Maaike Meijer Maaike Meijer

How new Dutchmen enrich the culture

In Culture
Written by  Femke Kools Thursday, 19 February 2004 00:00

Series of books about culture and migration in the Netherlands

The influence of migrant streams in the past century on Dutch culture is indelible. Prof.dr. Maaike Meijer, professor of Women’s and Gender studies and director of the Centre for Gender and Diversity of Universiteit Maastricht, is the general editor of a surprising series of books about Culture and Migration in the Netherlands. The first book, titled ‘Kunsten in Beweging 1900-1980, was published in October 2003. The sequel to this volume (the period from 1980 until now) is expected in May of this year. The complete series of five volumes describes how the Dutch culture has changed by the arrival of new Dutchmen and it gives a unique picture of the past century. The series was published with financial support of the ‘Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds’.

Why this initiative?

"I was a member of the Science Committee of the ‘Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds’. More and more often it struck me that the concept Dutch culture was always interpreted as ‘white’, ‘purely autochthonous’ and ‘of Dutch origin’. That image does not comply with the reality. Cultures, the Dutch as well, are influenced by people who come from outside and leave their traces. This series was an excellent opportunity to gather all existing knowledge in this field, to do new research and to discover the thread in the developments."

Is it about art with a capital A?

"Absolutely not. In the entire series, culture is interpreted in the broadest sense of the word. We discuss films, literature, museum art, news media, sports, ways of living, love and entering into relations, lifestyles, nutrition, dance and theatre, popular songs, classical music and much more. We write, for example, about the Russian ballet educator Sonia Gaskell, who had an indelible influence on the Dutch dance, but also about Yonina and Shakira, who recently made the belly dance popular again."

How was the Dutch autochthonous art influenced?

"In the interaction between autochthonous and migrant art we can distinguish five patterns. First, there is the so-called ‘laundering’ or making invisible of migrant art. In that case indigenous art is completely accepted in the Dutch art, which suddenly makes it culture with a capital C. Think, for example, of batik. Only after batik motives show up in Dutch art and architecture, this ‘home craft’ changes into an autochthonous art form. Secondly, there is the pattern where migrant art is exotized, which can become evident in demonizing but also in idealizing. Examples of demonization are jazz and tango. Originally jazz was regarded as jungle sounds and the tango was without any doubt a ‘dance of whores’. On the other hand, the Balinese dance was idealized as a higher and hyper-refined dance form, an example to the west. A third possibility is the attempt to exclude. Particularly in the years of the crisis and during the Second World War, the Dutch were very negative towards foreign artists. Dutch musicians, for example, demanded during the Interbellum that because of the enormous unemployment a work ban was imposed for foreign musicians.

During the Second World War, many German artists who took refuge in the Netherlands were ignored. They were Krauts, even though their art was forbidden in Germany itself because it would be ‘corrupt’. Entirely the opposite is the fourth pattern: inclusion, integration of foreign artists. A good example of that is Breyten Breytenbach, the South-African painter and poet. He is welcomed with open arms in the post-war Netherlands that want to dissociate from the South-African apartheid politics. And finally, the last movement is the absorption of the Dutch culture in a transnational culture where there is room for international influences and where these influences are also recognized. This so-called hybrid culture and transnationalisation are central in the second volume of ‘Kunsten in beweging’, that describes the period from 1980 until now."

How was the series developed?

"First, I established an editorial staff of cultural scientists and migration historians for the entire series of five books. Members of this editorial staff are amongst others Rosemarie Buikema, Wim Willems, Gloria Wekker and Leo Lucassen. Subsequently, this staff chose specialised authors to cooperate. The result was a large number of scientifically well-founded, very readable and interesting stories about a century that is still very close to us. That makes the books even more interesting because we can still very well recognize the developments that are described. We, our parents or our grandparents personally experienced them."

Is it a coincidence that the series is published in a time when there are mainly negative thoughts about the new Dutchmen?

"It was not the intention, but it would of course be fantastic if policy makers and politicians could learn from the example of the arts and culture. Art always leads the way. It is a completely international world that owes its dynamics amongst others to migration influences. In art, you become a member of a different culture that makes the boundaries less tight. As a society, we can learn a lot from that."

Prof.dr. Maaike Meijer ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) is professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and director of the Centre for Gender and Diversity of Universiteit Maastricht (
The series ‘Cultuur en Migratie in Nederland’ consists of five volumes and is published by Sdu Uitgevers. More information about the series is available at:
The series ‘Cultuur en Migratie in Nederland’ is published on the initiative and with the financial support of the ‘Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds’ (

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