Nina van de Ven | Inspired by Ethnography and Popculture

Nina van de Ven

detail image of Nina van de Ven, artist in residency at Cove Park, Scotland SEA Foundation
Nina van de Ven | detail

Date: 04.11. – 02.12.


European Residency

SEA Foundation
in collaboration
with Cove Park.


On the day the UK was
due to leave the EU
Cove Park announced
the 8 project partners:
leading arts organisations and
residency centres based
in 8 European nations:

Belgium: Ultima Vez
Finland: Helsinki International Artist Programme and MUU Galleria
France: Cité internationale des arts
Germany: Literarisches Colloquium Berlin
Ireland: Dance Ireland
Norway*: Nordic Artists Centre Dale
The Netherlands: SEA Foundation
Sweden: The Swedish Film Institute


Text by:
Marieke Folkers

Studio encounters


Nina van de Ven

Two frogs, holding hands. Not just any frogs, but married ones. Nina van de Ven pictures a story in India about a marriage arrangement between frogs to favour the rain gods, in the hopes of rain that would deal with draught. The Dutch artist makes drawings on paper, always from a political or historical angle. After having drawn in colour for some time, she decided to go black and white. She says by eliminating the element of colour, she can focus more on structure, depth and story. Nina van de Ven gets mainly inspired by ethnography and popculture. For instance, she drew many jackets, from famous brands to so-called battle jackets, as a comment on the impact of consumerism on identity. The drawings expose the irony of shirts with images of bands such as Nirvana, Guns ’n’ Roses or Iron Maiden sold by companies such as H&M and Primark, to teenagers who have no clue who these bands are. These stand in sharp contrast to wearing band shirts or battle jackets – a denim jacket with patches of bands sewn on. In her words, her practice is a “mix of historical happenings and weird lunacy that I see around me.”

Residency Cove Park

For her residency in Cove Park, Scotland, Nina van de Ven aims to focus on the topic of non-Western objects in Western museums of Ethnology. She wants to uncover questions on appropriation, validation and responsibility. She exposes the tension of her “love-hate relationship.” She explains how, on the one hand, in an egoistical way we want to look at the objects here, but on the other hand there are many underlying layers of unfairness and questionability. A parallel project Nina van de Ven is working on, Love Island, consists of drawings regarding Western tropical dating shows, such as Love Island, Temptation Island, and Ex on the Beach. She describes the desire to ‘the exotic’, and sees a similar movement when it comes to African art in museums. Where in museums objects are exhibited that are taken from their original setting, these television programs exhibit Western people in an exotic environment. In Nina van de Ven’s view this environment with perfect white beaches and palm trees is essential for the program’s popularity: “On Ameland the success would probably have been less great.”

Museological debate

The subject that Nina van de Ven raises touches on the current museological debate on representation and responsibility of ethnological institutes. This regards issues such as what happens to the objects and who is entitled to them, and how many years need to pass before a stolen good can be justified – if ever. Countries start knocking on the door of museums. Some want their possessions back, but do not have the facilities or financial assets. In the artist’s words, “from the start they are 1-0 behind.” These issues are translated in Nina van de Ven’s drawings through the use of iconography. She tells that at first she portrayed stand-alone objects, but now she wants to give the image more depth and create more space around the object. There is always a narrative element incorporated. Currently, she is experimenting with the use of different backgrounds and depth, in order to create a story.


The current repositioning of museums can be enlightened with Walter Mignolo’s insights on decoloniality. He explains how the domination of western history is ending, after a hegemony of roughly five centuries. This means the cultural and politico-economic privilege that European modernity brought on is ending too. Instead, a new world order is rising that consists of a network of centres, rather than one centre and its peripheries. This ‘de-westernisation’ and ‘de-colonialisation’ are, in Mignolo’s words, “always unveiling the unjustices of the past and projecting global and pluri-centered futures” (Mignolo, 2013, p. 5). Nina van de Ven wants to uncover precisely these unjustices. She aims to show that colonisation is still seeping through in the agenda of museums, but also in society at large.


But how is this tendency translated in the museological practice? Western museums, ethnological museums in particular, embody the quote “I am who I am because of the gaze of the other, and that other, is a White other” (Gaztambide-Fernández, p. 201). The challenge nowadays is to reposition the institutes, still taking into account history, memory and responsibility. Nina van de Ven exposes this challenge, by revealing different layers of meaning. For instance, she says, what is shown at the museums is worth an invaluable amount of money, just because it is in there. However, the objects are ripped from their initial context, completely transforming their meaning. Everyday tools and equipments became useless, and ceremonial treasures are nothing without their ritual. Except for being admired behind glass by ‘the White other’.

– Nina van de Ven

Mondriaan Fund
Love island X, NinavandeVen
Love island X, NinavandeVen, artist in residence cooperation between SEA Foundation, Tilburg and Cove Park, Scotland
Love island X, NinavandeVen, artist in residence cooperation between SEA Foundation, Tilburg and Cove Park, Scotland