De kampschilders - Ellen Deckwitz in conversation with Jan Brokken
On art as salvation in inhuman circumstances
In his latest book De kampschilders (The Camp Painters, published by Atlas Contact), Jan Brokken weaves together the story of his parents, Han and Olga, with that of prominent artists from Bali, Willem and Maria Hofker, and Rudolf Bonnet, who ended up in the same Japanese internment camps in colonial Dutch East Indies during World War II, alongside Brokken's parents.
In the midst of the camp's hardships, these artists depicted their fellow prisoners and managed to create beauty in those circumstances. Brokken not only portrays life in the camp but also delves into the pre-war artist community in Bali and explores how the trauma from the camp continued to affect his parents' lives after the war. This impactful book, illustrated with work by Bonnet and the Hofkers, has been well-received and was longlisted for the Libris Geschiedenis Prijs and for the Boekenbon Literatuurprijs.
Writer and poet Ellen Deckwitz's grandmother, who had Indonesian roots, was also held in Japanese internment camps. Following her grandmother's passing, Deckwitz realized she was the only family member who had learned her life story. Her poetry collection Hogere natuurkunde (Higher Physics, published by Pluim) emerged from conversations with individuals of Indonesian heritage. The collection combines elements of travel narratives, mythology, and testimonies. Deckwitz was awarded the E. du Perron Prize for this work, and it was acclaimed by publications like Trouw, de Standaard, and NRC as the best book of the year.
Writers Unlimited brought together these two acclaimed Dutch authors for a conversation. They explored the role of art in the history of the Dutch East Indies and discussed what motivated them to transform these historical events into art. They shared their creative processes, offering insights into their journeys through the past. Additionally, both authors read from their impressive works, which are characterized by depth and imagination.
Poet and musician Robin Block participated in this program with poetic and musical performances. He published Handleiding voor ontheemden (Guide for the Displaced. 2023), a poetic exploration of Block's family roots in Indonesia. His work resides at the intersection of language, music, and performance. Block often writes poetry about the shared history of the Netherlands and Indonesia, as well as themes of displacement and belonging, as experienced by individuals with a colonial family history, a migration background, or an upbringing in diverse families and cultures.
This Writers Series program was in Dutch.
After the event: book sale by De Vries Van Stockum, along with an opportunity for book signing.
Programme presented and curated by Shantie Singh (Writers Unlimited)
Writers Series: Ellen Deckwitz in conversation with Jan Brokken
Wednesday, October 11, 2023, 8:30 PM - 10:00 PM Central Library Podium B, Spui 68, 2511 BT The Hague
Writers Unlimited organises the Writers Unlimited International Literature Festival The Hague every year in January (2024 dates: 18-21 January) and monthly Writers Series programmes throughout the year at various locations in The Hague, including the Central Public Library (Centrale Bibliotheek) The Hague. The festival, featuring more than 100 writers, poets, spoken word artists and musicians from the Netherlands and abroad, will take place over four days at venues including Theater aan het Spui, Filmhuis Den Haag, Paard, Koninklijke Schouwburg, neighbourhood libraries, Hague universities and secondary schools.