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Rembrandt’s Light. Contemporary art. Cultural route along the river Amstel.15 September to 15 October 2006. www.northamsterdam.com. Crime. In 1664, Rembrandt made two exceptional drawings of a hanged woman in the gallows field in Amsterdam Noord, the current location of the Tolhuistuin. The subject was the girl ‘Elsje’.

Elsje had come to Amsterdam from Denmark a few weeks before. She was unable to find work, and after a few days she was threatened with eviction. Her landlady threatened her with a broom; Elsje panicked and grabbed an axe from another room. In the commotion that ensued, the landlady fell from the cellar stairs and broke her neck. Els was found guilty and sentenced to the gallows. She was first strangled and then hanged.

Joanneke Meester used this story as inspiration for a new work for the exposition Rembrandt’s Light, reconstructing the Elsje’s story based on personal details. Meester was gripped by the anecdotal details of the violence, the witnesses of man’s timeless vulnerability. She has previously testified via photographs and video recordings about the play of power and powerlessness that people are subjected to. In another work, she embroidered a mouth, sewed it shut and covered the eyes. Her presentation ‘Pistol’ exhibited at the Kunstvlaai (2004) wrote history. The video portrays how Meester sewed a pistol made from her own skin; a ‘gruesome’ symbol of peace.

“For me, it wasn’t self-evident that I would make a work inspired by Rembrandt, until I came across the story of Elsje. She was a girl in the seventeenth century who had a run-in with fate, much like could have happened to anyone. I want to show how this story is relevant to our time.”

Participating artists: David Bade, Nathalie Bruys, Kimberly Clark, Arno Coenen & Peter Leeuwerink, Desiree Dolron, Charlotte Dumas, Michaél Ferron, Joanneke Meester, Marc Mulders, Erwin Olaf, Lenny Schröder, Berend Strik, David Veldhoen.

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