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Interview with mixed media artist Barbara Broekman

Tell us a bit about yourself, when and how did you begin to pursue art?

I was born and raised in Amsterdam and apart from diverse travels and studies in the United States, I haven’t left the city.

I love Amsterdam! To me, the city presents itself as a global village. It is very vivid and alive, international and intimate. My personal history and memories are connected to so many places around Amsterdam. 

"Pursuing art" has not been such a conscious decision at a particular moment in time. Art has always been a logical, natural and inescapable way to express myself. Looking back, already as a child I felt the meditational element of creating, it gave me happiness and peace of mind.

From early on, I sensed the greatness of the unique, conscious capability of mankind to create. It was during my teenage years when I realised I wanted to make "creating" my profession and it took me at least another decade or so to become clear about in which directions I had to move artistically.

Has your experience with other artistic mediums influenced your current work?

Absolutely! As a child, I worked with an enormous variety of materials. My mother was very supportive and stimulated my needs for expressing myself and she sent me to art classes at a very young age.

Later on, during my professional education at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy, it was a policy to offer diversity in techniques and materials. Exploration of artistic mediums suited me and later on in my career I started to implement the use of different techniques and materials in my work.

The use of textiles wasn’t a goal on its own. For me, it is a medium in which I can express myself, whereas another artist might be better off with paint. 

barbara broekman Publisher Prometheus, Amsterdam
"Publisher Prometheus," Amsterdam

Why have you chosen to work primarily with textiles, mixed media and everyday materials?

I want to create art that is part of society, art that the viewer can live in and experience. One of the reasons I work with everyday materials, like textiles, is because they are universal, presented in every culture, are strongly bound to everyday life. Textiles give life colour and represent a human dimension.

Both my subject matter and my use of materials reveal a fascination with the creative power of mankind. In creating, man realises himself - this is a central message in my work. A manual and hand-crafted execution is also essential to my work.

The slowness with which the work is realised is also a criticism against the instant gratification and mass consumption of our times. Besides that, I also address topics that we are confronted with in our everyday existence, such as love, loss, death, birth, the relations between the sexes and the cultural diversity in our society. I reflect on my personal experiences and interests in relation to universal emotions and themes.

Barbara Broekman
"Open Monden," Museum De Fundatie

You’ve been studying or working as an artist for over 30 years, how has your artistic style transitioned over that time?

Getting older makes things easier in a way. Having so much more experience in life definitely gives a certain peace of mind. I can enjoy my work more and focus on topics I’m drawn towards.

I can look at certain subjects from a distance, wiser and more analytically. My profession is about undergoing exams all the time, now I feel pleasure (instead of stress) and have gained creativity by getting older. 

How do you want the viewer to interact with your artwork?

In my work, I pursue a direct confrontation with the senses, to stimulate, seduce and challenge people to look at it. The large scale, deep colours, suggest movement and the tangibility of the materials invoke a sensual experience.

I want to make art that can be "read" by everybody, work that is a reminder of objects, experiences, emotions and desires we all share, without necessarily having to be introduced to art-history.

I have two mottos that are hopefully portrayed in my art. First, to be conscious that we are so minute in this universe yet very rich with our chance to take part in this world together.

And second, celebrate life! We are here for such a short period of time, so confront yourself in a conscious way with every joyful and painful experience. Work through experiences to enrich yourself.

Barbara Broekman
Galerie Majke Husstege, "Faith," 2009

How do travel and culture inspire your work?

Mainly in a sense of widening my scope, to admire and to be astonished. These experiences put my own morality, boundaries and values into perspective. It is all meant to inspire my thoughts and to enrich my consciousness. 

In the Netherlands, we had an advertisement to stimulate reading which said, "Stay where you are and travel in your mind." I also find inspiration through reading a variety of books especially in topics of history, sociology, anthropology, psychology and philosophical work related to everyday life. 

I love to look at visual expression in different cultures through architecture, landscape, materials, patterns, and people of course! I love to observe people and talk to them!

barbara broekman interview

"My Town: A Celebration of DIversity"

Please share a bit about your artistic process.

All of my work begins as a concept. I create a framework in my mind and proceed further as it develops along the way but the creative process of my autonomous work and my commissioned work are slightly different.

In case of my autonomous works, like "My Town: A celebration of diversity," I developed a strong idea in my mind until I could materialise it. I've always been fascinated by cultural diversity, especially in Amsterdam.

Only in 1999 did I realise just how complex the subject was and what a huge number of different nationalities live in our city! That's when I developed the idea of representing every nationality using textiles, a universal medium, used in every culture worldwide and rooted in our history.

With commissioned projects I start right away with research, examining who the client is and exploring techniques and materials, along with a budget, time schedule, and so on.

The next step is gathering images, making and redoing the designs and collages until everything suits my idea. I want to surprise myself with every project and therefore, have to go through many stages of developing the ideas and designs.

While I’m managing the process, I sometimes contact skilled craftsmen needed to realise my ideas, like with ceramics or glass mosaics.

Do you have any words of advice for new and developing artists? 

Don’t hurry or feel frightened if your work is not immediately accepted by society. Enjoy making your work, try to be content and joyful about the fact you have the capability to express yourself. Learn to be an entrepreneur and don’t wait to be seen and acknowledged. Make plans, go after it yourself but most importantly, take your time!

Barbara Broekman, St. Michaelscollege, Zaandam
"St. Michaelscollege," Zaandam

Tell us more about your current or upcoming projects and exhibitions

I am doing research, together with the Amsterdam Museum, for an new version of "My Town: A celebration of diversity" for 2014. The exhibition has been so successful that the director of the museum, Paul Spies, wants to replace the carpet with a new version when the current piece will be worn out.

Originally the project was meant to be on display until the end of January 2013, but it fit so well that the museum would like to keep it until the end of this year. After that, it will be replaced by a version that can last for at least five more years!

We will have to raise funds and we are currently making plans and developing ideas on how to succeed. It’s very exciting!

Upcoming exhibitions

 Amsterdam Museum | June 2012 - 2014
Hotel Arena | July - December 2013 
Delta Lloyd, Mondriaan Toren | December 2013
For more on Barbara Broekman visit her official website

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Lily is a writer and blogger from sunny Florida with a passion for online media, marketing and communications. She shares travel adventures and anecdotes of life in Amsterdam on her...

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