Photos copyright by Jimini Hignett
A Small Collection of Innocuous Objects
Some 200 souvenirs with images of the Red Light District that can be found in the souvenir shops in Amsterdam next to the windmills and tulips are exhibited in the presentation Nr. 1 tourist attraction. They depict icons of the ‘exotic’ neighborhood which is being visited by the tourist, and are bought as a nostalgic reminder or in order to share their experiences of that place with others. Artist Hignett collected these souvenirs with the idea of investigating whether the objects can reveal something of the way some narratives are repressed whilst others are promoted.
The Prostitution Monologues
The series of videos that can be seen in a video installation tells in detail the story of the women (and a single man) who have ended up in prostitution. These are testimonies from interviews conducted by the artist. The stories are told in the video by actors who often deliberately do not resemble the protagonists at all. By doing so, Hignett wants to stimulate an 'out-of-the-eye' reaction.
Reversing the gaze: Self Portraits
To accompany their testimonies, each of the survivors interviewed by Hignett painted a self-portrait. These are an expression of how they see themselves, whilst at the same time, as they are painted on brown paper bags, the resulting masks serve to retain their anonymity. In many cultures, a mask has magical powers and gives strength to its wearer, but the bags also refer to a kind of bag-over-head torture. From their vantage point high on the joists of the museum, they look down on us in a reversal of the standard gaze.
Hignett, in close consultation with the Amsterdam Museum and CBK Zuidoost, has decided not to include the sculpture 'Belle Revisited' and the accompanying video 'Zandpad Revisited' in the art installation. According to Hignett, the heated discussion about the interpretation of the works stands in the way of the debate that she wants to bring about. A debate that Hignett, along with many others, believes should be conducted more actively.
Hignett made her own sculpture inspired by 'Belle', the famous bronze statue that stands in the middle of the Red Light District on Oudekerksplein. Belle' depicts an independent sex worker who poses provocatively in a doorframe and calls for respect for sex workers. Hignett's interpretation of the sculpture, which she called Belle Revisited, is a life-size wooden figure. At two previous performative events, Hignett invited people to carve their initials or a heart into the wooden body of the sculpture. To symbolically acknowledge and visualize their complicity in the pain and oppression inherent to forced prostitution.
To Hignett's great regret, the carving in the wooden statue has been interpreted by various people as a call for violence against sex workers. This is at odds with Hignett's viewpoint, which is precisely the opposite of what the work of art is intended to achieve. Hignett and the Amsterdam Museum would like to emphasize that the very purpose of the image that is being withdrawn from the exhibition is to bring violence against sex workers to the attention of the public. It had no intention whatsoever of calling for violence against sex workers. Hignett's motivation to be actively involved in this subject for many years is precisely a deeply felt need to make hidden suffering that accompanies prostitution more visible.
The exhibition Nr. 1 Tourist Attraction is the end result of a residency programme that the CBK Zuidoost and the Amsterdam Museum organize together every year. The presentation is supported by the Mondriaan Fund, the Amsterdam Fund for the Arts and the Stokroos Foundation. The Amsterdam Museum considers it important that artists continue to put urgent issues on the agenda, including those on which there are serious differences of opinion. The museum offers a place where diverse opinions and views are listened to with respect, also with regard to this subject and invites Amsterdammers, politicians, sex workers, academics, local residents, artists, and whoever wants to, to come and talk to us.
Comment Judikje Kiers (director Amsterdam Museum)
“It affects me both on a personal level and as a director of this museum that without meaning and realizing it we caused pain and sorrow to so many people. I want to emphasize the fact that this has never been the museum's nor of the artist's intention", according to the general director Judikje Kiers. “Art can be provocative and can stimulate us to reflect and discover new insights, but in this case it has led to unnecessary sadness. And for that I am deeply sorry”.