PORTRAIT OF THE
Burhan Kum

The text below is taken from the catalogue of Burhan Kum’s latest exhibition at the Empire Project Gallery. An artwork sometimes can compose such a meaning that can cause contradiction between nations, cultures and religions. But I believe this artwork is one that has been thought through very sensitively and has made its point in the most direct way.  “Is Islam the Scapegoat of the West?”

– In accordance with a decision of the Amsterdam Municipal Council in 2008, expert historians identified the 50 most significant events in the city’s 750 year history, and each was displayed as a “window”. Window number 49 depicted the murder of film director and television producer Theo van Gogh in 2004 in the middle of a street by a Dutchman of Moroccan origin, Muhammed Bouyeri with knife bowls to the heart. That same year van Gogh had been the subject of reactions from Muslims as a result of his film Submission and in the insults to Muslims on the television program he directed. The murder, which alarmed all of Holland, was seen as “the barbaric assault of Eastern Muslims against the freedom of thought that forms the basis of Western culture”. Was the situation really that simple? The 2001 attack on the twin towers had officially equated Islam with “terror” in the West. Not only did this serve to create the new “enemy” the West was searching for, it served to legitimize discrimination against Muslims. The director who took his name from his great grand father, the brother of the renowned painter Vincent van Gogh, capitalized on this situation, going as far as to refer on his television program to Muslim’s as “goat-fuckers”. To enunciate this term with respect to the member of another religion would have been a punishable crime. Theo van Gogh received no punishment. (No doubt that this had to do with the retroactive collective guilt in the Dutch subconscious of not appreciating Vincent van Gogh’s work during his lifetime. At last! Muslims could play the role of the scapegoat.) The surname van Gogh has a “magical” resonance in Holland, and Holland chooses to remember the 19th century through van Gogh. The gigantic museum erected in the center of the city in honor of the artist has to be the most obvious indicator of the importance shown to this artist. The world’s most extensive van Gogh collection is preserved in this museum. But there are other things about the 19th century that bear remembering. For example, in 1851, the year Vincent van Gogh was born, the bauxite, copper and lumber producing country of Surinam was a colony of the Kingdom of the Netherlands where slavery, which was forbidden in Europe, was still practiced. In 1849, thousands of Muslims were killed when Holland attacked the island of Bali. In 1881, when European imperialists divided up the continent of Africa, thousands of Muslims were mercilessly slaughtered in Morocco, which had been acquired by France. The list can go on and on, but when one mentions 19th century Holland, the Westerner thinks only of van Gogh and his self – portraits. I don’t think that Muhammed Bouyeri could draw or paint. In that case, it is my job to produce his “self – portrait”.