The Anarchist Citizenship exhibition at Kunsthall Gallery in Rotterdam

Muna, 2018, © Nadine Stijns en Amal Alhaag
Muna, 2018, © Nadine Stijns en Amal Alhaag

The Anarchist Citizenship exhibition at Kunsthall Gallery in Rotterdam is instantly captivating; silk fabrics floating down from the ceiling, gorgeously coloured photographs and plexiglass subverting traditional, static notions of what an exhibition should look like. This theme of defying expectations runs throughout the project, which presents confidently colourful Somalilanders, refusing to accept white Western narratives that depict them only as poverty stricken, ‘third world’ victims. The Anarchist Citizenship is a collaborative project created by researcher Amal Alhaag and artist Nadine Stijns as an exploration of postcolonial Somaliland, delving into the rich culture of local young people that exists outside of the identity created for the nation by colonial powers. Alhaag and Stijns question what it means to be a young woman from Somaliland today, analysing the prevailing narratives surrounding Somalian identity. In 2014 Alhaag visited the country for the first time and shared her findings with Stijns, and it was the stories that emerged from this trip that catalysed the project into being.
There is a confidence and sense of self that oozes from the brightly coloured photographs, with many of the subjects staring directly, cooly confrontational, into the camera. These representations of Somaliland identity are politically charged, giving the women in them a space to be direct, confrontational, confident and colourful in a way that is all too often denied to them. In our current climate, Muslim women are marginalised, silenced, and boxed into a corner, and this in combination with global perceptions of Somalia as a war torn, deprived country gives little space for the subjects of The Anarchist Citizenship to be seen as proud, provocative, multifaceted human beings. Alhaag and Stijns are able to beautifully subvert these mainstream media perceptions of what it means to be Somalian.

Farhiyo, 2017 © Nadine Stijns en Amal Alhaag
Farhiyo, 2017 © Nadine Stijns en Amal Alhaag

An interesting aspect of the exhibition is that Alhaag and Stijns collaborated with those presented in the exhibition – local young women predominantly – so as to question the relationship between the creators, those portrayed, and the spectator. They wanted those involved to be able to ‘define their sense of citizenship’ through ‘fashion, architecture, friendship and culture.’ Again, this adds to the theme of the exhibition that they want to take their narrative into their own hands, to give a space for the people involved to shape the presentation of their own identity in a way they rarely have been able to in the past.

This beautiful exhibition reframes the narrative surrounding what it means to be Somalian. Alhaag and Stijns have given artistic power to those involved in the project to take the presentation of their identities into their own hands. Through the use of bold, bright colours a radical confidence is presented. The Anarchist Citizenship is on at Kuntshall until June 16.

Abdi, 2017 © Nadine Stijns en Amal Alhaag
Abdi, 2017 © Nadine Stijns en Amal Alhaag

THE ANARCHIST CITIZENSHIP ODE TO YOUTHFUL DAREDEVILS UNTIL – JUNE 16, 2019 www.kunsthal.nl

About Martha Bird

Martha Bird is a writer and reviewer of art and culture whilst studying of Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences at Utrecht University in the Netherlands and University of Birmingham in the UK.'