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LANGUAGES AND CULTURES ACROSS SAMA COLLECTION- different artworks from different countries

Updated: Aug 27, 2021

As early as the 19th century, famous linguists and philosophers of language had already started to reflect on the relationship between individuals, language, culture and society. It was the German scholar W. Humboldt who founded the concept of langue-culture during one of his stays in Paris, according to which both language and culture are part of the same continuum, inseparable from each other. Above all, they are the result of a socio-cognitive creative process inherent in the traditions of the same nation. Each langue-culture is by no means static and impenetrable towards the others and this is precisely the main subject on which the article will be based: being humanity and his activities in a constant process of becoming, the heterogeneity of its multiple traditions can make contact and create more or less harmonious combinations. As far as the particular case of SAMA is concerned, the result of the meeting of different langues-cultures is one of the noblest and most significant human products: art.

SAMA has a very large and varied collection on which worldwide acclaimed street artists with different nationalities and cultural traditions worked. As a consequence of that, the artworks are very heterogeneous both in the technique and in the engaged messages they want to convey. As a matter of fact, it all depends on the influence exerted by the native socio-political environment and on the foreign cultural consonance imposed by the countries they traveled and worked in. Therefore, it is very interesting from my point of view, as a Linguistic and Cultural Mediation grad and an Erasmus trainee at the gallery, to make some reflections on 4 aspects, analyzing the linguistic-cultural context of some artworks of our open-air museum collection.

Having provided the basic technical-linguistic information, it is necessary to highlight that one of the main purposes of our gallery is to let local foreign communities - coming mainly from Turkey and Morocco after the agreement with the Dutch government in 1950 - feel included and welcome. Some instances of artworks that establish a social dialogue with the majority of Nieuw West inhabitants - who is Muslim - are: Orticanoodles’s Tulips, Bastardilla’s Memories and Burka which can be found on our Wall of Fame. In the first case, the Italian street artists duo’s message of integration is not immediate, but it requires some inferences: only the capitalistic market of tulips is located in Amsterdam, but their origin is different from the city of which they are considered the symbol; actually these flowers have Turkish origins. Moreover, if yellow and red refer to Dutch families, purple was chosen to emphasize once again the importance of migrants in this area. On the contrary, the contents of the other two artworks are more explicit: both artists have chosen unknown female figures respectively, on one hand, to reconstruct an important Muslim women riot - which took place in the immediate environment of the mural - stuggling to make their voices heard and to get their right to live their social life outside the house walls and, on the other hand, to denounce the sad Dutch contradiction of the 'Burqa ban', which should be a free religious choise for Nieuw West Muslim women.

Obviously, our collection not only celebrates the Nieuw West neighborhood, as SAMA is interested in preserving any kind of traditions, even the ones that originated far away from Amsterdam. That’s why some of our artists did promote other culture’s public figures: for example, the Jamaican Cunningham chose as subject his compatriot Bob Marley to emphasize and pay homage to his unfairly underestimated homeland, since the father of reggae is extremely worldwide known in the music scene and both for his lifestyle and activism. In contrast, the Catalan feminist artist and activist Btoy focused on famous female faces of the last century who were incredibly popular in the US and therefore very far from her own country, such as Amelia Earhart, Greta Garbo and Amy Winehouse. It is all about empowered independent women that somehow managed to leave a revolutionary imprint in different fields: the first female pilot who was able to transform the male stereotype associated with that work; the Swedish model Garbo who turned upside down the traditional aesthetics of femininity creating her personal look and style and last but not least, Winehouse, the talented star and blue-eyed soul precursor.

But sometimes dialogue among different cultures can be very different from what we have expected: not a share between the different, but a contrast between

irreconcilable opposites. Let’s do a comparison between Btoy’s Evelyn Nesbit and a portrait of the Dutch white patriot and military leader Diederik Sonoy, which is not part of our collection: the Spanish feminist artist chose to represent the American dancer, model and actress next to the classic and traditional male portrait just to provoque the visitor. The message she wanted to convey is that she doesn’t need a man to make people talk about her, because she’s already sparkling just with her non-conventional strong personality. To sum up, the two portraits speak completely different languages representing two opposite realities, which cannot meet without fighting for their position of prominence on the wall.

A rare and genuine example of linguistic-cultural collaboration among different cultures is El Pez and Recal’s Glory. The artwork not only differs in the technique of the two street artists, but also reflects the content expressed in the first paragraph of this article: different cultural traditions, environments, nationalities, languages and travels can influence the way artists are used to externalize their personality through art. Unlike the previous work, this mural clearly shows an instance of harmonious conversation among alterity, which can stick together as long as the ephemerality of street art allows: the funny frame deals with Barcelona happy style emblem, an always smiling fish mirroring his founder’s personality, but in this particular case it is mixed up with the Colombian macaw bird. Actually, El Pez’s wife is from Colombia, a country to which he travelled a lot and from which he drew artistic inspiration. As far as the remake of Vermeer’s Milkmaid is concerned, it is a celebration of Dutch traditional culture with addition of the woman’s provocative attitude showing her bare leg.

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Estella Tongwei
Estella Tongwei
Sep 29, 2021

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