The first session of Black Figures, Black Voices focuses on the documentary Zwart Belicht; Painted Black (2008) by Tessa Boerman, which zooms in on the hidden stories behind black figures in 17th century Dutch and Flemish paintings Shedding new light on famous paintings such as those of Pieter Paul Rubens and Rembrandt van Rijn, as well as less famous works of art, the film tempts us to look at what was meant to be seen, but has often been overlooked. In response to Zwart Belicht, Valika Smeulders (researcher at KITLV/Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies) discusses issues of representation, colonial history and art historical canons with Boerman, and performer Naomi Veldwijk reads from Robin Coste Lewis’ collection of poems, Voyage of the Sable Venus (2015).

More on Zwart Belicht; Painted Black (documentary, Tessa Boerman, 2008)

Zwart Belicht; Painted Black painfully reveals how a dominant colonial gaze created a blind spot for the artistic representations and historical presence of black people in (pre-) 17th century Europe: clearly visible, but unseen for centuries. As expressed by the nameless character in Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man: “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me…” This documentary, narrated as a visual detective, investigates these hidden figures, relating them to both their historical context as well as their contemporary relevance. By zooming in on these paintings an obscure historical reality emerges: one that can hardly be found in written texts. It is a testimony of the importance to reinvestigate our gaze and frames of reference.


7 pm: Opening with poem performed by Naomi Veldwijk
7:10 pm: Welcome & introduction on behalf of ASCA
7:20 pm: Screening “Zwart Belicht" (English subs) & short Q&A
8:30 pm: Break
8:45 pm: Poem
8:50 pm: Conversation between Tessa Boerman & Valika Smeulders
9:30 pm: Questions with audience
9:50 pm: Closing poem
10 pm: Ending