Published Sat Feb 29 2020
When thinking about art and museums in Amsterdam, Museumsplein - located in the middle of the city center - is the first place that comes to mind. Or, for the more local sort, Jordaan and its variety of bohemian galleries offers a selection of fine art and sculptures. But rarely does Amsterdam South East, Zuid Oost, Watergrafsmeer blurring into Bijlmer blurring into Diemen, spring to mind.
OSCAM, the Open Space Contemporary Art Museum, is trying to change this image. OSCAM is an art museum, a community refuge, an educational facility and a cultural space: all in one single place. Founded back in November 2017 as a pop-up museum, its purpose was to commemorate the 50 Jaar Bijlmer anniversary. The space describes itself as a museological platform for art, fashion, design, craftmanship, and development.
The Bijlmer, short for Bijlmermeer, was born as a postwar housing project in Le Corbusier modernist style, built to counter the housing shortage in the city following the second world war. Originally built as an attractive new neighborhood for (white) middle class families, in 1975 it began attracting a large community from Suriname and other immigrants populations. In a few years only, Bijlmer became the most multiethnic neighbourhood in Amsterdam and one of the most diverse in the Netherlands. Unfortunately, Bijlmer's reputation has for long been the one of a “problematic area” with high rates of crime and unemployment. But how much is really true of the overwhelmingly negative image of Bijlmer?
OSCAM is trying to prove that not much of this picture is actually true. “We are situated in South East for a reason: to show how beautiful this area really is and how much you can do here,” explains Marian Duff, director and founder of the art space. OSCAM’s exhibitions are often related to the social reality of Amsterdam Zuid Oost. The museum aims to stimulate interest with a diverse agenda and a strong focus on young people. For the gallery, giving broad access to art and culture is a mission and its pulsing heart is deeply rooted in the Zuid-Oost community. As Marian sees it, “(the) Zuid Oost is an area that does not get enough attentions when it comes to talented artists. We give those hidden talents a platform by letting them collaborate with our renown partner institutions and producing exhibitions with them.” A strong emphasis is being placed on the community, an element often missing in mainstream galleries. Most of OSCAM's crew was born or raised in Bijlmer or has connections to the neighborhood.
‘Bout It’, for example, a 2018 exhibition about five Dutch hiphop artists born and raised in the Bijlmer, attracted residents of all ages, hiphop lovers, musicians, and it paved the way for a collaboration with Dutch state institutions on the impact of hiphop on society. The success of the exhibition shows just how valuable the Bijlmer neighbourhood and its residents are to the Dutch culture, not only in terms of music, but also for artistists, audiences and dialogue facilitators. “Talking is the key here!” says Louisanne van Hooff, member of the OSCAM team.
According to Louisanne, forging connections with your surroundings requires “being really open minded to everyone that walks in and making sure that we talk to the people here.” The museum is an ‘Open Space’ as it represents “a welcoming and recognizable place to lots of different people”, in particular for young individuals with minority cultural backgrounds.
“The biggest museological as well as art and cultural institutes in Amsterdam have a long history of programming for a predominantly elitist (read highly educated, wealthy, white) targeted audience” explains Louisanne van Hooff. In response, OSCAM seeks to change perspective on what it means to be a museum and a gallery. “In the current discussion of diversity and inclusivity, those institutions are having a hard time targeting other audiences and actually getting them within their walls. We create connections and give a broader perspective on art and culture, yet on our own terms,” continues Louisanne. At OSCAM, the exhibitions are all free and the museum is open six days a week.
PanDam asked Louisanne how she would like to see museums develop in Amsterdam. Her answer was pretty straightforward: they need to start taking inclusivity seriously. A ‘diversity committee’ whose ideas and opinions are not really relevant or a temporary Suriname exhibition are simply not enough. OSCAM's project is on the map now and its ready to spread its perspective elsewhere, collaborating with art institutions in other cities in the Netherlands, and soon launching new exhibitions in Amsterdam.