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God is A Verb by Johanna de Haan

In May, SAMA collaborated on a project with Johanna de Haan, an artist and poet based here in Amsterdam. SAMA lent a wall of it’s HQ to de Haan where she hand-painted a stanza from her poem GOD IS A VERB. Under the gallery’s right window, she painted the poem in the original Dutch, using orange paint, then layered the English translation over the top in black. She repeated her poem again under the left window but reversed the languages, so that the original Dutch version, this time in black, was painted over the English, in bright pink. By layering the two versions of the poem on top of each other, de Haan brings into focus the similarities and differences between the languages. Personally, as a native English speaker in the process of - slowly - learning Dutch, de Haan’s piece is a physical manifestation of the relationship that languages with shared connections hav

The poem itself reads:

Like many of the other artists that SAMA works with, de Haan’s piece ask viewers to think. Since the poem needs to be read at a close range there is an intimacy to the work. De Haan makes no claims about the specific nature of God but instead leaves the interpretation up to the viewer and the quiet moment that it takes to work through the layered words gives viewers a moment to consider their own spirituality, something that is not often easy to take time for in this busy world. There is a primal nature to the poem, that combined with the way that de Haan hand painted it on the wall recalls early cave paintings. Much like the cave paintings of Lascaux, France and Kakadu, Australia, which are also deceptively simple, de Haan’s piece draws on the long and constant search for meaning that humans have been on since we looked up and wondered about the world and our place in it.

De Haan’s Artist Statement:

soft speaking walls - poetry in the street

In public space, on walls or on the street some lines of poetry will appear that, after some time, fade away by wind and rain. With these installations, I contribute to different creative spaces in Amsterdam West and to the Street Art Museum Amsterdam (SAMA).

On SAMA’s northern wall, I wrote the first stanza of the poem; god is a verb. Under one window I first wrote the Dutch version of the poem and then painted the English over it. Under the second window, I wrote the English translation of the poem, then painted the Dutch over that. In this way, the installation asks viewers to examine similarities and differences. The intimate nature of the contents and the handwritten words contrast with the order of the street. I want to ask the public to write down for me the word for God in their language or religion. I would like to collect all the names for god or at least 26; one word for every character of the alphabet.

Why poetry in the street?

Many citizens of Amsterdam experience a growing buzz in the city and long for quiet times for themselves. Lines of poetry on unexpected places can surprise them and bring new thoughts to their minds. With my work, I want to bring a poetic energy to public space and call a sense of recognition. The artwork as a silent presence, something that goes beyond the issues of the day. Passing by you maybe have to think about what a line means to you; maybe you think something different tomorrow.

Will a sentence start to live for you when you see it every day when going to work…

These considerations are the basis of the work I wanted to make for WeMakeTheCity.

As an artist, I work with how coincidence and acting purposefully work together. I like to draw the way you think, the way your mind constantly perceive everything around you. I like to do it walking so the energy of the movement slips into the drawing. Those kinds of drawings will be the starting point for installations. For my poetry I collect sentences and ideas and put them among each other; that’s the beginning of a poem.

A poem in the street (let alone a poem about god) between all the information that already is there, is a totally different appearance than the same text on paper or read out loud by a human voice.

- Johanna de Haan

For more info on Johanna de Haan’s work and this project - soft speaking walls - poetry in the street -

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