started on the 3rd of February 2020 after years of working as a freelance curator making exhibitions in lots of different places, from a parking lot in Eindhoven to a traditional Japanese house on the small island of Dejima or a mobile museum in the homegrown neighbourhood of Dharavi. In February I also had to travel to Marrakech for two weeks to make an exhibition for the project ONE SQUARE METER BERBER in Palais Bahia, a project I committed to before starting at the Stedelijk. When I came back, I very much looked forward to working at the museum and in an office with lots of colleagues and new experiences. But then Covid-19 reached the Netherlands and only after a week of working in the office we were all sent home.
So how do you get to know a museum collection from home? Luckily there is the online database that covers the whole collection; over 100.000 objects of which more than 50.000 objects belong to the design collection. So, with a strong coffee and a fresh pair of eyes I started every morning looking into a part of the design collection. While scrolling to the numerous objects six works caught my eye. Their tactile presence makes them so distinct from the other works in the collection; you can almost feel their materiality when looking at them. Although there is only a small black and white image per tapestry available in the database, the tapestries have quite a presence. Who made these textiles, and why are they in the Stedelijk’s collection? were some questions that directly popped up.
After some googling I found out that the tapestries are made by children at the Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Center. In 1951, Egyptian architect and educator Ramses Wissa Wassef embarked on an experiment in creativity that would be widely praised by prominent figures in the art world such as Willem Sandberg, Etel Adnan and Jean Paul Sartre. Wassef wanted to prove through this experiment that creativity is innate; that anyone can make art. He was disheartened by the general decline of creativity in 20th-century urban culture and found routine education stifling. So, he founded the Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Center and chose “uninhibited” young children who were isolated from many aspects of what he saw as “modern civilization” and taught them to weave as a form for creative expression. The Center still exists, and the tapestries have been internationally recognized since the late 1950s.
Willem Sandberg, then director of the Stedelijk, shared Wassef’s fascination with the free expression of children and bought six tapestries from the exhibition Jong Egypte Weeft in the Fodor Museum in 1961-62 that he organised and designed the catalogue for. They have been in our collection ever since, not seeing much day light as they have only been showed a couple times after coming back from their tour to three museums in Norway in 1962.
This is Entry 1 of the Research Log that follows the development of the exhibitionLet Textiles Talk, on view at the Stedelijk Museum from November 13, 2021.
Screenshot of Adlib Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam collection, made by Amanda Pinatih on 27 May 2021