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Rave reviews of anniversary exhibition 'Global Imaginations'

The Dutch press has given the anniversary exhibition in the Leiden Meelfabriek some rave reviews: ‘Global Imaginations is amusing and confrontational.’ The exhibition celebrates the 440th anniversary of Leiden University and can be seen until 5 October.

'Not out of place at biennial exhibitions'

Chen Zhen (China, 1955-2000), 'Back to fullness'. The metal globe is encircled by chairs from different eras and cultures.

Leading artists from all continents present their vision of the globalising world. The exhibition, an initiative of the Lakenhal museum, opened on 27 June and has attracted a lot of interest. Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad awarded it four stars and wrote: ‘Twenty artists from all parts of the world are exhibiting works that would not be out of place at biennials or Manifesta exhibitions: large-scale installations on socially engaged themes. The prime location is the spectacularly dilapidated Meelfabriek (...).'

'Thought-provoking and confrontational'

Dutch newspaper Volkskrant also gives the exhibition four stars in an article headed: 'Global Imaginations is thought-provoking and confrontational.’ Reviewer Anna Van Leeuwen praises the reverse-thinking principle of Ghana ThinkThank: American artists asked artists in a Sudanese refugee camp to think up solutions for Western problem issues and as part of the exhibition they show the films of the interviews. She also praises Tsang Kin-Wah who, in a pitch-black room has alarming texts about hell and damnation swarm over the ground like snakes. Local newspaper De Gooi- en Eemlander was also impressed and concluded that ‘The setting of the dilapidated factory is fantastic. The art is powerful.’

Pascale Marthine Tayou (Camaroon), 'Plastic bags'. This plastic sculpture was created especially for this spot in De Meelfabriek.

Spectacular concept

The 'Global Imaginations' anniversary exhibition is a spectacular concept, says Meta Knol, director of Museum De Lakenhal. ‘More than just displaying images of the world, this exhibition aims to connect people.’ The exhibition achieves this by presenting works of art that depict major global concerns: from an installation that which converts water from the Leiden canals to drinking water, to an enormous plastic sculpture which refers at the same time to pollution and the plastic soup of the oceans. The whole exhibition is set against the background of the Leiden Meelfabriek, the former University Library, the LUMC and the Tolhuistuin in Amsterdam.

Lucy Orta (United Kingdom) and Jorge Orta (Argentinia), the 'Orta Water - Purification Factory' installation purifies water from the Zijlsingel and makes it suitable for drinking.

Modern 'images of the world'

Brook Andrew (Australia), the Jumping Castle War Memorial is a memorial for forgotten peoples.

There is a long tradition of studying cultures in Leiden, says Kitty Zijlmans, Professor of Art History and one of the organisers of the exhibition. For 440 years, academics at Leiden University have been studying the world in order to understand it better. In many instances they have collaborated with artists who captured the phenomena they observed in maps, botanical drawings and symbols. 'Global Imaginations shows us new, modern-day world views by artists from every continent.’

Art based on the University's special collections

'Fever. Fever' by Raqs Media Collective

Six of the twenty artists selected have created new work that has been inspired by the collections of Leiden museums and the University. Among these international premières is work by Mark Dion, the Ghana ThinkTank and Raqs Media Collective. These Indian artists chose an object from Leiden University's Special Collections. This photo of a relief from a 12th century Indian temple depicts a story from a famous Indian epic. In their piece ‘Fever. Fever’ the artists connect the photo with the rapid depletion of our natural resources.

Inspired by objects from Naturalis

For his piece The Natural Sciences, American artist Mark Dion was given access to the Naturalis Biodiversity Center depot. He selected a range of special objects, and used 3D printed copies to create a new, surreal cabinet of curiosities.

Local worries, global art

The Ghana ThinkTank base their art on the concept of ‘flip flopping’: turning the world upside down, by getting people from developing countries such as  Ghana to think about Western problems. In January 2015, American artists spent two weeks seeking out every corner of Leiden and drawing up a survey of problems the inhabitants had. These were then submitted to 'think tanks' in developing countries.

Artist collective Ghana Thinkthank, 'Monument to the Dutch'

Monument to the Dutch

One of the greatest worries in Leiden turned out to be the gulf between Muslims and non-Muslims. Based on this, Christopher Robbins and John Ewing created the 'Monument to the Dutch' installation , which symbolically references Anne Frank's secret annexe and Islam in the Netherlands. The piece calls on the Dutch to learn from the past.

Maps as symbolic images of the world

Annesas Appel (Amsterdam, 1978), 'View on the World Map' in 'de Oude UB'.

The satellite exhibition in 'de Oude UB' focuses on cartography. Many medieval world maps were not made in order to represent the surface of the earth in a geometrically reliable way, but rather to give a more symbolic view of the world. The producers of the exhibition made a selection of maps from various centuries which showed different ways of representing the earth. Artists Annesas Appel and Annett Frontzek give us their interpretation of historical world maps.


Programme Global Imaginations
The exhibition also includes an extensive programme of activities, including an academic symposium, a conference for schools and a film festival.

  • Film festival (9-11 July) on the site of De Meelfabriek. The films selected for the Leiden International Film Festival reflect the theme of Global Imaginations.

  • Schools conference (7 September) around the theme of 'being a world citizen', with a special focus on water.

  • 70 x 7 The Meal diners (8 September) for local officials and  regular citizens on the grounds of the Mill Factory.

  • Academic symposium (25 September) about the question of how modern art can create and stimulate our world, as well as encourage discussion.

  • Event 'Lunä' by artist Marjolijn Dijkman (28 September), in collaboration with Museum Boerhaave.

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