Toespraak van minister Van Engelshoven bij de opening van het Nederlandse paviljoen op de Biënnale van Venetië

Toespraak van minister Van Engelshoven (OCW) bij de opening van het Nederlandse paviljoen op de Biënnale van Venetië, op 8 mei 2019. De toespraak is alleen in het Engels beschikbaar.

Dear friends,

‘May you live in interesting times.’

That’s the theme of this biennial – taken from an old Chinese proverb. It may sound like a blessing, but it’s actually meant to be a curse. ‘May you live in interesting times’ should be read ironically, as interesting times are almost by definition periods of unrest, of chaos and instability. Of war, even.

The phrase was famously uttered by Robert Kennedy in a speech he delivered in South Africa, in the 1960's. In that speech, he talked about racial tensions, the Vietnam War and the threat of the Soviet Union.

Interesting times, to say the least. What Kennedy did not know, was that the ancient Chinese curse is apocryphal. The proverb most likely does not date back to antiquity. Nor are its origins likely to be Chinese, for that matter. It would appear that we are dealing with a modern Western invention here. 

What at first glance seemed to be an ancient Chinese blessing, has turned out to be a modern Western curse. The words have remained the same, but seen from this new perspective they take on a different meaning. And that’s exactly what you will experience in the building behind me, at an exhibition entitled ‘The Measurement of Presence’: shifting perspectives and alternative narratives, in which Mondrian, De Stijl and Russian avant-gardists are blended with Surinamese and African influences. I’m sure Benno will tell you more about that later.

The exhibition, by Iris Kensmil and Remy Jungerman, shows that reality is too complicated to be accurately represented from just one perspective. In order to do justice to reality, we need to give multiple perspectives the space to exist side by side.

I couldn’t agree more. And I would like to add that these different perspectives change reality itself. They enrich reality, and encourage people to look beyond the boundaries of their own lived experience – to see the world through someone else’s eyes.

Art goes hand in hand with empathy – and appreciation for diversity. Something society could use a little more of.

Artists like Iris Kensmil and Remy Jungerman are well aware of the power of diversity. And so are you, most likely. That’s why it is our duty to promote and defend it. Because the importance of diversity is not limited to individual artists; it is also vital to the arts sector in general. As it looks for new talent and new, diverse, audiences and as new genres are beginning to emerge.

The sector must now formulate a response to these developments, and find a way to bring together all those different perspectives. It must embrace the future, without losing sight of the past.

Dear friends,

Do we live in interesting times?

Just take a look around you. There’s so much going on here, at this biennial, but especially at the Dutch pavilion, of course.

So enjoy ‘The Measurement of Presence’, and I wish you all a wonderful time here in Venice.