Petra Bauer, "Read the Masks, Tradition is Not Given", 2008.
Petra Bauer
Monday, 7 March, 2011

For 12 Gestures, Petra Bauer will present and discuss Read the Masks, Tradition is Not Given (2008), a film made in collaboration with Annette Krauss, which critically explores the phenomenon of Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) in the light of its social and political implications.
The film follows on from the artists' proposed event for Be(com)ing Dutch, a two-year research project and exhibition at the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, Holland on issues concerning the Dutch national identity. Zwarte Piet is a central part of the celebrated Dutch tradition, the feast of Sinterklaas. The celebration of the tradition takes place over the course of three weeks, starting in mid-November with the arrival of Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) in the Netherlands by boat to deliver gifts to the children. With him are numerous Zwarte Pieten, his black-faced assistants with red lips and dark curly hair.
Working and collaborating with inidual activists and organisations, the artists' project included an installation with placards and banners at the Van Abbemuseum, a planned but cancelled protest march / performance in the streets of Eindhoven and a public debate. In 2008 a planned protest march aimed to publicly give voice to a long, marginalised and suppressed critique against the phenomenon of Zwarte Piet. This event would be the starting point for the whole project. However, a few days before the march was to take place the project received extensive media reporting, triggering hundreds, if not thousands, of comments. Some of them were extremely negative reactions and even included threats of violence against people involved in the project. Due to these threats The Van Abbemuseum found itself forced to cancel the march.
The huge media attention revealed the refusal to discuss Zwarte Piet, and triggered the very complex discussion on questions such as national identity, racism, who has the right to speak, freedom of speech etc. The events also started a debate about whether the art institution is a place for reflection or action, and if the artists were making art or politics.

Petra Bauer is a Stockholm-based filmmaker whose work explores concepts of story building through documentary making. Bauer questions how norms and values affect selected interpretations of facts and events in society, and how these in turn are used by people to construct a story of the present and the past. Currently, the artist is researching and conceiving a long-term project around British film collectives from the 1970s with particular interest in the collective documentary methods used by British feminist groups. This project will form the object of a discussion at the 'Something you should know' seminar at EHESS, on Wednesday 9th March.