The Non-Sorrow of the Belgians: Africa Museum, Tervuren

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After visiting the revamped Africa museum in Tervuren, Brussels, which commemorates our colonial heritage in a supposedly introspective and decolonizing fashion, I was asked by one of the “friendly museum guides” on the scenic ride of tram 44 what I really thought about it, I told him that I did not like it all. He told me to report my criticism on the museum website, but here I slam it on my own blog.

Without having the time to go into details, I think that this internationally applauded “decolonizing” museum  is now at once one of Belgium’s lamest and most offensive museums. It does not bother me too much that the exhibits are hodgepodge and very cheaply designed, the stolen objects and taxidermic animals from our brutal heritage creating a cozy fleamarket atmosphere that our Belgium is known for. What bothers me is the lack of care and communication about our forms of brutal exploitation in the colony, the vagueness of descriptions on most of the labels and mission statements, so that it is really not clear what kind of slavery economy and cultural soft power Leopold II had put into place. I noticed a crude denial and many attempts to “remain neutral” amongst a nearly-formal and proud display of mines and minerals, exotically exuberant fauna and flora, offensively colonial statues of serving and nakedly clad primitives, a long engraved list of Belgians who died in the colony without a much longer Congolese counter-list. A few of those ugly-racist sculptures have been “taken away” from the museum and assembled in one separate room for our critical gaze, but many other of those sculptures , as stated on the signs, “could not be removed” from museum halls. Indeed the main slogan of the museum “Everything Passes, Except the Past” here means that the museum itself is stuck in its colonial “human zoo” mentality. It was built by Leopold II and opened in 1910 as a way to showcase his wealth and dark-enlightenment worldview on how to rule Africans, who were also literally put on display in Belgium in 1897. As in other sites of historical commemoration and apology, it should mean that we sense the pain and humiliation as atmosphere of destruction, and ongoing post-colonial strife on how to negotiate cultural relations, but perhaps not the kind of  cowardice and  silliness that is now the main tenet of this revamped museum.

Or perhaps the silliness of the Belgians, in itself a crude stereotype that unites the Flemish and Walloons, comes in handy for this museum, and it was well covered by Trevor Noah in the Daily Show:

And of course my full applause goes to the VRT series “Kinderen Van de Kolonie” (in French and Dutch) which is also airing this Fall and does apologize to the Congolese. This TV documentary series evokes the full horror of colonial violence  by opening up harsh views and Congolese responses, and its complexity is full of feeling.

 

 

Salvation, Antwerpen.

 

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I exit my apartment in Aalmoezenierstraat and cross the road to the Salvation Army, where I buy myself a used red duffelcoat for 7,50 euro. It is a nostalgic choice as I have already owned and garbaged many a red coat. My mother Annette Van Dijck gave me hers on one of my last visits before her death. I put it on and walked around with an air of contentment, but it was too solidly red and suburban-bourgeois to become my coat.

It took my mother many years to die and she somehow kept up her strength to the last minute, even though she was stranded in bed for many months, she would push her self around using doorhandles, walls and cabinets. She refused to get any kind of walking aids or medical personnel inside her apartment, and wanted to suffer and die alone. My grandmother Helene Siebelinck-Van Dijck had equally lost all social contact towards the end of her life, complaining for many years that it had been enough. She grew up in an upper-middle class family who owned a lucrative brewery in the village of Wouw, just across the Dutch border, her husband was a well-off doctor who died himself of tuberculosis but did not leave behind a large trust fund. There were eleven children in the Van Dijck family and, as one of the only girls, Annette was ordered to take up odd jobs and start feeding the family. Annette would be forever angry for having to fulfill this plebeian role, and as we will see later, Katrien will decide slip out of this kind of matrilineage altogether.

Annette was more integrated in the small Flemish village than was her mother Helene and she kept a certain joi de vivre when she was dying, kept driving her Berlino to the Delhaize down the road and cooking fancy meals, taking fairly large doses of morphine as she got closer to death, binge-reading her thick novels and watching plenty of TV. In this way she was a kind of role-model for how to depart.

A few years before Annette gave me her red coat, when my sister Mieke was still alive, we had a family gathering and we browsed through my mother’s collection of coats. Mieke handed me one of Annette’s heavy blacks with ostentatious fur collar—I paraded in the apartment and then walked outside into the woods. It was frosty and drizzling and the sun was setting even though it had never shown that day.  We buttoned  our coats and put on  woolen hats, scarves and gloves, walked slowly, slipped on the ice, coughed and giggled, my confused American husband following our trails into the stinky Flemish fields.

And now I feel that coat again in the Salvation Army. I talk to Yvonne, an old Dutch lady with silver curly long hair and stark blue eyes who runs its second-hand clothing shop. She opens it every Wednesday afternoon and I sneak into her shop to chat with her and to buy the various pieces of my sabbatical wardrobe. Yvonne talks to me non-stop and also makes sure that I don’t make any rash choices, guiding me through her erratic collections to a hidden mirror in the backroom and ordering me to zip up coats and move my arms around. She not is devoid of deep feeling as she now tends to her teeny dog, a Japanese ‘Chin’ who is sleeping in a very small cardboard basket. She named her dog Chinny so that she actually could remember the dog’s breed. Chinny has been her companion of ten years but is terminally ill as a large gland has slipped out of “female cavity,” she had been stitched up but kept pulling out the stitches and making a mess at the floor of the Salvation. I was looking away when I thought I heard Yvonne say that she was actually ready to put Chinny under, that Chinny had no energy left, that it was time too much for her and she had do so. I had heard it all before. But when I looked up Yvonne said that she would take her to the vet the next day and she would probably be totally fine.

When I visited three days later to check up on Chinny, the minuscule dog had indeed made a full recovery. After taking some medication her gland had slipped back right into her female cavity. She had been moved inside a proper dog basket and she was already starting to tease and pester Yvonne for food.

 

 

Slightly Bent

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I launched my new book The Afterglow of Women’s Pornography in Post-Digital China in the ACO book store in Hong Kong. It was a cathartic kind of event, as the launch can be for the author who finally exits a space of desolation and mental exhaustion while trying to communicate with the outer world. Egret Chow delivered a testimony about being labeled  “left-over woman” in mainland China–the class of women who defy the patriotic push to marry and procreate.

In my book I also write about ghost fictions and propose a notion of phantom feminism based on Jack Halberstam’s theory of shadow feminism and Judith Zeitlin’s feminist reading of ancient ghost stories.(1) I had a chat about this with Ling Tang, a Ph.D. student in sociology who could not endorse “phantom feminism” and perhaps believed that I should be more attentive to the material realm of sexual relations and sexual politics. But then I have been stuck inside the porn0-mediated-realm for a while and still believe in its unique affect.

Hence there is a chapter pornographic Boys’ Love manga and online fictions, the extensive subcultures of women’s gay erotica that have very little to do with their embodied sexual practices. The news media have recently tried to probe the complex erotic fantasies of these “straight” woman but straight is also an inadequate label. In Australia they used to label it “bent”–these women and their fantasies are not straight, not lesbian, not trans, not perv, but just slightly bent.

 

(1) Zeitlin, Judith (1994) “Shared Dreams: The Story of the Three Wives’ Commentary on the Peony Pavillion,” In Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 54:1, pp. 127-179; Zeitlin, Judith T (2007) The Phantom Heroine: Ghosts and Gender in 17th Century Chinese Literature, Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press.

 

Casting Call for Milk +

MILK+ 演員招募

招募以下角色:
複製人、機械人、阿凡達
即興表演者、性活躍分子、愛滋病活躍分子
lover boys,lover girls…
女人、男人、雙性人、中間人
不需要暴露演出﹗
必須有豐富想像力,大膽,吸引!!!

MILK+,一個融合性、藥物及變種病毒的表演將2010年3月27日晚上九時至十一時於錄映太奇隆重獻上。

與展覽《Techno(sexual)-bodies》 同期進行, MILK+ 齊集藝術家鄭淑麗(聞名於日本科幻色情電影I.K.U.), Katrien Jacobs (聞名於libidot.org) 與梁學彬 (聞名於其媒體藝術作品「東方婊子」)將錄映太奇化身為反烏托邦的科幻場景,展出誘惑、頹廢與墮落等故事脈絡,將你帶進2050年的性愛境界。 帶來性興奮之餘,再次喚醒大眾對愛滋病傳播的關注。

我們邀請你踴躍參與是次演員招募!

請聯同個人資料,網頁及興趣電郵至casting@milk-56k.com

報名截止日期: 二月二十日
試鏡日期 (只接受預約): 二月二十七日

CASTING CALL FOR MILK+

WANTED:
Replicants, Androids, Bots, Avatars, Clones
Live Performers, sex activists, AIDS activists.
lover boys, lover girls..,
Female, male, Bi, and in-between beings.
No explicit sex required!
Be imaginative, daring and darling, a MUST!

MILK+, a performance of simultaneous acts with SEX, DRUGS and MUTATED virus
21:00-23:00, March 27, 2010 Videotage, Hong Kong

In conjunction with Techno(sexual)-bodies exhibition at Videotage, MILK+ brings together artists Shu Lea Cheang (famed for her I.K.U. Japanese scifi porn), Katrien Jacobs (famed for libidot.org) and Isaac Leung (famed for Oriental Whore) to transform Videotage into a sci-fi dystopia landscape with scenes of seduction, decadence, corruption and above all sexual arousal and cautious reawakening of AIDS epidemic.

We seek your participation through this CASTING OPEN CALL.

Send an email to
casting@milk-56k.com
with your info, website and interest.

Deadline to submit yourself: February 20
Casting session (by appointment) : February 27