'Dear Smirna'

by Maite Vanhellemont

Dear Smirna,

 

When we read your essay out loud someone thought it was written by a man. I felt proud to say that it wasn’t.

 

A strong woman like yourself often makes me emotional these days -

because let’s be honest, we still don’t get to see them as much as we should. For a long time, I never thought of myself as an activist. I thought it just wasn’t for me. But you - and all the others I fail to mention right now - made me realize that it is, or at least, it should be.

 

“Real art comes from real frustration.”

 

I think you’re right about that and that’s why I’m quoting you now. But in this country, this city, this art school - we’re not nearly frustrated enough. One of my best friends always tells me that we like each other because we hate the same things - I think she’s right as well - but we currently live in a society where we rather complain on the internet than demonstrate for the things we believe in. Only Donald made me do that.

 

We are privileged and it makes us lazy. It makes us think that we have the right to edit your text, while really; what do we know?

 

I went to art school because I felt like I belonged there, because I thought it would suit me. Not because I felt the urgent need to make art, the things we make here hardly really change anything. Or at least, not on a scale that seems to matter. But the thing is - I don’t know if I mind, I don’t know if I want to.

 

They teach us that our work must arise from our own fascinations. But being fascinated and being frustrated are two entirely different things - So what does that mean for all the real art I want to make?

 

During our last event - with your ex and my Bosnian fling in between us - you asked me what my personal reason was to go to Sarajevo. At the time, I didn’t really know what to answer, but I do now.

 

I wanted to go abroad because I felt like I wasn’t challenged enough and the options my art school provided just sounded boring to me. I wanted someone, something to shake me up, wake me up - and luckily we ended up meeting all of you.

 

Being called a rich kid from the West straight to my face was exactly what I needed. It’s what everybody needs. Of course, on a political level we all know what’s going on - but on a personal one, no one does anything about it. In our case, it’s a choice not to know and being naive is a tool.

 

I’m not writing this because I want to excuse myself for being born in one of the richest - and apparently happiest - countries in the world. For being raised in a very hippy-like family with parents that encourage me to reach my goals and all I ever want in life. For being able to choose my studies and profession based on my interests. For having a mother that never told me to clean my room - She taught me to be myself - it was a mess in there.

 

These are the results of a couple of decades of individualism, democracy and not having to deal with any kind of war - and I’m grateful for that. But I am sorry for our lack of activism. Because I realize now that with privileges also comes responsibility.

 

You write about graveyards and I remember myself as a kid, being fascinated with them. Every holiday, in every small village, I wanted to visit one. We would play hide and seek and tried calculating how old or young people were - a perfect example of how our different contexts shaped us.

 

But of course, I feel frustrated as well. Frustrated about me, as a young single woman being treated differently compared to when I still had a boyfriend - and not always having the courage to do anything about it or making up excuses when I do, because God forbid, people might think of me as a too-emotional-man-hating-person. Frustrated about how the managing team of my art school is deciding on what an exhibition should look like instead of the teachers and students that actually know what they are talking about, meanwhile trying to tire us out with endless conversations, constantly avoiding the actual topics that need to be discussed - but if they think they can tire me, they don’t know me at all.

 

Frustrated about many things - politics and how I often don’t take it seriously anymore. Frustrated with myself not knowing what to say when someone asks me what the whole point of Outline is, while really - this is it.

 

I do believe in circles, but more in a what-goes-around-comes-around-kind-of-way - we like each other because we hate the same things and shared frustrations make for great connections. Corny - but corny things are often true. Sarajevo woke me up - I never felt stronger - and I want to thank you for that.

 

X Maite

 

 

 

Maite Vanhellemont (1990, NL) , is a photography student and gallery assistant based Amsterdam.

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