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Spiritual Urgency: In conversation with it's curator, Eliza Bordeaux

Cutting-edge and freedom-bound, Stedelijk Museum Schiedam’s Spiritual Urgency is an exhibition aimed at shining a light on the many corresponding connotations of belief, asking: what exactly does it mean?

On show until April 10th, Spiritual Urgency is a platform for the young, the established and the evocative to share their personal takes on spirituality; from Nick Verstand, Jennifer Tee, and Memo Akten to Marlou Fernanda and more. Paired alongside traditional wonders of art history such as Wassily Kandinsky, Jacoba van Heemskerck, and Charley Toorop, this exhibition hails all and invites you to be guided through the role spirituality plays. Cutting-edge and freedom-bound, Stedelijk Museum Schiedam’s Spiritual Urgency is an exhibition aimed at shining a light on the many corresponding connotations of belief, asking: what exactly does it mean? ays on the artists of today and yesteryear… and interestingly, the many similarities they share. All united by one cause: the urgency of spirituality, we were (of course) interested to learn more. Sitting down with the exhibition’s curator, Eliza Bordeaux, we dive deep into the mission of the work, the artist’s personal journeys and how creativity can change the world… or, at the very least, ignite an inter-generational discourse.

Hey Eliza! How are you today? 

Still so full of the opening of the exhibition! The energy between the performances, the audience and the artworks blew me away. Everything came together so well, something new literally came to life, manifesting in front of all our eyes. It was crazy. How are you yourself?

Very good thank you! There’s a lot to dive into, but shall we begin with your role at the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam?

Sure! I am currently the curator and program maker of the ‘Nieuwe Kunst’ program. Spiritual Urgency* is part of our programming at ‘Nieuwe Kunst’… which can also be translated as ‘New Art’. With this experimental program line, we make an effort to calibrate our view on contemporary art by exploring new practices derived from the cutting edge of popular culture and/or new technologies. We produce exhibitions based on matters sensed by a multivocal metropolitan generation Y/Z. For this, we collaborate with leaders of relevant communities. We thoughtfully combine the new practices with more ‘established’ art forms to actively include and pursue new narratives and audiences.

Wow. What an amazing mission… as curator, what are some of your goals in going into an exhibition like this? 

I think that it is super important to stay present, and fresh, and don’t forget: inclusivity. At its core, this means acknowledging and acting on the value of doing this collectively. This exhibition’s ‘goal’ therefore was to give the floor to some true game-changing leaders who are sensitive to urgencies and true to their community. 

And some amazing leaders you had!  

We invited André Maques and Tim Wes from T&D (Together & Dedicated), Qasim Arif from ILLM (his calligraphic brand) and Cathelijne Blok and Imaan van der Zwan from the TittyMag. Gladly they agreed to form special forces!

Like a Dutch art scene avengers. I also read that you yourself are trained as an art photographer, how does this help you with your role? Or the act of curation?

Hehe, you’ve read well. Actually, I believe as a photographer I am trained to read images through visual language. It feels very natural to me to balance them out in series and to combine them in a way they tell a story or reinforce each other. I treat artwork the same. I love to create narratives with visual elements, and having the chance to do this within the galleries of the museum gave me an incredible playground.

Why, in your opinion, is it so important we see exhibitions like this? That directly speaks to a young audience and their interests. Also, through the voice of the generation themselves… 

I believe in the healing powers of art. Let me explain this. It may sound a bit corny but at the same time it is solid: this next-gen carries the future! I think it is important for all ages to keep engaged with each other’s inner worlds. This way we stay connected and are able to build upon each other’s pasts. This exhibition has a bridging function between generations, which hopefully shows the best of two worlds and leads to mutual trust and eventually collective healing.

There are some incredible artists showing — Asma Elbadawi, Sophie Steengracht and Marlou Fernanda — to name a few. What elements tie all these creatives together under the exhibition title? 

Oh, I totally agree! They all are aware of the spiritual world and are consciously searching through their art into their own spirituality. In their works, they grasp some parts of the spiritual reality. This way it can manifest, give insights or work together for healing. Showcasing spiritual realities can also stir, lead or transform generations in new directions.

Let’s talk through some of the pieces specifically! Where the blue and white Nile meet, is striking. Can you tell me about this work and the artist?

This poetic work is made by Asma Elbadawi. She is a great example of how beautiful and multi-layered one can be. She is just so many incredible things at the same time, it is hard to capture her in a few words… She is a great artist, in both visual art and spoken art, but also an athlete and a powerful role model as an Adidas ambassador. Where the blue and white Nile meet is a self-portrait photograph and you see her wearing white garments and blue tears coming out of her eyes. Fun fact: this is the first work she made in the Netherlands during her study period at the van Eyk Academy in Maastricht. In her work, Badawi returns to her Sudanese roots and immerses herself in the original spiritual rituals of her motherland. Within Islam, there is a spiritual assignment to think of people who are struggling, and therefore share many photos on social media about the harrowing situation in Sudan. Elbadawi has difficulty with the transience of that spiritual act on the IG platform and therefore gives it her own form through her art.

Nick Verstand’s work on the other hand takes a totally different approach! How does this interact with Spiritual Urgency? To me it feels like the freedom, say, a club can ignite!

Yes, his research revolves around the question of how technological evolution has to do with the experience of spirituality and the way this affects our sight of inspiration of objects. He does actually have a background as a DJ, so I believe those club scene experiences will seep through his art practice.

But there are also some more ‘traditional’ artists involved. What can you tell me about them? Alongside creating this intersection of creatives? 

Each theme has at least one modern artist…think of a well-known artist, like Kandinsky, Toorop, Yves Klein and van Heemskerck. What sticks out for me is that their work still resonates with the contemporary themes we have chosen for the galleries. This way the work of a ‘new’ artist can be embedded in a greater timeless narrative which evolves around kindred spirits. I also believe it is important to actively pursue this discourse between traditional and new artists, there is so much beauty in it because they pull each other up. These more unknown artists really can be seen as masters of this generation, the last gallery called ‘contemporary priests’ dives deeper into this.

What are some of the key pointers/thoughts you hope the audience will walk away from the exhibition with?
Oh, so many are on my wishlist to pick a few. The exhibition shows spirituality isn’t a joke or a trend. The artworks show different faces of universally experienced spiritual urges and how beautifully deeply spirituality can enrich our lives – if you’d open up for it. Perhaps what connects us, humans, is that we are spiritual beings. With that- independent of our (religious, ethnic, economic or educational) backgrounds this spiritual journey called life – is our common ground. We could find each other here, sincerely and real, if we’d open conversation! I hope visitors will bring these conversations home. #discussurgentmatters #besensitive #bewokeforthespiritual.

My expectation is that Spiritual Urgency will be a perfect catalyst in constructive and sensitive conversations about the meaning of global urges such as (mental) health, pain and growth, climate crisis, pandemics, war and the urge for the spiritual. 


Words by Grace Powell

Photography by courtesy of Stedelijk Museum Schiedam by

Aad Hoogendoorn & Victor Wennekes

Learn more about the Spiritual Urgency urgency exhibition

Get your tickets here