Amber Toorop

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Amber Toorop

‘People do not necesseraly feel at home in a geographic location, but they can feel at home in the image of it’.

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Amber Toorop, self-portrait 2015

Amber Toorop was born in Tilburg in 1989. She studied graphic design for four years (Sint Lucas, Boxtel 2006-2010) and then for four and a half years Documentary Photography at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (KABK) in The Hague (2010- 2015). She attended an internship with Annette Behrens (photographer) and Daniëlle van Ark (visual artist and photographer). In addition, she has followed numerous workshops, including (Reflections on) Artistic Research at the KABK in The Hague. She has been nominated for the Steenbergen Scholarship 2015 and also for her contribution to the ‘Young Art Fund Amsterdam’ (YAA) 2016. She has participated in numerous exhibitions; at Pulchri Studio in The Hague (May / June 2016) for example, together with Florence Fernhout, titled ‘Toorop – Fernhout, what’s in a name’.

‘My uncles and aunts were still young when they left their native Indonesia, which was called Dutch East Indies at the time. A country where you can no longer return to because it simply no longer exists’.

‘When my grandfather died, I was almost four years old. My grandmother died when I was twelve. My interest in the country where my family comes from started at the age of eleven when I began asking questions to my grandmother. It resulted in a presentation at school about the Dutch East Indies in which I briefly told about the history and paid attention to the habits in the Dutch East Indies as, for instance, the use of ‘botol tjebok’. Unfortunately my grandmother died soon after this and I could not ask her more’.

The overall theme in Amber Toorop’s work is the way people feel connected to their home. For her it isn’t obvious that everybody feels automatically at home in another country or in another environment. Everyone tries to create a ‘home’ in their own way. To what extent have expressions of the original culture influenced your feeling of being at home? She explores this subject by looking at how affiliation is expressed in the interiors, everyday actions, symbols and rituals. By combining or placing archived material and family photos in a different context beside her own work, she creates new meanings. The past fuses with the present. The power of her photos evokes a feeling that reminds of a forgotten home.

‘G’lijk weleer, mijn lieve schat’

In her graduation project, ‘G’lijk weleer, mijn lieve schat’ (‘As in the old days, my dearest darling’) four generations of Indo’s in the Netherlands are the point of focus. This group is characterized by a strong identity and is formed by a traumatic history. Among them there is a cultural connection with a country where you can’t return to. In the project, Amber focuses on a world that only exists in memories and associative details. In a metaphorical way she depicts a lesser-known period in Dutch history, which is difficult to speak of. Using a family archive and new photographic materials, she intimately tells the migration story of her own family and her personal search for her Dutch East Indies descent. Although this is related to a place in a time that you can’t return to, the feeling and desire for that ‘home’ play an important role. At the same time it brings up a broader theme that addresses a larger group of migrants and their neighbors.

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Research, archived material and workbook

Research, archived material and workbook

Research, archived material and workbook

Portraits of plants at Amber’s family home, who recall longingly their house in the Dutch East Indies (technique: polymer print)

‘Each generation deals in its own way with their descent. At the first generation, I can see the longing in the interior, although they have often hidden the past by not talking about it. The second generation sees the importance of conserving valuable information. Delightful family recipies only available in the heads of the first generation, are now written down by the second generation to preserve them. And the third generation is curious about how life was in the Dutch East Indies; a place where they have never been. I show how they try to project themselves on in the first generation, as to catch that feeling too. The fourth generation is still young and we do not yet know how they will deal with their descent.’.

Four generations of Indo’s in the Netherlands. From left to right: first generation; Aunt Tiene, 100 years. Second generation; Jeffrey, 58 years old. Third generation; Robin, 22 years old. Fourth generation; Mattijs, 3 years

‘Home’ means the place where you or your ancestors come from. From this desire arises the wish to return to the place where someone experiences a sense of being at home. Desire is the tie with ‘home’, the feeling of belonging somewhere. When someone is at home, they feel comfortable in a familiar environment that has elements of culture, territory and social circle. When we are no longer home, there is a desire to be ‘at home’. This desire can be expressed in various ways or transformed into actions. The ‘home feeling’ is characterized by a safe, comfortable, predictable place where people can feel comfortable (‘a refuge’) and by a situation where you can be yourself, where you feel connected with like-minded, where you can develop your favorite activities. In that situation, the feeling of being ‘at home’ can also develop.
Videoclip: ‘Het was er zo prachtig, zo onbeschrijflijk mooi…’

Longing (first generation)

Preservation (second generation)

Quest (third generation)

Exhibition in the Dutch Photo Museum, Rotterdam. Nomination for Steenbergen Scholarship 2015

Exhibition in Pulchri Studio , The Hague. Toorop – Fernhout, What’s in a name.

For Amber, it’s important to stay close to herself as a photographer and to work from her interpretations. By researching other photographers and by talking to artists, she discovered what really matters to her. That the theme can transcend the personal and even be of historical importance; that the inner worlds that do not really exist can be visualized; That a seemingly ‘normal’ story can be very loving and useful; that a story can throw a light upon different aspects; that the technology of photographic prints has allowed her to come very near to the feeling of the past in the Dutch East.
‘The first generation considered it a taboo to talk about their lives before they came to the Netherlands. Now it’s time to break that taboo and make valuable memories debatable’. (Amber Toorop)

See for Amber’s family tree: Stamboom Amber Toorop

A comprehensive CV of Amber can be found here: CV Amber Toorop