Being visible is tiresome
What lives inside a person? What lives inside another person? Where do people meet and how? How do we make room for differences, and perhaps even more exciting, for unexpected similarities? What do we need to show something of ourselves, a little more than usual, and how do we make room for the discomfort that comes with that? These are just a few of the questions Circus Andersom - artists' collective for disruptive connection - will approach the campus community with in the coming weeks. They are researching the value of fear for an artistic installation revolving around diversity, that will be built up on campus during the Kuyperweek.
Thinking about these questions, it comes to my mind that I feel most at ease when I am not confronted with my identity in any way. When I'm not aware of my gender, beliefs or skin color.
I must have been about three years old when I first became aware of my skin color. My parents had moved with me from a white village on the Dutch coast to a commune in a medium-sized city in India. We lived with a group of Europeans in a former residence of a Maharaja, managed by a Catholic Indian family. I adored their daughter Belinda, who was two years older than me. She had beautiful long black hair, always in tight braids that gleamed bluish in the sun. I wanted nothing more than to be her and she adopted me as her little blonde shadow.
I feel most at ease when I am not confronted with my identity in any way
She took me on a tow across the grounds, a colonial-style run-down garden. She introduced me to the janitor who lived under the stairs. We watched snake charmers and other street performers show their skills at the gate and witnessed her older brother light fires with boys from the neighborhood.
I was even allowed to take a bath with her. There was a special soap that I was not allowed to use. It was intended to lighten dark skin. I think that's the first time I could really feel my skin tone. An uncomfortable feeling.
You do not feel your white skin color when you are in an environment that is predominantly white. You feel it when you enter an environment where you are a minority. Where you are not absorbed in the larger group. For example by traveling or by spending a period on another continent.
A year and a half ago I traveled back to India for the second time since my childhood. Now accompanied by my husband and two daughters, aged thirteen and nine. My own hair now completely gray, those of all my travel companions red. Winter white skins full of freckles, for which the first rickshaw driver we met knew a good bleaching remedy. It was an unforgettable journey through the non-stop explosion of colors, smells, tastes and cultures that India has to offer.
Of course I wanted my daughters to see where I had lived part of my childhood. But I also wanted that other thing: that they would feel their skin color. That in every look in public spaces you first feel the classification, the recognition that you are different. That you belong to a minority, however privileged that minority may be. And that it is tiresome, even when everyone receives you warmly. Feeling your skin tone is tiring. Being confronted with your identity is uncomfortable. That experience is important to get a little idea of what it means to be part of a minority group. And that not feeling your identity is a luxury.
Program maker DURF
The installation of Circus Andersom is part of the Kuyperweek from June 7th til June 10th. Check vu.nl/kuyperjaar for updates. Would you like to participate in the research of Circus Andersom? Please contact Jasmijn Snoijink.