Three Interviews by The School of Missing Men
an Empowerment Initiative in the Making
Over the past year, ArtEZ Studium Generale has invited The School of Missing Men to perform interviews with guests on their programme who have a meaningful relation to the core questions underlying the initiative. The School of Missing Men takes as its starting point the fact that 75 percent of students at BEAR (Base for Experiment, Art and Research, the Bachelor of Fine Arts programme in Arnhem) are women, a standard ratio in fine art departments across the Netherlands and abroad. How is it, then, that women continue to be largely underrepresented in many registers in the broader field of art?
The name of the initiative is therefore descriptive of the current paradoxical situation, and the goal is to see how we can learn from it: to see it both as a set of systemic problems to investigate, as well as a series of opportunities to seize. Over the past two years we have implemented several changes across the BEAR curriculum. In collaboration with ArtEZ Studium Generale, Mirjam Westen from Museum Arnhem, and Walter Books, The School of Missing Men strives to open up normative discourses through intersecting positions, allowing a variety of voices and experiences to resonate and contribute in developing knowledge, strategies and a supportive network for students both during school and after graduation.
BEAR students, who form the core of the initiative, have learned that navigating the terrain of gender relations and marginalized positions is fraught. They have grappled with terminology, searching for vocabularies that can hold the desire for inclusivity, difference, and equality, while at the same time becoming increasingly aware of their own position within complex structures of power. As a response, they have turned these struggles into collective sites of inquiry and learning by organizing well researched events that have sought to address these questions head on, finding new insights and tools for empowerment from experts from various disciplines, in and outside the realm of art. In this capacity, they have curated workshops on white privilege, investigated power structures underlying modes of communication and social behaviour, and are seeking to create intimate and safe spaces of gathering for queer students in Arnhem.
For the first edition of APRIA, the four authors who wrote the contributions for The School of Missing Men were all BEAR students at the time they conducted the interviews with the guests of ArtEZ Studium Generale, but some have since graduated and started the next step in their artistic trajectories. Still, each author took the opportunity to engage with the guests and the material produced in the interviews from a set of personal questions that they were grappling with in their respective art practices or thinking through within the framework of The School of Missing Men. In her interview with Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Christine Ayo reflects on the intergenerational relations of feminism as well as the caveats of speaking for/on behalf of others, even when good intentions are at play. In her written account of the interview with Chinese artist Huang Jing Yuan, Yuchen Li extracts strategies for art making that ensure that the work remains accessible to a wide range of intersectional positions by finding common ground on which those positions can intersect and negotiate meaning, while safeguarding the complexity of a given topic. Finally, Data Bosma and Rosan van Doeselaar open up their conversation with journalist Emily Witt addressing the design and use of dating apps as a crucial site to reflect on, and transform, sexual assumptions and practices.
We are very grateful to Studium Generale’s Catelijne de Muijnk and Joke Alkema for the rich programme they continue to produce for ArtEZ students and faculty, and in particular for their collaboration with The School of Missing Men, whereby they not only support and guide student initiatives but also find ways of having students engage directly with their established, international guests in productive ways. As the institution is the first place to address equality, difference, and inclusivity in the field of art, such a collaboration is crucial in working through these relations at the level of art education. We have only just begun and look forward to continuing the collaboration and work that needs to be done, together, from here.