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Youth, hope and future in Oud-West

28 August 2006 – A recently opened exhibition presents photos by Yamandu Roos in shop windows around the Bellamyplein. The exhibition has been set up by Cindy Baar and Mirjam Berloth. “It really is a project of the neighbourhood”.

The photographer focuses on street life, is this why his work has been selected for the window project? Baar: “Indeed, for me personally this was the reason to approach Yamandu for this project. His photos often show street scenes, at places where life certainly is not easy, but I see in his work also an emphasis on youth, hope and the future”.

How did he respond to the idea to hang up his photos in shop windows? “In fact, he liked the idea from the start, he saw the project as a good opportunity to show his work, in a way that supports the core of his work; images of the street, for the street”.

Do you try to involve neighbourhood residents in the project? Baar: “Because the exposition can be seen by anyone from the street, it is really a project of and for the neighbourhood. Through flyers distributed door to door, locals are invited to participate in a collective walk along the shop windows – for this exposition, the walk has already been held at 17 August at ten pm. People can ask the artist questions about the works on display”.

Berloth: “During the walk, Yamandu told about the three photos in the windows of the district office: Olympique Marseille is scouting for young footballers on the streets in the disadvantaged neighbourhoods. The selected youth are coached by a youth worker who teaches them to speak politely and to brush their teeth. He brings them to the first training by car himself, at one photo you see three kids of about ten years old sitting with tense faces on the back seat”.

Baar: “The size and composition of the group participating in the walk vary considerably from one exposition to the other; from 8 to 50 people participate. Generally speaking, participants tend to have some affinity with art or the artist. The collective walk can also be a way to get to know neighbourhood residents and to exchange thoughts on all sorts of issues”.

Did you receive any response to the photos from the neighbourhood yet? Baar: “During the walk, the participants gave positive response. Because the lighting in the windows and the large size of the photos, the exhibition has a large impact especially at night”.

Can you say anything about neighbourhood involvement in earlier projects? Berloth: “Residents and entrepreneurs make their windows available to show art. They receive no reward, but they like to do it for the neighbourhood or for the art. They are often the best source to hear what the public thinks of it, because they hear people talking in front of the window”.

“Visitors come to walk the route together because the exhibition’s subject appeals to them: comic strips, Chagall, graffiti-on-canvas or the hiphop scene. Local residents just like it that there is something special in their neighbourhood and they appreciate the lighting which is on until midnight”.

What is the attitude of the district towards the shop window projects? Berloth: “The district subsidises the expenses of the shop window project, the work is done by volunteers. Unless specifically invited, politicians or social servants never walk along. We do get a lot of compliments, they love the project”.

Earlier this year, the book ‘While Europe Slept’ was published. Its author is Bruce Bawer, an American journalist who lived for some time at the Bellamyplein (see photo below) in the late 1990s. He paints a rather negative picture of the square: “a claustrophobia-inducing square of Dickensian ugliness. If we looked out of the window at any time of day, we were likely to see one or more women pushing baby carriages, with one or more children tagging along behind them. Invariably the women wore hijab, the Muslim head covering”.

Veiled women with baby carriages are a recurrent theme in Bawer’s book. For him, they symbolise that Muslims will form a majority in the future. He is convinced that they will then introduce sharia law.

The picture Bawer paints of the Bellamyplein is met with surprise. Berloth: “From 1997 onward I have been living in the Bellamy neighbourhood, which I like so much because of its heterogeneous population. There are few large houses and therefore few families, a lot of foreigners live here, often young people from western countries, many singles and couples”.

“What I find special about the neighbourhood I live in is that there are so many Western foreigners living there. Turkish, Moroccan and Surinam neighbours I would not call foreigners, they are simply my neighbours. But British, Korean, Irish, Argentinian and Italian neighbours, those would seem more like foreigners to me”.

“There are a lot of small businesses and the market as well attracts a variety of people. You see women with head scarves, but first of all many ponytails and wild tresses in all kinds of colours”.

“The (little) Bellamyplein has a park and old trees in the middle, during the summers there is a small pool for children. You cannot compare the square to some square in New West that the author is probably confused with”.

Baar as well finds it difficult to believe that Bawer has the right square in mind: “Does he really refer to the Bellamyplein? [Bawer does indeed refer to the Bellamyplein in Oud West – Ed]. I myself have only been living in Oud West since the end of 2004, and personally I have experienced that square very differently. I am very curious how the square will further develop, especially when the Hallen project further materializes with a cultural function for the neighbourhood and hopefully for Amsterdam as well”.

The photos will be on display until 8 October. The exhibition is an initiative of the Bellamy Shop Window Project (BEP) and Streetlight. Website Yamandu Roos. See also: Looking at art on the street at night.


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