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I AM - Curators speak

Friday, March 8, 2024 is International Women's Day. The group exhibition 'I am' will then open at Pennings Foundation. I spoke to the three curators of the exhibition: Maryam Yazdani (Eindhoven photographer from Iran), Petra Cardinaal (director of the Pennings Foundation) and Irma van Bommel (art historian and employee of the Pennings Foundation) about what you can expect when you visit the exhibition.

Marielle van Uitert

Maryam says: 'Visitors will look at portraits of and listen to the stories of strong invisible women who, under pressure from culture, society, tradition, religion or taboos, have made their own choices to show their strengths and talents. They want to tell people that they exist, even though society doesn't want to see them.' Irma adds: 'The stories are about women who have personally experienced gender inequality and who resist it in one way or another. These can be stories of the portrayed or of the makers. They suffer from the fact that they do not have the right to self-determination. Sometimes an image is poetic, sometimes confrontational.'

The I Am exhibition brings together photographers from different countries and cultures. Visual artists also participate; they reinforce the photographers' story with their poem, image, installation or performance.

When asked what the curators hope to achieve with this exhibition, it immediately becomes clear that different approaches have been chosen. ‘Getting the conversation started is what we can contribute to with this exhibition,’ Petra says. 'That doesn't solve all the problems. We do make people curious about other ways of thinking and living, we do not want to immediately condemn them, but above all we want to gain knowledge about them. So that everyone realizes that freedom always has a price. Because what is freedom anyway? How do we deal with it? But also that there are still many abuses in the world, including in our own country.'

The decision was made to tell the stories from a positive approach. Maryam: 'What makes this exhibition unique is that we show the public a strong aspect of a woman. A lot is happening in the world right now. People hear a lot about all the ugly aspects of war and oppression. But on the other hand, there are also people who choose to be heroes like these women. They are a hero to their children, their friends, their family and they pass their strength on to other generations. It is important that we pay more attention to this and make society aware of it.'

Filmstill: Martin en Inge Riebeek

There is also hope that there will be more understanding of situations that women may find themselves in in other parts of the world. And for more understanding for refugees from countries where there is gender inequality, Irma adds. She hopes that men and people who have difficulty with the number of refugees in the Netherlands will also visit the exhibition.

How do the curators now view the so-called 'free west'?

Irma: 'We can consider ourselves lucky that we live here in freedom. We can choose whether we study or not. And whether or not we will work in addition to caring for children and household. We must not forget that women in the Netherlands did not always have the right to self-determination until the late 1950s. Yet we are not there yet in the Netherlands. We hear about femicide almost every day. And we also hear almost every day about unsafe situations in the workplace or at sports clubs and training courses.'

“The so-called 'free west' has its own laws and rules,” says Petra. 'The choice, the truly free choice, to live your life the way you want: as a man or woman, religious or non-religious, everything is allowed, but you cannot impose it on others. Ultimately, every culture determines how it treats each other.'

For Maryam, her mission does not end with this exhibition. In fact, it is a starting point for more: 'Our mission was to give invisible artists a voice. This project is the beginning of a journey towards a greater goal. The goal is to give Eindhoven a platform for women, so that in a multicultural city like Eindhoven all women have a voice.

Foto: Lina Geoushy

The I Am exhibition is hopefully a starting point for this future goal. Society still pays little attention to gender equality. I believe there is no 'free west'. Every society has its own invisible women without a voice and without rights. It is up to us as artists to make everyone aware of this through our work. Hopefully, future generations of women will be less affected by gender equality.'

The collaboration between the three curators came about in a special way. Maryam (photographer) was portrayed by Kees Martens in the exhibition 'Woensel West' that was on display at Pennings. Maryam Yazdani was contacted and asked if she would like to be a co-curator. She has been working on projects about freedom and gender inequality for years and knows how to explain how certain things are experienced and/or seen, for example in Iran. Petra: 'She knows the culture, we are interested outsiders.'

The opening of 'I am' is on Friday, March 8 from 5-7 pm and will be performed by Palwasha Banai, author of 'Demonen Overwonnen'. Admission is free, but please register:

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