In the year 2010, the Antilles – of which Curaçao and Bonaire, were chosen as subject to be documented for Document Nederland, commissioned by The Rijksmuseum and NRC Handelsblad. Women and men are portrayed in relation to their culture and legend, connoted to the influence of oral history in people’s daily life and psyche, while the context of the history of past slavery and post-colonialism still emanates its invisible echo, an embodied sense of history merges naturally with the landscape. Ilse Frech looks for individuals and their characters and finds most notably, strong women, who represent the elementary power of the Antilleans as a matriarchal culture exists on these islands: the women work, bring up their children, often by themselves, from generation to generation. She portrayed many up-close mirroring the rough and mystic landscape within her portraits, implicitly touching upon an embodied heritage; bearer of ‘the past’. 

Zjeitu is a visual and narrative quest for the very soul of the islands Curaçao and Bonaire. Documented on the eve of autonomy, whereupon the Netherlands Antilles as a formerly unified political entity, were dissolved October 10th 2010, 400 years after its constitution. Of which, as result, the five constituent islands have since attained new constitutional statuses within the Kingdom of the Netherlands: The islands of Curaçao and Saint Martin have begotten an autonomous ‘status apart’, after Aruba, whereas Bonaire, Saint Eustatius and Saba became special municipalities within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

“My gratitude goes out to all persons in Curaçao, Bonaire and the Netherlands, who have lead me to their inner-circles of friends and acquaintances on the islands. There’s so many people portrayed and involved in so many ways, people I came befriended with, the project wouldn’t have been been possible without each one of them. Which is why I herewith thank all persons I collaborated with at the time, for their trust and willingness to participate in this project.”

Photographer Ilse Frech resided and worked for a period of 4,5 months on Curaçao and Bonaire. Looking for possible links in the history of the Antilles, Frech took photographs of the specific and distinct culture of the islands of Curaçao and Bonaire: she photographed the omnipresent matriarchal culture besides family life, professional life, male societies, nightlife, consumer culture as well as the sultry landscapes and the historical sites connoted to the colonial past; a colourful impression of a complex, at some points somewhat split society is given; not only full of mystic spirituality but at the same time of material externality.

‘Zjeitu’, was realised in 2010 and commissioned by The Rijksmuseum and NRC Handelsblad on behalf of the annual photography commission ‘Document Nederland’. As a result photographs of the project are conserved in The Rijksmuseum’s Photography Collection. With its annual commission the Rijksmuseum intends to highlight subjects of relevance to contemporary Dutch society with the aim of documenting history as it unfolds. ‘Zjeitu’ was exhibited at De Kunsthal in Rotterdam (2010-11), at the time The Rijksmuseum was in the proces of renovation still. The photography project Document Nederland, ‘Zjeitu’, received additional funding from the Mondriaan Fund, The Netherlands.

'Zjeitu': The initial website conceived in 2010, especially to safeguard an online presence, is offline. An impression of what it looked like was created with this video. The sound is 'off'.
Photoshoot At Work: Video Shorts at Club Highway, Salina, Curaçao. I'm assisted by my friends, Albert Schoobaar and Norma Cova, Kalle Mattson is filming with a lo-res quality cellphone!

In Zjeitu, Ilse Frech shows the Antilles as she sees them. Intuitively, the photographer roams around for the islands’ soul, seeking for an archetypal sense of a past invisible, she entwines her portraits with the mystical force of oral history and the seasoned earth. Sensitive to traces of a sultry past of slavery, the landscape and its past form a commanding and overwhelming backdrop against which life is played out: Stark, dry, warm and sultry.

Besides the road to ‘Westpunt’ one can’t miss Dayanara Josepha’s improvised little restaurant. She’s a single mum and she wouldn’t want it to be different, she loves to laugh a lot. Across from her home lies ‘ The chapel of the twins’, a pilgrimage. Since Dayanara has the key to the chapel’s door, she’s the ‘gatekeeper’ to one of the many legends on the island of Curaçao. A tenfold podcast-series (2010), created in collaboration with Miriam Sluis, journalist and writer, residing in Curaçao. Listen to the podcast here, as Dayanara, amused as ever, tells us about the legend…

Langs de Weg naar Westpunt, ligt het geïmproviseerde restaurantje van Dayanara Josepha. Een alleenstaande moeder, goedlachs, Dayanara zou het niet anders willen. Tegenover het terrein van Dayanara’s familie staat de ‘Kapel van de Tweeling’, een bedevaartsoord voor vrouwen die zwanger willen worden.

De 10-delige podcast serie is ontstaan op initiatief van Ilse Frech, speciaal vervaardigd naar aanleiding van de Opdracht Document Nederland door Het Rijksmuseum en NRC Handelsblad 2010.
In samenwerking met Miriam Sluis, journalist en schrijfster, te Curaçao.

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