Tropics Voices • Background? What background? / Connecting people
By Peter Vaz Nunes
TROPICS VOICES – Since early childhood I have always been aware of the fact that the majority of people values, judges and assesses others by their social and/or cultural background instead of by who they are. To my own astonishment I noticed that I did this too. Once aware, I felt deeply embarrassed and ashamed. First thing I did, was to start investigating where this originated from and what I could possibly do to ‘improve’ myself. After thorough investigation I could not but conclude that it basically had to do with fear and indifference at times. Afraid of the unknown, indifferent about something that was clearly “their” problem, right… ? To cut a long story short, I finally managed to get over my fears by putting my prejudices aside and first establish real contact with ‘others’ before I allowed myself to make any judgement at all.
By Peter Vaz Nunes
There was another aspect as well. Until about 2002 people lived peacefully together in the Netherlands. In Amsterdam alone there were some 160 nationalities. After a shocking political murder, however, both political and public discourse changed from “us together” to “us and them”, which, frankly, translates into: “us whites” against “them foreigners”. And this has been going on until this very day. Fear and indifference. A powder keg.
I decided to put these aspects together in an extensive project, called
“Background? What background? / connecting people”.
I asked friends and acquaintances to pose for me and they willingly cooperated once I had made the purpose of this project clear. The project, successfully exhibited in the Netherlands, consists of 12 big (100x140cm) oil portraits of people from various cultural backgrounds, but all Dutch citizens, a video and an accompanying lecture, addressing this topic: raising awareness of our prejudice regarding background and trying to come up with an answer or, if you like, a remedy. Simply because I am deeply convinced that we human beings are all equal indeed, regardless of our backgrounds. We all have the same, strong desire to be seen, to be respected, to be safe, to belong. Background should not matter, should not play any role whatsoever in public life (privately though it is of great importance!!). Consequently, the background in the paintings is completely absent, the canvas is left totally white, so full attention is drawn to the man or woman portrayed. The audience is invited to stand still and watch. If the viewer is willing and prepared to take time and really connect with the person portrayed, the background will automatically be filled in. Not by the viewer’s bias, but by the story the man or woman in the painting will tell. A story each and every individual has to tell…
The story that a different background is nothing to be afraid of, that, quite the contrary, diversity enriches our lives, that it makes our relationships, cities and countries literally and figuratively more colorful.
Watch Connecting People, the short movie on Youtube >> https://youtu.be/NpYoWHDJw2U
We should make it a point to get rid of our bias based on fear, laziness or indifference, be courageous and active, reach out and see the “other” as a unique human being as we ourselves are too. We have to spend time, energy and determination on truly connecting. The reward will definitely be worth it.
Written by Peter Vaz Nunes in The Netherlands.