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December 6, 2023

Mijke Ambaum archives and celebrates women's voices

Every year, magazine Metropolis M releases a Graduation Special, featuring work by several alumni who graduated as visual artists. Mijke Ambaum graduated from BEAR Fine Art in Arnhem and is one of the alumni featured in the special. Metropolis M asked the artist the question, "What is the story behind your work?"

On a big screen we see a seated Mijke Ambaum doing embroidery with her mother, sister, best friend, grandma and her grandma's best friend. "Do you sometimes sing?", someone asks her. "Not really", Ambaum replies. "Sometimes I have my music on loud, but I don't sing along." Her grandma's neighbour looks at her and asks: "Doesn't that mean you have a block somewhere?"

You can learn a lot from informal conversations like these, Ambaum realises: about yourself, but also about social safety. "Gossip keeps women and other minorities safe; that chatter in the corridors allows them to identify unsafe situations." With her graduation project Echo and Other Songs, she seeks to archive such important forms of knowledge transfer between women.

Elsewhere in the room, another conversation is played back, this time between the artist and Isabelle, who she met last year in the United States during a protest against the restriction of abortion rights. During the drive home, Isabelle gave her some protesting tips. Previously, Ambaum had organised her own protest on the market square in Arnhem, against street intimidation. For this purpose she made curved wooden seats that together form a small amphitheatre. Thanks to the good acoustics, Ambaum didn't have to raise her voice during the protest. "Protests often have quite a harsh and masculine quality; I wondered if there was another way of doing it", she explains.

Perhaps most striking are the two car seats in the centre of the space. While in the States, the artist noticed that she was completely dependent on other people's cars to get home safely. Although many might think this is not an issue in the Netherlands, Ambaum's experience testifies to a different reality. "If you live in the country and the buses stop running at 7 o'clock in the evening, you really do need your mum to come and give you a lift home."

Onto those car seats, here elevated to symbols of safety, Ambaum stitched the woven pieces of textile we previously saw going through the hands of the female company. Among the images they depict are women from Greek mythology such as Cassandra, a mortal who could predict the future but whom nobody believed. "The general image of women remains that they do not tell the truth", says Ambaum. Through her work, she wants to archive and celebrate women's voices.

Author: Marsha Bruinen, writer on art and philosophy, and web editor at Metropolis M.