that may be obvious to me as part of Amsterdam’s ‘oat milk elite’. An example is that I have avoided the word ‘intersectionality’ because people who do not know the term quickly fall away, or because the term arouses aversion. It doesn’t mean that I don’t support that expression, but I have written in the catalog, for example, about Gloria Wekker: she is someone who is leading the combined struggle to be a woman and black.”

What was it like to walk around an established museum as a 25-year-old?

“I have been given a lot of freedom. At other exhibitions in Singer, works of art are explained mainly in terms of shape and color. This exhibition is clearly cultural-historical. It was also special to experience all the steps in making an exhibition for the first time. That you come to select loans in spacious penthouses with private collectors, but also in dusty warehouses that make you wonder: has anyone been here in recent years?

What can the man take away from your exhibition?

“Nothing significantly different from other visitors. Much historical art is actually made by men, for male art buyers and visitors. You can see, for example, the male gaze in the portrait of the Surinamese-Dutch Tonia Stieltjes by Jan Sluijters, where he portrays her as his exotic favorite muse. He didn’t necessarily care what she did in life, like fighting for better working conditions for domestic workers, all of whom were women. But next to that portrait hangs a group portrait by Marinus van Raalte depicting women from The Association for Women’s Suffrage up for a demonstration. It’s done in such a different way, while it’s also done by a man.”

You have gathered a number of ambassadors around the exhibition, such as Hedy d’Ancona. How was she?

“I have been to Hedy’s house twice, both times we talked for hours about the exhibition. I showed her all the works. And I noticed that she is a living historical document: I showed her pictures of Eva Besnyö, from a ‘Boss in your own belly’ demonstration. Hedy immediately told about how she knew Eva and had been to that demonstration herself.”

What does it do to you when Hedy d’Ancona calls you ‘a great talent’ at the opening?

(silence) “Yes, then damn sick. A great honor to hear. I was surprised by that.”

cv Maaike Rikhof (1997)

2022 obtained a master’s degree in conservatory education at the University of Amsterdam and VU University Amsterdam
2021-2022 guest curator at Singer Laren
2020-2021 curator in training at the Rijksmuseum
2019 has a bachelor’s degree in art history from the University of Amsterdam and the University of Edinburgh
2017-2020 research assistant at the Van Gogh Museum
2015 obtains a high school diploma at Ashram College in Alphen aan den Rijn

The new woman: until 8 January 2023 in Singer Laren.

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