Studio visit: textile art by Joyce Overheul has a political overtone

Joyce Overheul’s work looks innocent but has a political overtone. The exhibition ‘Let’s Get Political’, shown earlier this year at the Museum De Fundatie in Zwolle, made a big impression. A group exhibition will soon open in Utrecht, in which she is participating and for which she is also the curator. Reason enough to visit the artist in her studio in Utrecht.

With the help of Irma van Bommel Photos > Joep Eikens

Visual artist Joyce Overheul (‘s-Hertogenbosch 1989) has her studio in Utrecht, the city where she studied at HKU and where she obtained her master’s degree in artistic research in 2012. The workspace is part of a study complex on the Vlampipestraat along the railway line and has a tall glass facade on the north side. Daylight coming in from the north is ideal for work. Overheul knows that the technical draftsmen from the Dutch railways used to work here precisely because of this daylight. The building will soon be renovated and renovated and she will have to leave the place temporarily.

Joyce Overhell

“I do political work,” says Overheul. She immerses herself in both contemporary and historical subjects. “A lot of work is based on photography. I have only worked with textiles for five years before that, by the way. Previously I did conceptual art and digital work. I am a real creator.” Nevertheless, her interest in textiles started at an early age. She learned to knit from her grandmothers and to make clothes for the cat and the barbies.


During an artist-in-residence in Iran (in 2019), she took many pictures of people. “You can’t do anything about that. People cannot be recognized in the picture. It is dangerous if they can be recognized by the government at protest meetings.” During her work period in Iran, she came up with the idea of ​​making needlework and telling the stories in textiles. After all, Iran has a long textile tradition with its Persian rugs. And a lot of manual work is still done. She copied pictures in velvet. People became unrecognizable and could remain anonymous.

“Crafts, such as knitting and making wall hangings, were traditionally often done in groups. Thus the useful was combined with the pleasant. These are slow techniques that mean hours of work. Today you can watch movies on Netflix in the meantime.” Because the work is so labor-intensive, she gets the help of interns whom she comes into contact with through HKU. But for now, she does most of the work herself.

Intern Yuma comes from France and is trained in textiles. In the foreground a machine for leather processing.

“I deal with subjects that concern me.” Overheul grew up in a strict Christian environment, although things were not strict in her home. “The local culture was that not everyone was treated equally.” It was the inspiration for her to tackle topics such as equality, feminism and women’s rights. But then told through various forms of needlework, which are traditionally perceived as ‘women’s hobbies’.


Humor is important in my work. And (even) mockery, to make things negotiable.” She works on a series of small, beaded rugs with typical comments from today’s society, such as:

You are quite technical for a woman
It was just a joke
Don’t look so angry
Previously it was possible
You can’t even say anything these days
Don’t overreact
That’s just the way he is

She deliberately chooses kitschy backgrounds, which refer to the kitschy tile wisdom. ‘It used to be possible’ has to do with the uproar surrounding the story of placing a candle between the legs of a drunk, unconscious woman, a statement by Johan Derksen on the broadcast of Today Inside in April 2022. neither”, explains Overheul , “but you got away with it. We can choose not to do this anymore. Many people agree. Still, a little later they fall back into old habits, and it is said in a mitigating way: That’s just the way he is.”

A kitschy background was deliberately chosen for the very recognizable statements, to refer to tidbits of wisdom.

On the table by the window is a row of crocheted bottles. Images of Ukrainian young children helping to fill bottles to make molotov cocktails inspired by Overheul’s series Molotov hug (2022). Hence the crochet’s soft tones. A sea mine hangs on a chain from the ceiling. It was made from organza during a stay in 2017 at Kunsthal45 in Den Helder. Naval mines from the Second World War are still in the sea and regularly wash up on the beach. It has a diameter of ninety centimeters. In daylight it looks like a soap bubble that could burst at any moment. The works are part of the textile weapons series.

On the table ‘Molotov hugs’. The student can be seen in the mirror.
An organza work inspired by sea mines hangs from the ceiling.


Overheul is now working on a series inspired by the story of Adam and Eve in paradise. With the apple and the snake that drove Adam and Eve out of paradise. “Eve is depicted in the Bible as cunning, not to be trusted. This negative image has seeped into modern society. ‘Victim blaming’, we say these days. Blaming the victim with comments like “You must have asked yourself that”, “Wasn’t your skirt too short?”, “You must have provoked it”, “You owe it to yourself”. As if someone has the right to touch someone else… For example, it was written on the web about Anne Faber, that she shouldn’t have been out cycling, on her own, in the forest.”

According to groups within Islam and also within Orthodox Christianity, women must cover their bodies. “Recently in Qatar (during the World Cup), the Qatari World Cup ambassador made a comparison between veiled women and wrapped sweets…”

On the wall to the right hangs a tapestry with Adam and Eve, represented as a pieta.

On a tapestry she depicted Adam and Eve as Pieta – as Mary mourning the death of her son Jesus – with the serpent. The Pieta, now on display in Museum More in Gorssel, is another work from this series, larger and without the hose. Elements from the Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch are added in the background. The tapestries are made of organza, velvet and silk.

North Korea

On the wall next to Adam and Eve hangs a large tapestry with a fist pointing at the flag of the United States. She made this work from 2018 as a result of a period of work in North Korea in 2014. Overheul had made a film there of what you were allowed to see. With the aim of making people realize what is missing in the country. Like a big library, but without books. A twelve-lane road without cars.

Joyce Overheul in her studio with tapestries inspired by North Korea in the background on the right. The rug is made of organza. The more layers of organza, the darker the performance.

Overheul says that a year and a half later, the American student Otto Warmbier, who was convicted of espionage, stayed in the same hotel as her. The fifth floor was closed and inaccessible. Warmbier had sneaked in anyway and brought a poster with Kim’s name on it. He was subsequently accused of espionage and sentenced to fifteen years in a penal camp. Overheul was surprised by the high punishment, but also by the fact that the student dared to do this despite all the warnings. The cards were for sale in the hotel with inscriptions such as ‘We fight the tough by being even tougher’. For an exhibition in Ghent on civil disobedience, she made such a card with this inscription in organza, thinking about Warmbier’s act gone wrong.


The embroidery The worst is yet to come is a work in progress on the extreme right wing in the Netherlands. “First we had Janmaat, then Pim Fortuyn, now Wilders and Baudet from the Forum for Democracy.” The work is for a group exhibition at Galerie Larik in Utrecht. This exhibition has been put together by Overheul himself based on ‘political art with humour’. The letters of The worst is yet to come is woven on a small loom. The choice of the Gothic typeface Fraktur, used by the Nazis from the 1930s, is not accidental.

Overheul chose the typeface (Fraktur) for the woven letters, referring to Hitler’s Nazism.

In the workshop there is an old machine for leather processing. It comes from the family and is also suitable for sewing thick fabrics. There is also a sewing machine from 1873. And that year immediately evokes associations with the slavery past in Overheul. In 1863, slavery was officially abolished by the Netherlands, but it was not until ten years later that the slaves were truly freed. Next year will be exactly one hundred and fifty years ago. Van Houten’s Children’s Act, which prohibited the work of children under the age of twelve, came into effect in 1874. The right to vote for women did not come until 1919, Overheul summarizes. This undoubtedly results in an interesting piece of art.

The artist behind the sewing machine from 1873.

Work by Joyce Overheul can be seen in:
Exhibition ‘MORE & more’, until 5 March 2023 Museum MORE in Gorssel.

The textile objects are fragile. This Kalashnikov came back damaged from an exhibition.

Exhibition ‘The worst is yet to come’, from 23 December 2022 to 21 January 2023 in Gallery Larch in Utrecht.

Homepage Joyce Overheul

Read also about Brabant Cultural:
About the exhibition in Museum De Fundatie in Zwolle:
Joyce Overheul makes art as resistance

© Brabant Cultural 2022

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