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Elsbet De Pauw: a line, a house, a skin
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© Marianne Hommersom / Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
© Marianne Hommersom / Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam © Marianne Hommersom / Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Young Voices on Slavery
literature
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Elsbet De Pauw: a line, a house, a skin

Eighteen young Flemish and Dutch authors bring an artefact to life from the Slavery exhibition at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Elsbet De Pauw wrote a poem in response to Jacob Appel’s 1710 painting Doll House of Petronella Oortman.

a line, a house, a skin

count the faces, look for the pride
for this is a canvas, a raw surface, an image without dimension.
an intangible view

walls form a landscape here
a phantom space barring the rain
barring
the sun from the skin

not that he is cold
the landscape is solid, the breeze artificial
in his hands the object is missing, the tray is missing, the tinkling glasses

all alone in the corner he serves,
he is the object
he carries the air, carries the space

in the middle room is a girl, a pale pink girl
hold her by a thread
keep her on the right path
don’t let her go outside the lines
make that curvature just right.

who smudged the sun? moved the trees?
who determines the shape of things?

each child the learning process of order, the proper
balancing of noble plates
the clinking of a silver knife on expensive china
the creaking of the ash-wood floor

the emerald green walls reverberate with decency, a girls’ choir
more and more shrill that girls’ choir
the adoration of a centrepiece, a baby child

who is the promise? who fails to transcend the flat surface?

everything here has been set down in advance:
the measured distance between chair and table
the measured distance between man and skin
the arrangement
of empty seats

it took time, it took skill
but this space reverberates
in towns in holland,
in polite society

for everything resembles something else
everything consists of three layers: a line, a house, a man
a date, a year, an era

all alone in the corner he is the silence, the servitude
that which seeps into the wallpaper, being part
of the furniture, the indispensable

he is three layers
and one of them above all:
a line, a house, a skin
the thickness of the paint

the smudging
the drying

an artificial breeze
smooths the sky, makes it immaculate

This text was written during a residency at Flemish-Dutch cultural organisation Huis deBuren in association with the Biermans-Lapôtre Foundation.

Series

Young Voices on Slavery

Betül Sefika: Crops

Shimanto Reza: Lines

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