It’s a minor scandal, maybe just a rash act. But it has been stirring up spirits in the Netherlands for days. Some see the “woke” attitude police at work, others wave it off. The starting point is a painting in a boardroom university Suffer. The work by the artist Rein Dool from 1976 shows the then university management at work: six older white men, mostly with cigars, in a smoke-filled room.
A PhD student in politics was recently bothered by the work, posted a photo on Twitter and asked if one could at least add an “ironic or self-critical” statement. The dean of the law faculty followed up: The painting should go, she had been sitting in rooms with men and pictures of men long enough. “And I hate the smoke too.” Two days later, she was able to report completion, colleagues had taken down the picture, it is now leaning upside down on the wall.
“Where does that end? Are pictures of men now banned?”
The debate quickly spread from Twitter. A “deeply sad action,” complained the right-liberal MP, Hatte van der Woude: “Where does it end? Are pictures of men now banned?” The artist himself, 90 years old, considers what happened to his picture to be “narrow-minded”. He painted a “picture of the times” that at that time men would have sat in such committees and everyone would have smoked, including himself. “I held up a mirror to them.”
In addition, the rector at the time was Dolf Cohen, a Jew who had survived the Nazi occupation in hiding. His sons, among them the former head of the Dutch Social Democrats Job Cohen, offered the university management in an open letter to explain the context of the picture. Several Leiden professors distanced themselves from their colleagues. “In my opinion, this belongs in the category: well-intentioned, but not well thought out,” said a lecturer on television. The discussion does not even take into account that it is also a satirical picture. “And there are better ways to show that you want to be diverse and inclusive.”
The university administration struggled for a while with a reaction. She later explained that it was not an official decision on her part, but a “spontaneous, playful action” that “was not fully thought out”. You will now seek the conversation. And: “The work may get stuck after all.” The artist himself can also gain something positive from the discussion about his picture. “It will be seen,” he says, “and that’s what I did it for.”