Am I not a woman and a sister?

Graduation collection Jewelry Design (Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp)

The 19th century abolitionist slogan gives away the subject of Ruth Felter’s graduation collection: Slavery

Exhibition setup (Ruimte34, June 20-22th)

The catalyst was the 150th anniversary of Keti Kotie (broken chains), the abolition of slavery by Holland in the Surinam and Dutch Antilles. With my creole Surinam background, I am a descendent of the African diaspora, traded as slaves and employed in the Dutch colony of Surinam. The exhibition Slavernij Verbeeld (slavery depicted) in the Bijzondere Collecties (special collections) of the University of Amsterdam in the summer of 2013 was a true revelation. I’ve been privileged to meet Mr. Kenneth Boumann whose private collection of books, documents and artifacts of the colonial period of the Dutch West Indies made up the majority of the exhibition. His expertise and introduction into the matter was of great importance to make my artistic exploration on subject of slavery.

What struck me was the ignorance. Not only was I ignorant on the subject, I've also noticed that the majority of Surinam and Dutch people are unaware of the magnitude and impact of their shared chapter in history. This history however still resonates in the present. The controversy of the figure of zwarte piet in Holland and Belgium, currently being magnified in Social Media, is a vivid example of how the theme still lives on. The renewed interest in slavery is undeniable in 12 years a slave, the Oscar winning movie by Steve McQueen. For the first time the subject of slavery was not romanticized. Because of McQueen’s Jamaican background he was able to shed a realistic fearless view on the horrors of slavery.

In my collection, I’ve used the shocking artifacts and attributes of slavery: brand marks, chains, and masks. In my designs I’ve build in several layers. The reinterpreted artifacts, the used materials and the historic context all resonate and make people think about the subject. My work is by no means a lecture on slavery, it is an artistic interpretation.

I use of the shock effect because it confronts people and forces them to think about the theme of slavery. Because of this, I’ve used photography to bring a strong contemporary evocation. The photography is by Caro Leriche.


© 2014 Ruth Felter