In September 2021, the time had finally come. After a year's delay because of Covid, I left for Curaçao. As the first resident after a year and a half, I (Esther joined a month later), would move to the IBB. Finally. I had been very much looking forward to it. I was no stranger to Curaçao. When I was twelve, I had lived there with my family for a year, and that had left an indelible impression on me. The fact that Esther and I had now been selected for IBB was not only cool, it touched my heart.
For those unfamiliar with IBB, a brief introduction before I continue. Instituto Buena Bista is a small training institute founded in 2006 by visual artists Tirzo Martha and David Bade. IBB's goal is to give young people a solid preparation for admission to art academies or other creative studies abroad - in practice, mainly the Netherlands. That preparation consists of a mix of classes to which the residents also contribute from their own studios. In the months we were there, there were twenty-two students.
I flush briefly to the end
In groups, "our" students walk through the center of Willlemstad, Punda. They carry bottles of sand, a rope attached to them. Every now and then they stop, a loop in the rope goes around a leg, sometimes around the leg of a passerby, sometimes around a lamppost. One of the students pulls the rope taut, rests the bottle on the ground and then draws a circle of sand. A trail of circles and constellations of circles traces a route through the city. Passersby are amazed, puzzled, surprised. They ask, get answers, conversations arise. At the Emma Bridge, the unique bridge on ferries, a drum band waits. Four people, sound for ten, accompany us across the bridge to Otrobanda, the other side of the water. There follows a jointly performed choreography* of circles in Brion Square: the apotheosis.
A trail of circles and constellations of circles traces a route through the city
It is the final piece of our stay at IBB. #Sandmapping Curaçao, an implementation of the #Sandmapping project** that we started in 2015. For days to come, the circles of sand, increasingly fading, can be seen on the pavement. Remarkably often in the following days, we see passersby staring at the ground. As if trying to fathom the origin of these magical lines. I enjoy the students and how they give themselves a place in this project, in the world. Some with bravado, others with shyness, others with almost architectural precision. They hold up traffic - the drawing comes first. They support each other and keep each other grounded.
Back to the beginning again
We were the first residents since the pandemic broke out in early 2020. We went to Curaçao with the conviction that we would want to contribute by teaching. Our goal was to eventually organize a joint performance with the students in the public space, which had not been possible for two years, due to Covid.
With teaching in mind, and to see how I could fit in well, I first went with the introductory classes at IBB myself - to see how I would fit in well. To experience the same as the students. Looking at how the approach is with them, how the group is composed, their level, how the teachers guide the students. That taught me that there is a great variety in age, skills, motivations. For myself, it was relaxing, to be taught again.
I wanted to create a sense of togetherness
I take great pleasure in motivating students to make things they didn't expect they could, wanted or would be allowed to make. For that, in my experience, you need a low-threshold start, a start you can have fun with and fool around with. Preparing the performance provided space for this. In addition, I wanted to create a sense of togetherness - also with a view to the final performance. The first, the experiment, is about individual expression and the second about togetherness. That goes well together: a performance in the public space requires courage that you can draw from both autonomy and togetherness.
We Were Here
Together with the students, we prepared our performance low-key over several weeks. We had students experience what it means to draw circles with a bottle of sand. What preparation is needed: that sand must be really dry (and that that takes time); that the sand must not be too fine, but not too coarse either, and must have an even composition; what is the effect of the size of the hole in the cap; what is the difference between perfectly tight circles and a more loose approach.
During the performance they go all out
Then we look at how best to photograph the circles, and we all review each other's experiments. We discuss how to engage with bystanders about what we are doing. The extraordinary thing is that during such a process, slowly everything falls into place. The students divide themselves into groups, some take the lead. During the performance they go wild, the good preparation has made stage fright evaporate. That afternoon, the city is filled with circles of sand. An empathetic way of saying: 'We Were Here'. In Esther's and my words: we have created another new landscape.
Curaçao is a rich landscape. In flora and fauna, in language, culture, color, nationality, history. A village on a global scale. We enjoyed the tremendous energy with which Instituto Buena Bista is building a bridge for students. We approached the island and IBB as we walk: step by step entering a landscape that will host your own experience - with attention, patience and curiosity. We did not talk about the colonial veil that lies over the island, but it is there, we feel it too. Some subjects are too big to carry emotionally and do justice in four months.
* Goretti Pombo, alumnus of IBB, created this choreography at our request.
** #Sandmapping started a project for PolakVanBekkum in collaboration with Bert Kommerij
Full report: polakvanbekkum.com