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With the Holland Festival now well past its halfway point, two installation projects this week have delivered on its promise for engaging, politically urgent art.
The Walking Forest
This one took Shakespeare’s Macbeth as its starting point. In an interactive video and theater installation, creator Christiane Jatahy used video interviews of people living under tyrannical regimes across the globe to expose today’s real-world ‘Macbeths’. Free to wander throughout the space, the audience was met with a striking contrast between the stories onscreen—conversations with regular people while they shave, clean and care for their children—and the safety that most Amsterdammers take for granted in their own lives. Julia Bernat, the show’s Lady Macbeth, was a commanding presence, and while her lines were not always written convincingly, her delivery made for a powerful performance.
If the first half of the festival has been any indication, the upcoming projects won’t necessarily be feel-good performances – but likely will offer something much more provocative, and much more important.
The piece ended with a call to action: like in Macbeth, where the tyrant is defeated by an army disguised as a ‘walking forest,’ Jatahy urged the audience to resist inequality, and push back against the dictators of our world. Overall, an exhausting performance to attend, but intentionally so, and with a powerful message.
Theater Bellevue had a sound installation from Lebanese-British artist Tania El Khoury dealing with similar themes. In groups of ten, audiences enter a dark room and dig through soil to find the graves of ten martyrs who died resisting Assad’s regime in Syria. The voices of the dead, compiled through conversations with their friends and family, emerge from beneath the soil, telling stories that were otherwise silenced by the regime. Like in The Walking Forest, these are the stories of regular people, with the suffering they endured the single, striking difference from our own lives—one that makes the mourning of their deaths an intensely personal experience.
Too often in the arts, directors exploit the stories of the disenfranchised in order to remain politically ‘on-trend’ and fill their pocketbooks. Thankfully, with both of these installations this was not the case. Both projects, respectful of the dead and critical of the living, provided worthy food for thought—accomplishing the Holland Festival’s mission without resorting to the circus-ring tactics so often employed in ‘political’ art. A huge kudos to the festival and both artistic teams for creating immersive, honest works.
Looking ahead, the final week of the festival continues to provoke audience consciences, with Issam Rafea and Kevork Mourad’s ongoing installation Barbed Wire, a performance from actors collective Wunderbaum on the inwardness of modern European culture, and concerts from leading international artists at the Stadsschouwburg, Muziekgebouw, Bimhuis and Concertgebouw, among others. If the first half of the festival has been any indication, the upcoming projects won’t necessarily be feel-good performances – but likely will offer something much more provocative, and much more important.
Feature image by Aline Macedo, Gardens Speak image by Tania El Khoury.
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