Oud West, Thuis Best
The tilework Oud-West, Thuis Best was specially designed as a piece of public art for a section of a particular wall in Amsterdam Oud-West, and was on display at its original location at the junction of Nicolaas Beetsstraat and Kinkerstraat from September 2007 until February 2008. The work was subsequently acquired by the Rijksmuseum and is now part of the Amsterdam Museum’s permanent exhibition. It is on display at the Schuttersgalerij (Shooter’s Gallery), and was one of the pieces included in the publication The History of the Netherlands in 100 Objects.
Oud-West, Thuis Best features a traditional depiction of William of Orange, flanked by Moroccan and Dutch martial artists from Amsterdam Oud-West who are themselves flanked by Dutch lions, against a background of the Amsterdam and Moroccan flag. The showstopper is a quote by Amsterdam’s mayor at the time, Job Cohen, censored to draw the eye, and translates as: “But they are our *** Moroccans!” The artwork was the result of Arno & Iris’s first collaboration as a working duo and is based on their personal experiences.
Arno Coenen: “The piece was realized in the stormy period right after the murders of Theo van Gogh and Pim Fortuyn. I happened to be living in Amsterdam at the time, on the Nicolaas Beetsstraat, right around the corner from the notorious El Tahweed mosque, and often worked out at the neighbourhood gym, Uchi Komi. In the middle of all the social upheaval, the anxiety and intolerance, I saw this struggling little gym as a beacon of light.
“During kickboxing workouts, I noticed that the atmosphere in the gym was remarkably friendly. Everyone got along, much more so than people in the world outside the gym. I saw the opposite of what was being proclaimed about the failure of multiculturalism and the reputation of immigrants, Moroccans in particular. I wanted to visualize the feeling of brotherhood that’s inherent in kickboxing, a sport that is generally perceived with enormous prejudice. Rather paradoxically, fighting makes us brothers.
“That my point of view was not commonly shared became immediately apparent when we tried to arrange a location for the artwork. The combination of Moroccans and kickboxing alone was enough to end most conversations. The Hema department store, for instance, worried about the negative publicity this was certain to attract, refused to let us use one of their walls.
“At the heart of the work is the now historic quote by then mayor Job Cohen. We tried contacting him, but the mayor’s office didn’t want to be associated with the artwork either, so we replaced the mayor’s head with a cut-out portrait of our nation’s founding father.”