IN CONVERSATION WITH BELINDA VAN DER STOEP & CARLY EVERAERT
The image Black Madonna represents black beauty and iconic women of color. Black Madonna also creates space for both safety and connection. ”The costume gives me confidence that I am not alone, and that I do not have to engage with the debate about my existence all by myself”, says Belinda van der Stoep. MOED interviewed the actress and costume designer Carly Everaert on how they created this strong and powerful image.
MOED: Within which project was this image created?
Belinda: The image has been created as part of the research project Frozen Beauty by Eva Line de Boer and me, focused around the theme ‘beauty’. We asked ten artists to delve into this theme and as a result we organized three nights and an exhibition in which we had conversations about beauty. Each night engaged with a different aspect of beauty: the manipulability of beauty, the comfort that beauty can offer, and black beauty. The three events took place during the theatre festival Cement in Den Bosch in 2018. Carly Everaert is one of the artists who investigated beauty for this research project.
We started conversations with the invited artists to find out how they look at beauty. To achieve this, we raised questions such as: Can you teach us to look through your eyes? What should we take into account when we do? From what perspective are you looking, are you for example a woman or a mother, are you focused on the behavior of the person that you see, or do you look at details?
Someone who received this question responded that when making a portrait of someone else, he actually makes a portrait of himself. By asking these questions and ‘borrow’ the eyes of another artist, we tried to broaden and challenge our own perspectives. We wanted to capture a range of different perspectives and show a myriad of ways to look at other persons, the world, and at beauty. We thought it was very important to gather a diverse group of artists around us to enrich our investigation.
MOED: What did your collaboration look like?
Belinda: During our investigation, Carly became a central person for me. She took us and others along in her world of feminism and activism and taught us how to look through her eyes. I told her that I was becoming less and less patient with justifying myself and my blackness. That I was literally getting tired of having to relate to the ignorance of others. And how difficult it became for me to find peace and balance in my religion (the Pentecostal church) because of the white washing that is happening there. Until today, Jesus is being represented as a white man with straight hair.
Carly: Out of my own interests and activism, I have been following the black and feminist discourse on intersectionality for quite a long time. With Belinda and Eva Line I discussed female thinkers, makers and activists of color who have inspired me and made me see the world in a different way. Together, we visited for example the presentation of the book ZWART, edited by Vamba Sherif and Ebissé Rouw.
A cloak of strength and comfort
MOED: Can you tell us more about the image, and how it came about?
Because religion can give people strength, I wanted to start from the iconic image of the black Madonna. I wanted to create a new and universally comforting image. For Belinda I created a cloak made from a duvet, with cushions sewed onto it (this would allow her to lay down and feel protected, when the tiredness hits of having to relate to the ignorance of others). I aimed to create a religious image that has transformed to a contemporary goddess.
Based on our conversations, Carly has designed a powerful image. Her black Madonna symbolizes a universal image of women, namely the Madonna, and in this case, a confident, powerful black woman. A woman who can simultaneously feel safe in her cloak in the company of other iconic black women, who all use their ‘goddess given’ talent to create societal change.
I chose for the letters MOE with a black D, because – being a white privileged woman – I wanted to honor the power of all these black women in the crown. I wanted to create a reversal and use the white letters ‘MOE’ (Dutch for tired) to visualize Belinda’s tiredness of the white world around her. The black letter D symbolizes her courage (MOED is Dutch for courage) and that of the strong black women in the crown. The photographs resonate old-fashioned portraits, and thereby they (unconsciously) refer to passports, identity cards, and the question of who has to be able to identify themselves when, as well as the larger themes of and debates around migration, racism and white privilege.
I wanted to replace religiosity by spirituality; I consider spirituality as an intellectual, creative force. Thereby I build on research by Anna Fedele and Kim Knibbe, who have analyzed the increasing transnational attention for black Madonna’s. The images that I create are multi-layered, and are simultaneously the result of formal and artistic choices. You don’t need to know this background to understand the image, because I always want to give the viewer the chance to make their own interpretation of it.
The MOE D necklace for me symbolizes the power and influences of black culture on the Western world, and how this influence should be cherished and taken seriously. In a literal sense, the necklace reminds me of hip-hop chains, which then again originate from African wealth and kings. To me, the costume represents that I can admit how exhausting it is to fall outside the norm and then constantly having to explain why I feel that way. In this cloak, I can step in the limelight but also appear to the background. It brings me inner-peace, gives me inner strength and comfort. The costume makes me confident that I am not alone in the debate about my existence and that I don’t have to engage in this debate all by myself. There exist many Madonna’s, who can all be respected in their own way.
The women on the crown are:
From left to right on the first row:
DeWanda Wise, Aldith Hunkar, Roxane Gay, Marielle Franco, Iris Kensmil, Lubaina Himid, Toni Morrison, Belinda van der Stoep, Sylvana Simons, Maya Angelou, Anousha Nzume, Astrid Roemer, bell hooks, Saidiya Hartman, Alida Neslo, Natasja Kensmil, Deborah Roberts
From left to right on the second row:
Grâce Ndjako, Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Davis, Diana Evans, Seada Nourhussen, Olave Nduwanje, Nancy Jouwe, Patricia Kaersenhout, Tessa Boerman, Mary Evans, Stephanie Afrifa, AMYRA, Kimberlé Crenshaw
From left to right on the third row:
Janelle Monae, Jessica de Abreu, Claudia Rankine, Romana Vrede, Clarice Gargard, Philomena Essed, Audre Lorde, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Gloria Wekker, Hélène Christelle Muganyende, Kara Walker, Lena Waithe, Samora Bergtop
Since 1987, Carly Everaert has been a freelance costume designer. She works mainly in the subsidized theatre, for all genres: puppet theatre, visual theatre, opera, dance, location theatre, black box theatre, and large theatre productions. From repertoire (classics) to new pieces. This allows her to experiment every time. Carly spends much time in youth theatre, because there she finds the ‘audience of today’ and diversity seems to be (more) self-evident there. She teaches at the theatre school of Amsterdam at the scenography department. There she teaches (amongst other things) a series of courses on the body and politics. In an interview, one of the directors who works with Carly said: “With her, you never just get clothes, but you always get something meaningful.” www.carlyeveraert.com
Before Belinda van der Stoep (1989) started at the theatre academy of Maastricht in 2011, she debuted with the screen version of the book Alleen maar nette mensen by Lodewijk Crijns. Soon, parts followed in (amongst others) Van God Los (2013), Lucia de B (2014), and Flikken Maastricht/Rotterdam (2015/2017). After her graduation in 2015, she played at several large and small theatre troupes, including Toneelgroep Amsterdam, NTJong, Eva Line de Boer and Oostpool. This season she is recording a series for SBS6, in which she has one of the starring roles. You will also be able to see Belinda in Age of Rage by Toneelmakerij.