Making Connections – Janne van Gilst

I think my first post on this blog should start with a short introduction.

My name is Janne van Gilst,  I’m 25 years old and I live in The Hague. I studied at the Royal Academy of Art and graduated in 2013 to become a photographer.

My first visit to the Expatriate Archive Centre was in September 2016, on invitation of Natalie McIlroy. During this first visit I was introduced to the Saudade project and I also started browsing through the first archives. I had selected five archives beforehand. I selected them based on things that attracted me in the description of the archive: interesting countries, the presence of interesting documents, like photos or maps. In my work I focus on our surroundings, I’m particularly interested in how our surroundings can influence us and how we make our marks on it during history. This is why maps are always interesting to me; I like to read the place names and see if I can read something about the history of the place in these names.

After this quick browse through I left the archive to sink in for a while. I was quite busy with other projects but every now and then I would think about the archive and the things that stayed with me. Although most of the time I’m quite organised, I actually lost my notes I made the first time. This annoyed me at first but after a while this actually meant that I was reacting really intuitively to what I had seen in the archives the first time. There was one thing that I remembered very well. There was a story in the archive which started by explaining someone’s roots; it was someone who was born as a farmer’s son. The story made an impression on me because I come from a family of farmers myself.

Today I went back to the archive to read the story again. Luckily I remembered the archival number and the name, so I was able to find it again. The collection belonged to a Dutch couple who lived in the Dutch East Indies together, since the husband had lived there before. Although I don’t know much about that part of Dutch history, I do feel I’ve come to know much more about how it was to actually live there, something I didn’t learn from my history books in school. It also made me think of the brother of my grandfather, also a farmer’s son, who served in the Dutch East Indies during World War II.

I especially like the adventurous and ambitious ways of the husband, who began as a farmer’s son and climbed up to a high ranking position in the government of the Dutch Indies. I think he was very ahead of his time and had idealistic thoughts on how the Dutch Indies should become independent and how he wanted to participate in making this reality, even before there was any talk about it. I really admire this, we need more people like that in the world!

It also makes me think of my own upbringing. My grandfather was a farmer and he encouraged my mother and her siblings to go to school, learn and become whatever they wanted. This type of encouragement was not common at all in the time he grew up. He himself hadn’t had the opportunity to really choose his profession and although he enjoyed it a lot, he did encourage his children to take advantage of the privileges they had in life. This is something my parents passed down to me: I was free to make any choice I wanted and was stimulated to follow my dreams. A while ago I found this picture of my grandfather working the land on his farm. I felt really grateful for all his hard work, because it meant my mother and her siblings were able to study and follow their dreams which also meant I could follow mine. I had the freedom to become what I dreamed of becoming: a photographer. And now I’m here, following my dreams and reflecting on how a mentality can change a generation.

I think this is a good way to start the project of Saudade, I hope I will be back soon with an update on how my project is evolving!

Janne van Gilst