ROUTES Princess Margriet Award,
Brussels 8 February 2011
HRH Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands, ECF President
Your Royal Highnesses,
Madame la Commissaire, Mrs Vassiliou, Excellencies,
dear members of the award jury
and especially, dear Laureates,
A warm welcome to you all to the third ECF Routes Princess Margriet Award for Cultural Diversity. Soyez-tous les bienvenus. We are grateful for the generous hospitality in this beautiful Royal Flemish Theatre. As we all know, it takes time to build up something from scratch... But I believe we are well on our way to do so after 3 years... With each passing year, the award grows in visibility and stature. We are building up an invaluable and exciting network of influential players in the fields of culture and related areas. We seek to build alliances with longstanding as well as new partners. We are of course deeply appreciative of the support of the Dutch Ministries of Education, Culture & Science and Foreign Affairs as well as the Rabobank Foundation. Without you, this initiative would not have been possible. And with you, we want to expand the reach of the award even further so that everyone gains from it.
From the outset, Routes is a celebration, inspired by the longstanding dedication of you, Princess Margriet, to supporting culture as a driver for European integration, which is why the ECF was created in the first place. Above all, the award is a celebration of outstanding artistic expressions: artistic expressions that hold value in themselves and as powerful channels to question issues that go to the heart of our societies - from social identity, diversity in the broadest sense of the word to inter- generational tensions, to the position of women and tensions between global, national and local cultures. Today, we celebrate in particular the work of this year’s laureates, Bosnian artist Sejla Kamerić and Turkish artist Kutluğ Ataman.
The ECF focuses much of its energy to generating and showcasing artistic perspectives on diversity. Xavier Troussard of the European Commission summed up the aim of our work on diversity very eloquently during last year’s award ceremony – he said: “we must multiply those kinds of spaces, whether real or virtual, where individual citizens can experience for themselves the value of diversity.”
Recently, I had the privilege of visiting the exhibition ‘The Silk Route’ at the magnificent Tri Postal museum in Lille. It is a journey of artistic expressions through 9 countries (from Afghanistan to Iran, from China to Pakistan and Lebanon).. confrontational, and yet a feast to all senses. They were heart-wrenching and authentic views of reality, in different forms, shapes and colours. They told authentic stories – sad and joyful, about reality and dreams, broken or fulfilled. Each and every piece forced me as the viewer to reflect on the situations they depicted. The artistic expressions drew me into the reality of the different social settings. Such work inspires debate about the content of the work as well as the societal issues they address. What world do we aspire to live in? What values bind us together? What values set us apart?
Most of you know the official motto of the European Union: ‘Unity in diversity’. It is up to all of us to turn this inspiring ideal into reality. How can culture contribute to give this motto meaning in practice?
Through culture, we can discuss and acknowledge both concepts: unity as well as diversity. And we can do so in a meaningful manner that seeks to stimulate reflection, not division. At a time when cultural expressions are under pressure, not least because of shrinking public resources, paradoxically, we need them more than ever before. We tend to pick and choose what we want to see, what we want to know and want to remember. We certainly have the digital means to do so. But we cannot underestimate the importance of going beyond what we can pick and choose easily.... we cannot underestimate the importance of investing in what we share, in what unites us, within countries and across Europe. Artistic expressions can help us do just that. Although they convey individual creativity, artistic expressions are invaluable and irreplaceable contributions to our collective memory. We cannot take that collective memory for granted – our views may differ, but we must develop and nurture a shared understanding of what we have in common if we want to face the future together.
Similarly, we must acknowledge diversity – and do so in all honesty. It serves no one to only put a positive spin on diversity. It serves no one if we make visionary claims that fly in the face of people’s actual experiences. Just as there is a need to oppose sentiments of suspicion of ‘the other’, so also there is a need to understand the feelings that lie behind such suspicion. As one of my favourite poets, Rainer Maria Rilke, observed: Feindschaft ist uns das Nächste: ‘hostility is our readiest response’. There may be a natural wariness towards what is different or new or strange, fuelled by a sense of belonging and the familiar, of what we know and understand easily. Again, we do a disservice to our complex social reality if we dismiss such widely-held feelings. That said, one does not combat simplistic prejudice by offering simplistic solutions. If I have one wish for what we all take from this evening’s event, it would be that we leave with a sharper and more nuanced understanding of the complexity of diversity, of the forces that shape us and which we help shape.
This year’s laureates address the desire to preserve the familiar, and do so in an enlightened manner. They show that it can be acknowledged without any sense of hostility. The connections we make with others enrich our lives, but sometimes we have to connect – or, rather, reconnect – with our own pasts, with different aspects of ourselves. Helped by artists such as Sejla and Kutluğ, we can arrive at a better understanding of our own complexity, and so fear the complexity of other people and cultures less. The more confident we are about ourselves, the easier it becomes to leave space for others. It is then that we are on the right road – the route that leads away from easy stereotyping, towards a fuller appreciation of our varied humanity across Europe and indeed within our own countries.
The work of our two laureates holds up a mirror to society. In strikingly different ways, their work transforms the reality it portrays, interpreting it, sculpting it, producing a new language and new forms of reality. Very few stereotypes about artists are true, but the one thing they probably have in common is that intellectually and artistically, they are incapable of thinking inside a box. You keep us on our toes, reminding us of our basic sentiments and stimulating reflection we so need.
I wish you an enjoyable and inspiring evening and I would like to congratulate Sejla Kamerić and Kutluğ Ataman. We so appreciate you being here with us tonight and feel enriched by your vision and generosity of your imagination.
We are well aware that to multiply spaces where people can experience for themselves the value of diversity, the ECF and others must reach audiences far beyond the walls of this theatre. We must constantly reflect on how best to make a real impact on the debates we seek to influence. We will do so by reaching out to new audiences, not by merely preaching to the converted. We live in a time ruled by a desire to measure results. Certainly, it sharpens focus, which is a good thing. But measuring results is not always easy. The work of many artists forces us to ask ourselves ‘what kind of world we would like to live in’, as the Italian poet and filmmaker Pasolini put it.
Do we really need to measure the value of that question? Thank you.
Final, 8 Feb 2011