Camp Westerbork is part of the international past, but also has a regional history. The artist group Drents Portrait considers it an outsider.
Kamp Westerbork’s grounds are, to say the least, a place full of discomfort. That’s how it was in 1939, that’s how it was during the Second World War, and that’s how it remained afterwards. But it is also a place where you can get a breath of fresh air and relax.
Nicole van der Veen-Kerssies lived in Hooghalen until she was eighteen, and as a child she was told the stories of what happened outside the village. “It wasn’t always literally named. You caught it between the lines,” she says in a room in what is now the Memorial Center.
whistles over the camp site
As a child, she played on the grounds. She went secretly to look at the commandant’s house. And in 2016 she participated in the Loop-Bicycle-Test-Marathon on the grounds – “whistling”. “I wasn’t really involved in the process. Suddenly I felt like a giant intruder. As I walked along the path that once marked the train tracks to and from the camp, I became aware of the terrible history again.”
Now, as a member of the artist group Drents Portrait, Van der Veen-Kerssies has created a work where the sporting event 2016 and the events during the war meet. The painting on Plexiglas, mounted on an old railway sleeper, has been given a place in the exhibition at the Memorial Centre Through Drenthe Eyes .
It is the first time in a long time that an art exhibition can be seen again in the centre. The artists’ group took the initiative, and the Memorial Center suggested making works that tell about the period from the camp’s inception to the present day.
New monument inspired by existing monuments
For example, Klaas Koops reflects on Gertrude van Tijn, who tried to help Jews from Nazi Germany in the 1930s, and Queen Wilhelmina, who did not want a refugee camp at Het Loo Palace. For example, Harrie Visser recalls the temporary residence of the Moluccan community in the Schattenberg residential area. For example, Anneke Verstegen made a new monument inspired by monuments that have been placed on the site since 1983.
Anneke Leutscher painted a group portrait inspired by the resistance committed in Nieuwlande during the Second World War to keep people out of the camp. It is striking that Leutscher did not present the hero Johannes Post, but his wife Dina. “Johannes was honored everywhere after the war, but she hardly. While she was always tense because her husband was gone and her children had to make room for people who were hiding.”
Coincidences can make the difference between right and wrong
Jeanet Tjassen depicted the confrontation between perpetrators and victims, when young children of NSB parents fleeing from madness on a Tuesday in September 1944 ended up in Westerbork and briefly shared the infirmary with Jewish children. ,,When I read about this, I wondered to what extent history and an environment determine whether you end up on the right or wrong side. It might as well be a coincidence.”
Door Drentse Ogen deals with different themes and periods using different art disciplines: from installations to paintings. To give context to the works, objects from the Memorial Center’s collection are sometimes placed in the exhibition space, in addition to text panels. This makes the exhibition strongly narrative, but also a little too full.
“A lot of art is made to please or show the artist’s skills,” explains director Harry Tupan of the exhibition design with the Drents Museum. “What is happening here is that the art is anchored to the past and thus takes on meaning. There is not necessarily anything wrong with meaningless art. It is stories with context that make it powerful and special.”
To make commitment to the environment tangible
It is the first time in a long time that an exhibition of art has been shown in the memorial centre. In recent years, the center has been reticent when it comes to derivative activities, and under the new director Bertien Minco, they are looking for ways in which the engagement with the local environment can be tangible.
“When I first saw Nicole’s work, I was shocked,” says Minco. “It confronts me with my dilemma as a director. Sometimes I sit on a bench at the site and watch the cyclists and walkers pass by. Then I usually ask if they want to go. But this is also a recreational area: here everyone can do what they want. At the same time, I want this area to have an impact. That you stand up, that you look around and wonder what happened here.”
Through Drenthe’s eyes
Through Drenthe’s eyes by the artist group Drents Portrait can be seen until January 9 in Kamp Westerbork’s museum. drentsportrait.nl