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June 29, 2021

Reframing HERstory Art Foundation

“We create a space for the voices that haven’t been heard before”

- Farida Nabibaks - Reframing HERstory Art Foundation

Over a year ago, Farida Nabibaks founded the Reframing HERstory Art Foundation. The aim of the foundation: ‘reframing’ history by means of music and dance theatre productions. The first one, Schitterende Schaduw (Splendid Shadow), will have its premiere this year. This music and dance theatre production explores the colonial past of the Dutch province of Gelderland and the impact of this past in the present. The piece shows the ‘shadow’ side of centuries of prosperity in the province. “And it shows what it takes to emerge from the shadow.”

This interview is part of a series of six conversations with Spark activists. Through our Spark Portfolio, we support small, feminist initiatives in the Netherlands and in Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Sint Martin, Saba and Sint Eustatius We talked with activists from six different Spark groups about their work, their convictions and their drive. Photographer Sophia Maria Favela took their pictures.

Farida Nabibaks was born in Suriname 55 years ago. “And, as a result, as a Dutch citizen, even though many people don’t realise that. Every Surinamese citizen who was born before 1975 is also Dutch, as a result of the colonial past.” She moved to the Netherlands when she was 19. She studied dance at the Scapino Dance Academy in Amsterdam, became an artist and also did a degree in philosophy in her thirties.

Can you briefly say something about the source of your activism? 

My work is something that comes out of my ‘being’, and is fed by a need to understand what happened in the past. I do that by feeling through dance and art, and reflecting through philosophy. Ten years ago, I started truly looking at my identity and my history for the first time, because I felt a wound. I noticed that I was ashamed of my colour. I didn’t live in slavery, of course, but there was an extremely deep feeling of inferiority. It was buried deep inside, and it was difficult to feel, but I wanted to take action. What is that inferiority? What does it mean not to be the norm, and the realisation that you will never be that? Natural hair can be straightened, but my skin can’t be whitened. And the older I become, the further removed from the norm I become. In the meantime, I’ve become a Black woman who is no longer young and slender. In the industry in which I work, dance and the arts, the way I look isn’t desirable.”

What does the Reframing HERstory Art Foundation do?

“The colonial history is not only personal, it’s also universal. There are lots more people like me. Many of us are not seen in the world, and I want to address that in my work. As the person who started the foundation, I work together with the board on the development of theatre productions and other artistic activities that make the experiences of Black people visible. We provide a platform for those experiences where everyone feels welcome, regardless of age, colour or gender.

Schitterende Schaduw is the foundation’s first music and dance theatre production and can be seen – if the coronavirus measures allow it – in 2021. “It is clear that we have a one-sided view of history. Anyone who is not the norm feels that. We approach things from a white perspective. There is little discussion of the shadow side in historiography, and the stories of Black people are missing. Research is being conducted in Gelderland into what took place there in the 17th and 18th centuries. Schitterende Schaduw is about the scars left behind by colonialism and slavery, and relates Black people’s experiences of – and their experiences as a result of – colonialism. We are creating a space for the voices of people who have never been heard before.”

What is the most important thing that you want to achieve?

“We want to show history from a present-day perspective. As a result of that, you are able to recognise the patterns in what we’re still doing now. In Schitterende Schaduw, we don’t make things look prettier than they were and are. We show how things were, without commentary, but with the intention of showing that we can also start doing things differently. First of all, you need to know what has emerged from history and to examine the effects of the past in the present. Only then can you make a break with the past and start doing something different.

I hope that people will feel that they want to talk after having seen the show; that the new awareness that they experience will lead to dialogue, not discussion. Every experience has value. I hope that healing can take place after that. If you experience something, but can’t share it, then you’re missing something. If we want to heal, we can’t do that behind closed doors.”

What does the Spark grant mean to you?

“Practically speaking, it means we can do things, realise activities. But it also means that I, and women like me, will be seen. It is a form of validation for what I want to create, and can also mean something to others. At a given moment, I realised that I could be an example to young people who look like me. Because if an older Black woman who is no longer slim, who is not the norm, can achieve this, think of all the things you could achieve.”

What was your biggest challenge in the past coronavirus crisis year?

“One thing that was difficult was that we had to postpone the show. We were able to hold some rehearsals and to prepare ourselves for the pilot. That took place, in part thanks to the Spark grant during an anti-racism week at the Radboud University. During the various lockdowns, I had the feeling that my wings were clipped again and that I couldn’t create what was needed in the world. However, in spite of everything, there is a pilot now.” And Farida Nabibaks, despite the challenges of the pandemic, continues to create.


Reframing HERstory online:

Instagram: @reframing_herstory


Twitter: @FaridaNabibaks