DUTCH WIFE
Aram Lee

The narrative meaning and value of an object is deeply tied to the community in which it exists, and this meaning and value may change or disappear as the object is transplanted between different cultures and contexts. Apart from a change of meaning, the things themselves also change as a result of being displaced. The Dutch Wife is such an object, which originated in the Dutch colony Indonesia. The body-sized bolster cushion was originally made from bamboo mesh, and was used to keep the body cool while lying in bed in this tropical climate. The object was unknown in The Netherlands, but its name referred to The Netherlands as the Dutch colonizers were familiar with it. On a deeper level the name also referred to the custom of men having two wives, one at ‘home’ in The Netherlands and one in Indonesia, who kept a lower status in comparison. The multi-layered story attached to this object, involving colonial history, gender politics, inequality, and also references to craftsmanship, was modified by the place in which it unfolded. 

Aram: "I travelled to Indonesia and traced this object back to its historical roots, and then brought it back to the Netherlands before continuing to alter its identity. By deconstructing the Dutch Wife and applying its technique to objects familiar to the Dutch, cold context, such as blankets, I re-appropriated and assigned a new role to this colonial artefact. With this project, I investigated the loss of meaning in a globalised world, where different cultural identities (those of the colonised and the colonisers) interact within one single object that, in turn, shapes its context anew.


Graduation project, 2017

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