Goodbye 2019, Welcome 2020

As 2019 comes to an end, it is time to review the year and look ahead to the year to come. From a Barbie role model to a university guest lecturer, 2019 was filled with honourable stages and rewards.

Much time of 2019 was devoted to moving from the city Amsterdam to a country side village in the lake district of Friesland. In between these private life adventures, there was plenty of opportunities to travel across the world to share my work. I have presented my latest project on a stage, shared with colleagues I have admired for at least a decade. I have challenged myself to give talks and share my thoughts not with images, but in words.

On International Women’s Day I had the honour to be chosen by Barbie as one of the 60 female role models to inspire a new generation of girls. As a mother to a 3 year old girl, it was wonderful to share the book with these 60 stories of strong women with my daughter. It is a precious gift to share my story in such way that it can move and inspire young girls.

In the meanwhile I have been experimenting in my studio with techniques I learned and observed in North Korea. From Chosonwha painting (ink on rice paper) to mosaic art. These materials and technical processes inspired me. I experimented on how to incorporate them into my photography. I have shared some of my experiments on Instagram, and will sure keep on doing so during the upcoming year.

The summer brought me back to Aomori in Japan, where I could bring the works of Ode to Nebuta back to the prefecture where they were created. They were exhibited in an old sake factory in Hachinohe. The smell complemented the colours and the sound of the exhibition. It turned out to be the perfect place. Also, it was a trip down memory lane; it was heart warming to see the places and people that have gotten so close to my heart again.

In September, me and my husband Cris went to Sharjah. We both had the chance to show our work during Xposure. This photo festival blew me off my feet. Each exhibition was well-curated, beautifully displayed and the overall level of the festival was beyond expectations. Also, I gave a seminar describing my upcoming project in North Korea. I shared that stage with names… colleagues I have admired, some of them since childhood. Well, it is fair to say that I felt among the stars in photography-world, and as a cherry on the cake, we all received an ‘Oscar’ to even feel more like a star-photographer.

To conclude the year I gave a guest lecture at the University of Leiden to master students at the department of Korea studies. I spoke about my experiences in North Korea, and what I have learned about North Korean art and its artists. My latest travels to North Korea have been alongside and with Koen De Ceuster, a professor at this university. I felt proud to have the chance to feel like a professor for a day too. Maybe a bit because some of my high school teachers believed I wasted my talent by going to art school, and now I can tell them I still made it to university 😉 But mostly because by working with De Ceuster I started to see that the synergy between science and arts is truly inspiring, and it enriches the stories the we can tell.

For 2020, I hope to further enrich my project that has evolved since 2017. In this project I research North Korean art and its artists. At this moment of writing I am only starting to discover the many layers this project has. Can only imagine how many layers the final works will obtain. I am estimating a production time of at least two month per final art piece 😉 I say cheers to that, looking forward to many hours into my new studio, finally ample of space to create my imagined art pieces.


Noorderlicht 30 years

This year Noorderlicht, a leading Dutch photo festival, celebrates its 30th anniversary. For that occasion, Noorderlicht exhibits an overview of photography, as shown throughout those 30 years by their organization.

‘Battle in Spring’ from Alice’s series ‘North Korea, a Life between Propaganda and Reality’ is one of the works shown at the exhibition, at MartiniPlaza in Groningen (NL). The exhibition is on view till December 20 2019.

Part of the anniversary celebrations is also a series of interviews with a selection of photographers who have worked with Noorderlicht throughout the past three decennia.

Alice’s interview (sorry, in Dutch..) will be displayed here below:

Hoe ben je betrokken bij Noorderlicht?

Mijn project Ode to Nebuta is tot stand gekomen in een samenwerking met Noorderlicht. Dit project werd een prachtige ontdekkingsreis naar Aomori in Japan, waar ik een serie maakte over het lichtfestival Nebuta. De kleuren, de geuren en het ritme van het festival hebben een speciaal plekje in mijn hart verovert. Deze ode bracht ik over in mijn eindwerken. Ik vond het fantastisch dat ik, samen met Noorderlicht, een stukje Japan kon laten zien tijdens de culturele hoofdstad in Leeuwarden.

Wat was je favoriete expositie bij Noorderlicht?

Ik herinner mij nog een bezoek aan het fotofestival met de titel Nazar in 2004. Dit festival vond plaats na 9/11, en net voor de moord op Theo van Gogh. De mainstream media was vol berichtgeving over de Arabische wereld, maar de verhalen boden een zeer beperkt perspectief. Ik studeerde op dat moment net af aan de kunstacademie, en herinner me dat het zien van Nazar mij leerde hoe verruimend het is om het andere (en diverse) perspectief van een onderwerp niet uit het oog te verliezen.

Een mooi voorbeeld van diversiteit was ook de expositie North Korean Perspectives, samengesteld doorMarc Prüst. In deze expositie werden verschillende visies op Noord Korea getoond. Ik toonde in deze expositie een deel van mijn serie North Korea, a Life between Propaganda and Reality. Als er een land is waar we een zeer verwrongen en eendimensionaal beeld van hebben, dan is het wel Noord Korea. Dat maakte deze tentoonstelling zeer waardevol.

Wat is je toekomstdroom voor Noorderlicht?

Ik hoop dat Noorderlicht nog minstens 30 jaar doorgaat met het maken van tentoonstellingen. Zeker nu, in een tijd van toenemende polarisatie, is een festival dat diversiteit biedt, belangrijk. Een diversiteit aan verhalen en perspectieven. Noorderlicht kijkt verder dan de traditionele vorm van fotografie en staat open voor nieuwe vertelvormen. Het verhaal staat daarmee centraal. En niet het verhaal dat we altijd al horen, maar ook dat andere verhaal.

Photo’s by Inge van Mill.


At Xposure

Alice returned from an inspiring week at the International Photography Festival Xposure in Sharjah.

Xposure is the leading photo festival in the MENA region and the official imagery and educational platform that combines a range of photography events including; exhibitions, workshops, seminars, screenings, focus groups, competitions, photo walks, and hosts a dedicated photographic and video production trade show.

The 2019 edition was held from September 19 till 22. This year’s festival attracted 15,000 visitors over the four days of the event.  Alice showcased her work from North Korea, with a solo exhibition showing ‘North Korea, a Life between Propaganda and Reality’ and she gave a seminar to give insight into her latest and upcoming project on North Korea.

Alice was delighted to receive one of the awards. As Xposure celebrates and showcases a selection of top-photographers, the participating photographers were send home with an ‘oscar’. Alice was proud to be one of the four female photographers to be part of this prestigious festival. The image on the left depicts (from left to right) Somi Nwandu, Alice Wielinga, Ami Vitale and Laurel Chor.

Alice went home with a suitcase filled with spices from the local market, a heart filled with warmth by the hospitality of Sharjah and a mind filled with stories and images captured by her talented colleagues. Four days to always remember.


TEDx Amsterdam Women

On December 6 2018 Alice gave a TEDtalk during TEDx Amsterdam Women.

Throughout 2017 and 2018 Alice worked regularly in North Korea. There, she started a collaborative art project, together with six North Korean colleagues. Throughout 2019 and 2020, Alice will further develop this project in an exhibition that will both display her own work, and the work of her North Korean colleagues. The project evolves around the question: ‘What does it mean to be an artists’. Alice spoke about her project during TEDx Amsterdam Women in the Royal Tropical Institute in the Amsterdam (the Netherlands).

You can see her TEDtalk here.


Opening ‘Ode to Nebuta’ in Leeuwarden

Invitation by European Capital of Culture 2018, Leeuwarden, the Netherlands:

EU-Japan Fest: Alice Wielinga & Alexandra Pace
25 Aug. – 25 Nov. 2018

We would like to invite you for the opening of the photo-exhibition European Eyes on Japan/
Japan Today on 24 August. We will depart from the ‘Love’ fountain in front of the Central
Railway Station in Leeuwarden at 17:00 hours. Every year, the EU-Japan Fest, together
with the artistic director Mikiko Kikuta, invites both European Capitals of Culture to send
a photographer to Japan. Noorderlicht – in cooperation with Leeuwarden-Friesland 2018
– organizes this exchange this year and has invited Alice Wielinga to make a series in the
Japanese Aomori prefecture. The enormous collages, which are an artistic impression of the
annual summer festival Nebuta, can be seen in the square in front of the central railway
station of Leeuwarden.

till 2 Sept. 2018
The works of her Maltese project partner Alexandra Pace can be admired in the Zaailand
shopping centre in Leeuwarden. Pace is interested in the impact of the geographical
environment of an island state on its people. She travelled for the EU-Japan Fest along
the coastal villages in the Japanese Aomori prefecture and sought contact with the local
population that can usually not easily be approached. It resulted in impressive tranquil
images of daily life.


Preview Shadows of Pakistan @ Photoville

Alice just returned from a wonderful week in NYC, where she previewed her newest series Shadows of Pakistan at Photoville. In collaboration with United Photo Industries and Dutch Culture USA, she presented the first four works of Shadows in Pakistan in a container exhibition, right under the Brooklyn Bridge. Alice was proud to be able to give a first insight into her newest work during this festival, as she believes Photoville is magical.

According to Alice: “There is something magical about Photoville. This festival shows amazing photography, great storytelling work. And the location is absolutely amazing. When the dusk falls, and the lights are turned on, you are standing in the midst of fantastic photography, with the New York City skyline and the Brooklyn Bridge serving as a wonderful backdrop.”

About Shadows of Pakistan:

Once upon a time, in a country far, far away from here… a girl named Alice made a journey beyond imagination. She crossed the Valley of the Dead, she walked and walked, until she arrived at the Dark River. On the other side of this river, there was a land, also described as the land of the Unknowns. This land, un unknown kingdom, is where the Shadows lived. Alice was hoping to meet them, and to learn about the lives the Shadows lived.

After putting her first step onto the land of the Unknowns, Alice felt terrified. Maybe, you might say, she even felt a bit appalled. Everything around her smelled. And the smell was so, so bad. There was dirt, everywhere on the ground. There was even, literally… shit. Everywhere, of humans and of animals. The air was penetrated of all the dirt. She thought, how can it be possible to live a humane life here?

But then, a girl appeared. She smiled and waved, she wrapped a dupatta around her head and played peek a boo, as if her magical dupatta could made her disappear for a second. Alice was mesmerized. “What a beautiful girl! And she is friendly to me, although I am a stranger into her land.” But both Alice and this girl, immediately saw the magic into each other, and realized, this magic will bond them, no matter how different they might be.

Alice forgot all about time, and played with a group of little children, the young Shadows. Alice was amazed, by all the magic these children could see. Alice thought, “these children have to live in such poor circumstances, but a smile appears out of nowhere. Just a little balloon can make their day. One balloon can entertain an entire village.” They ran, they laughed, they found numerous ways to play. “They are full of imagination. They know how to create magic!” And as Alice is known to love everything magic, she felt grateful to see the children play, and asked them, if she could show them some of her magic as well. This is when she invited them into one of her fairytales. Together with the little Shadows, she recreated an old fairytale book, about the kings of old times. And the palaces of these kings, got filled with the live of the shadows. Now, if you listen well, you can hear their laughter echoing off the walls, of the magnificent palaces of medieval times.

In January 2015, Alice went to Pakistan. She had the chance to visit Islamabad, and to travel to the outskirts of the city, to Rawalpindi, Murree and other villages around, which inhabits unregistered Afghan and internal refugees. Alice got to know about the subject, through the work of two time Pulitzer prize winner Muhammed Muheisen, who had lived and worked in Pakistan for four years. Years before the refugee crisis became an important topic in Western news outlets, Muheisen’s camera was turned to the most vulnerable group of people society knows. Today, there are 2,5 million registered Afghan refugees still in Pakistan.

Then, in 2015, Muheisen gave her the chance to join him on a journey through these slums, and to meet the children he had photographed throughout those four years. This journey was one of the most challenging, and at the same time inspiring journeys Alice had made thus far. Challenging, as the danger was very present. You could almost feel it in the air. Something which is not easy to realize, when looking at the beautiful photographs of Muheisen. But there is a true danger into working there. It asks for much dedicating to give a glimpse into the lifes of these beautiful and vulnerable children.

It was, and still is, a story that touches Alice deeply. “The hardship these people have to live through is beyond my imagination. Looking at these children; makes me smile and cry at the same time. Despite the rough circumstances of their lives, they still look at you and smile. They can find magic in every corner. One moment, young siblings give a goat parade, another moment a man with a Kalashnikov appears around the corner. There is beauty, there is danger. And I would wish with all my heart that their lives could be safer.

Alice has worked on this project throughout the past three years, having become a first time mother in the meanwhile. She noticed her feelings subtly changed throughout those years. It even became a more relevant story, looking at the news reporting the refugee crisis throughout 2016. But also for her on a personal level, it became more relevant to create hope and dreams for these children. “While seeing my daughter grow day by day, I realize we can not forget how much a young live matters, as they stand for the future”.

Using the visual language of Islam medieval miniature art, she recreates the castles and depictions of the Persian empire’s courtlife. Nowadays Pakistan was once located in the Persian empire, a flourishing culture, when we in Europe were still in our dark ages. I wonder if the wealth and stories of old times, can still echo into their contemporary situation full of hardship. There situation makes me sad. I realize, my work can never be more than a prayer, a whisper of hope. But those beautiful children, they need it the most”.

To see the first examples of the newest series Shadows of Pakistan, check out the new project page on this website.


Donne & Fotografia

From 27 September until the 7th of January, Donne & Fotografia will be held in Udine (Italy). Donne & Fotografia is a photographic exhibition of Women and their role in the world of photography. It showcases 150 different photographers, which Alice Wielinga is honored to be part of.

In the announcement of the exhibition, the organization of the exhibition, CRAF, names the 150 photographers. The lists goes from Berenice Abbott, Diane Arbus, Margaret Bourke White, Nan Goldin, Annie Leibovitz, Mary Ellen Mark, Bettina Reims to Vee Speers, Newsha Tavakolian and Alice Wielinga. CRAF describes these photographers as the 150 great photographers who have profoundly revolutionized and influenced the history of twentieth century photography.

The 150 photographs will be exhibited at the 31st edition of the Friuli Venezia Giulia Photography in Udine, Italy at the Chiesa di San Francisco.

The photo of Alice which will be displayed is Communist Laborer, that belongs to her project Russian Women.

The series Russian Women was created in collaboration with actress Victoria Koblenko. The series explores stereotypes about Russian Women. The association that often comes to mind while thinking of Russian women is quiet obvious, the mail-order bride.

In Russian Women Alice decided to explore other ways women have been viewed throughout Russian art history. The selected picture depicts a Russian Laborer which forms a diptych with an artwork called Nouveau Riche, also made in the style of a communist poster.

To read one of the first articles on Donne & Fotografia, visit clickblog.it


Looking back on a great collaboration with Het Nuthuis

Saturday 8th of April was the last day of the exhibition of Alice in Het Nuthuis, The Hague.

The exhibition of Alice Wielinga’s work over North Korea ‘between Propaganda and Reality’ was last to see this weekend in Het Nuthuis, The Hague.
It would be an understatement to say it wasn’t a succes, due to the numerous people that came and the great reviews she got, like for instance the one of GUP magazine were they wrote:

“…she travelled to North Korea to try to understand how one of the most isolated countries in the world functions. Upon returning home and spreading her pictures out on the floor, Wielinga saw a relationship between North Korean propagandistic art and the pictures she had taken of the everyday life of the people.”

As a page is turning, Alice was reviewed as one of the most influential Dutch photographer in The Netherlands by CRAF. Therefore, she is pleased to announce that her work will be part of Donne & Fotografia, exposed in Udine, Italy. Venice numerosi!

To read the full review, visit the website of Gup.


Opening Feb 19 @ Nutshuis, The Hague

On Sunday February 19 17:30, the exhibition North Korea, between Propaganda and Reality opens at the Nutshuis in The Hague, the Netherlands.

An introduction to the exhibition, written by Koen De Ceuster:

North Korea, between Propaganda and Reality

Like a forbidden fruit, North Korea appears irresistibly attractive. The attraction for the country is commensurate with its apparent inaccessibility. Admission to the country for journalists and photographers alike is difficult and only sporadically granted. Once inside, the state takes charge over itineraries, visits and interviews. North Korea’s obsession with how it is perceived results in fierce attempts at trying to maintain total control over information, both within the country and to the outside world.

An intuitive reaction by the recipients of such overbearing manipulation is to unmask North Korea’s utopian pretence by unveiling the dystopian reality shrouded in propaganda. Propelling such a reaction is a common sense understanding that propaganda and reality are each other’s polar opposites. On closer scrutiny, reality and propaganda are two sides of the same coin. Propaganda is an inseparable part of North Korean reality. Not only does propaganda impregnate daily life, it is the lens through which both North Koreans and outsiders read reality.

Propaganda essentially creates an ideologically defined perception of the world. The impulsive reaction of many an observer to North Korea’s particularly manipulative and comprehensive propaganda system is triggered by the surreal gap separating experienced reality and the propaganda image. The underlying altercation, however, is between the observer’s ideologically determined observation and North Korea’s represented reality. Ultimately, reality is circumscribed both by North Korean propaganda and the observing gaze. The works shown in this exhibition operate between these two apparent extremes. Where Tomas van Houtryve’s photos feed on the dejection of discovering hidden realities, Charlie Crane drenches the North Korea as it was unveiled to him in a nostalgically melancholic light. When antagonism turns into engagement with the North Korean everyday, a process of introspection is set in motion that allows for a more refined and nuanced pursuit of the relationship between propaganda and reality. When disaffection turns into dedication and undisputed objectification is replaced by pointed self-reflection, space opens up for nuances. Alice Wielinga’s work seeks out that space. Leaving behind the lingering assumption of objectivity implied in documentary photography, she resolutely asserts the expressive freedom of an artist. In her work, we encounter a kaleidoscopic reality, fragments of photographic observations entwined with segments from North Korean realistic art work tightly woven into an image of an assembled reality. In doing so, Alice Wielinga reflects on the unwieldiness of the objective world and the tangledness of its observation. Her creative intervention exposes reality as a collation of image slices accumulated over time. No didactic forceful view here, but a retiring probing attempt at capturing the confusing layering of everyday North Korean reality.

The program of the opening is as follows:

Food, drinks, movie and interview

17.30 Entry
18.00 Openingspeach by Koen de Ceuster.
18.10 Interview with Alice Wielinga by Mirjam Zweers
18.20-19.00 Film: North Korea, a Life between Propaganda and Reality (2015) by Alice Wielinga in filmkluis (duration: 10 min)
19.00-19.15 Speedtour by Alice through the exhibition
19.15-20.45 The Story of our Home, movie by Chol Hap-Pak (2013)

The exhibition will be on view till April 8th 2017.

For all of you in and around The Hague, hope to see you on February 19 at the Nutshuis, Riviervismarkt 5 in The Hague.


Interview with Pf

Last month, Ton Hendriks interviewed Alice for Pf Magazine, a Dutch magazine about professional photography.

For those of you, who can read Dutch, here a small extract of the interview:

“De socioloog Stuart Hall schreef dat er drie manieren zijn om culturele beelden te beoordelen: we kunnen het er blindelings mee eens zijn, we kunnen ze afdoen als propaganda of we kunnen onderzoek doen naar de betekenis en de gelaagdheid achter het beeld. “…Je moet de Noord-Koreaanse propaganda zien als een deel van hun belevingswereld. Het zijn ideaalbeelden die voor hun een betekenis hebben en die je daarom serieus moet nemen. Als ik een verhaal vertel wil ik het altijd vanuit meerdere perspectieven laten zien. Ik wilde alleen geen teksten gebruiken, maar het hele verhaal uitdrukken in beelden. Ik wilde ook per se zelf beelden schieten in Noord-Korea om het realisme erin te houden. Ik was vroeger geïnteresseerd in de boeken van Max Havelaar omdat hij de neef van mijn overgrootmoeder was. Dat sociaalrealisme in zijn boeken wil ik graag benaderen. Door een roman te schrijven bracht hij de verschillende visies samen in een verhaal.”

Haar nieuwste werk, Shadows of Pakistan, dat nog niet aan het publiek getoond is, laat zien dat de interesse van Wielinga een sterk sociale inslag heeft. Het gaat over Afghaanse en Pakistaanse vluchtelingen die leven in kampen rondom Islamabad. “Er zijn miljoenen mensen waaronder veel kinderen. Het is een onderwerp dat nog onderbelicht is. Die mensen verdienen meer aandacht. Qua beeldtaal laat ik me hierbij inspireren door de Islamitische miniatuurkunst uit de middeleeuwen. Ik schep paleizen van de sloppenwijken, waarin dromen voor de kinderen worden uitgebeeld.”

De overduidelijk gefotoshopte beelden in al het werk van Alice Wielinga hebben soms het effect van middeleeuwse schilderijen waar verschillende elementen zonder correct perspectief naast elkaar geplaatst werden. “Ik ben zelf helemaal niet zo technisch. Ik denk niet vanuit de techniek maar vanuit het verhaal dat ik wil vertellen. Ik probeer net zolang tot het eruit ziet zoals ik wil. Ik heb werken met wel duizenden lagen. Zelf vind ik de techniek erachter niet zo boeiend, het zijn gewoon veel lagen en maskers. Ik houd niet van gladde perfectie. Als het perfect is, wordt het zo saai. Je mag zien dat het gefotoshopt is, want dat is de taal die ik gebruik. Het perspectief hoeft ook helemaal niet te kloppen. Als het gaat wringen wordt het juist spannender.”
Over fotoshoppen bij andere fotografen doet Alice Wielinga ook niet moeilijk. “Als je wilt fotoshoppen moet je dat gewoon doen. Ik vind die discussie niet zo interessant.” Daarom vindt ze de scheiding tussen documentaire fotografie en autonome fotografie achterhaald. We proberen de fotografie te veel in hokjes te stoppen volgens haar. Zij voelt zich meer storyteller dan kunstenaar. “Net als bij Max Havelaar vind ik het belangrijker om een relevant verhaal te vertellen dan om de kunstenaar uit te hangen. Ik ben niet bezig met navelstaren. Het verhaal over de wereld moet voorop staan. Natuurlijk wil ik iets moois maken, maar het moet wel een gelaagdheid hebben zodat je er op verschillende manieren naar kunt kijken. De gebieden waarop ik me begeef, worden meestal gecoverd door de fotojournalistiek, maar ik zie mezelf veel meer als romanschrijver dan als journalist.”

Het gehele interview is terug te lezen op de site van Ton Hendriks.