by Shira Wolfe
As we approach the last room of her solo exhibition Spirits of the Soil at Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum, Raquel van Haver invites me to stay while she meets the museum’s art restorer. They need to fix up one of the paintings, the top of which is every so slightly bending downwards – a common hazard of working with many heavy materials. ‘I was scared the hair on this painting would fall off!’ Raquel laughs, ‘but pretty much everything holds up well.’
Raquel climbs the ladder in her knee-high, high-heeled grey suede boots, fixing the top of the painting herself without a moment’s hesitation. ‘Staat ‘ie recht?’ she asks. (Is it straight?) ‘Rechter!’ the others answer. (Straighter than before!)
I was fortunate to be able to catch Raquel for a chat and a walk through her exhibition, right when I arrive in Amsterdam and just before she takes off to South Africa. Raquel and I met almost ten years ago at Cinnamon Wednesdays, a monthly cultural event in Amsterdam organised by mutual friends which fused music, spoken word poetry, visual arts and community-based awareness in an open, inclusive atmosphere. Today, the 30-year-old artist, who was born in Colombia and grew up in the Netherlands, is continuing with her own fusion of art and community activism, wielding a paintbrush and travelling around the world. She’s travelled from Amsterdam Southeast where she lives and works to countries including Colombia, Nigeria, Trinidad and Tobago and Curacao, meeting and depicting people from all walks of life, among whom are people on the fringes of society who tend to be ignored, avoided, stigmatised or even feared. She’s spent time in the ‘favelas’ of South America and established friendships with the ‘area boys’ in Lagos, loosely organised gangs of teenagers and street children who have set up their own systems in the different neighbourhoods in too-big-too-fast Lagos. In 2018, Raquel won the ‘Koninklijke Prijs voor de Vrije Schilderkunst,’ the prestigious Dutch Royal Award for Modern Painting, and her first solo-show at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam opened to great acclaim in November 2018.