On 18th of October we traveled to Den Hague for visiting the “Humanity House” (https://www.humanityhouse.org/en/).
Inside the “Humanity House”
A short introduction made clear, that it contains more than a museum: It includes temporary exhibitions, an experience and spaces for readings, movie screenings, projects and debates. It is an educational platform for people of all ages and experiences, as well as for organizations.
The first of the recent exhibitions is called “The Asylum Search Engine” and shows the system of asylum in the Netherlands through the eyes of 41 artists and wants to show the faces and stories behind the “numbers”.
The second is the photo exhibition “Collateral, the human cost of explosive violence in Ukraine” about Ukrainians who faced harm and loss from explosive weapons.
The experience begins with your registration: You get a registration form with your name and photo. If you choose to go alone, you wait for your number and step down the stairs to a massive door. You don’t know what to expect. You find yourself alone in dim a room that could be somewhere in Den Hague, the Netherlands or the place where you live now. There you get an identity card without explanation. From now on you follow a route through different rooms.
One of the first rooms looks like a cozy living-room. But you can imagine that people left it a few minutes ago in haste: Chairs lay on the floor, a glass of wine fell over and the wine dropped down, toys lay widespread and on the computer, you can see Facebook messages about an unknown catastrophe. At once you can hear a radio announcement that you must leave your house. But you don’t know why and where to go. There is just one way upstairs.
Now you follow corridor after corridor which are built from old doors. You hear different voices in Arabic, sobbing and different puzzling sounds. Through tiny holes you see different scenes: The destroyed living-room you stand a minute ago, empty corridors, nailed up doors, wastelands, empty rooms, the sale in an electronic shop, containers, walls and fences.
Right in the middle, you enter a room, nice and cozy with a chimney. You see a mirror … and nothing else. You can’t see your reflection. I looked for an explanation. I saw a little sign: “You don’t exist.” I looked again in the mirror … but I saw nothing. I felt distressed. Something so usual didn’t work, something that belongs to me was taken away from me … and I didn’t understand what happened. Yes, I realized then how it works, but my confusion remained.
After a while you arrive in a room with cupboards full of files up to the ceiling. This room promises you that you could reunite with your family or friends if you find the right file with your letter of your last name. There is a voice trying to quieten you, but you are in a maze of files.
As I found the file of our group (last name: Solar) I was happy but at the same time I felt sad, because finding a file doesn’t mean you find the persons behind …
You go further and arrive in front of three massive doors, looking like prison cells. Inside you sit in front of a glass and hear a voice in Dutch that speaks loudly to you. As non-Dutch-speaking you don’t understand anything. Behind the glass you see a desk with papers. You are in an authority, in an interview room and have to do something you don’t understand. You’re waiting for a hint, a nice word but nothing clarifies. After I while I decided to go, but I wasn’t sure if I did it “right”.
The next part begins with a gun in front of a target. A text requests you to push the trigger. If you do so, you see the faces of the persons who enter before and after you in the target – your friends.
The following parts are more like an exhibition with video interviews, sound recordings, pictures and installations. You hear the things people went through talking directly to you. One of the sound installations was built as a container that brings someone to the Netherlands. The story told by Sattar was detailed and personal. He is a musician and speaks about his need to play music as a part of his life.
What did we learn? “It could be you!” Yes, that was a clear message. And what else?
We discussed in the end about the experience. For most of us the mirror-room was powerful. It shows you how to feel if something puts you out of your normal ways of thinking and feeling – outside of the system. It’s like someone decides without a reason that you don’t exist anymore.
For others, the “sniper room” was very impressive. You realize that you are a part of the system – whether you want to or not. You do what somebody wants you to do and you find yourself in the position to shoot your friends.
We also expound the problems of the artificiality in some parts, for example the Arabic spoken stories in the beginning. Or the abstract installations in the first parts, which could generate misunderstandings and stereotypes if visitors aren’t familiar with the backgrounds of the topic – for example children.
For me the sound installation of Sattar who wants to have a flute was important. People need more than a roof (especially if you have to stay in a gym) and food. They want to be respected and acknowledged with their needs and personalities. They want to have the choice.
The experience shows in a light version how it is to be forced to go forward just one way, through a system that wants to take your individuality. But it also tries to show the strength of individuals and relationships, their personality and capacities.
The “Volkskeuken The Hague”
Afterwards we walked to a place called “Volkskeuken The Hague” which is based in an old gym. There we had a great lunch of organic and local food. It is related to an initiative with the name “Timebank.cc”. This is a “Community Currency, accessible to everyone, to share skills and knowledge. Trade services with other Timebankers in exchange for time instead of conventional money. One Timebank Hour equals exactly one hour of work.” (http://timebank.cc/). After a great meal, interesting discussions and petting the cat we left for our free time in Den Hague, Rotterdam or Amsterdam – but this is another story.