Thursday July 11 the Prins Claus Fund together with MAFB presented an event called “Facing up to the Past” at the Bijlmerpark Theater in Amsterdam hosted by Mrs. Christa Meindersma. Three Dutch designers of West-African, Caribbean and South-American descent showed their fashion collection inspired by the history of the Atlantic slave trade. After each fashion show a short lecture by a leading international scholar on slavery and the slave trade took place.
Young Cameroon-born designer Audrey Ngo Mbog from Uzuri Couture was first in line to kick off with her fashion show called “Loose Chains”. Loose Chains was based ‘on the strength the slaves had to survive and the power (Black) women have today to empower each other.’ With the voice of Nina Simone’s Feeling Good in the background the models showed a collection that is colorful, playful, refreshing and sexy. Loose Chains is a ready to wear collection for any young woman with a strong personality who is not afraid to take the spotlight. Autodidact designer Ngo Mbog is known for her mixture of Western clothing with Cameroons elements.
Right behind Uzuri Couture historian Sir Hilary McD. Beckles principal and pro-Vice Chancellor from the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus in Barbados gave an impressive lecture on “Europe’s Black Debt: Post Slavery Justice and Democracy in the 21st century.” Beckles provided us with a one-on-one / crash course on slavery illustrated by powerful but extremely painful images with two important words for Europe to include in their never ending quest for democracy; Reconciliation & Reparations in regard to Europe’s crime against Africa.
The second designer was Curaçao-born Michelangelo Winklaar with his show called “Independentia”. His collection consisted of chic and sophisticated feminine creations with embroidery, hand-knitted wool and sheer. By chaining each model’s hands together Winklaar showed us that ‘doing what you are told and the absence of free will can be considered a form of slavery that exists to this day.’ The last model walked up with the keys to all the chains as if to show the other models that we have to free ourselves from this (mental) slavery.
Winklaar’s show was being followed by a lecture of Professor Mrs. Susan Legêne of Political History at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. From 1997 to 2008 Legêne was the head of the Curatorial Department of the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam. She made the audience aware of places of memory of the Dutch slave past in the heart of the city of Amsterdam. The images in her presentation made it inevitable to see how much the Atlantic slave trade is intertwined with Dutch history in regard to the Golden Age.
Surinam-born designer Gary Symor closed the event with his fashion show named “Floating Attraction”. Originally a civil engineer Symor switched careers however never forgetting about his techniques as an engineer. Floating Attraction consists of haute couture clothing with technical designs by accentuating the back, shoulders and arms. The collection referred to ‘the metamorphosis that people experienced under slavery and the hope at the end of the injustice.’ Symor brought his collection to life by letting his models walk to the beat of a live djembe session.
The Dutch slave past has an extremely large influence on not only contemporary multicultural society in the Netherlands but also on the relationship between the countries within the Dutch Kingdom. Commemorating the Atlantic slave trade is therefore something to be part of Dutch society altogether. We therefore hope to see more of events like this in the future to show other sides of the Dutch Golden Age and to keep the dialogue about the consequences of the slave past in society today going.
Well done Prince Clause Fund and MAFB!