In the Presence of Absence: Curating the Unseen, Ignored and Forgotten | Amsterdam University Press Journals Online


The exhibition In the Presence of Absence. Proposals for the Museum Collection at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (2020-2021) showed a selection of contemporary artworks and design projects that challenged the idea of collective knowledge and public consciousness through stories that remain unseen, have been ignored or could be told more often within large public institutions. A total of 23 projects were chosen out of an open call for artists, designers and makers, which attracted more than 1400 applications. The selected works by artists such as Natasja Kensmil, Sadik Alfraji and Anna Dasovic, among others, offered (counter) narratives that challenge fixed understandings of  societies and questioned how history is written. Co-curated as a collaborative endeavor between a museum curator and an independent curator, the exhibition presented paintings, murals, sculpture, textiles, prints, photography, performance, film, and installations that disseminated intangible, embodied, and personal forms of knowledge transfer to challenge prevailing knowledge structures. The exhibition brought together artists and designers working and living in the Netherlands, from young and emerging to well-established and more experienced artists. As a reflection on the exhibition one year later, this paper is the result of a rewritten curatorial conversation from 2020, to elaborate on the ways in which the exhibition showed artistic forms of knowledge transfer. In addition, this paper functions as a conversation piece for the conference panel Dynamis of Images, Dynamis of Witnessing in Exhibitions, and exemplifies the power and potential of art projects to address contested pasts and current events and to open discussions about the main topics that are highlighted in the conference title, Witnessing, Memory and Crisis, organized by the Amsterdam School for Heritage, Memory and Material Culture (AHM).


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