Persona May, 4th 2023 by

World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 413 - Monique Verhoeckx & Eddy Appels

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World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 413 – Monique Verhoeckx & Eddy Appels

The Netherlands was present in the Indonesian archipelago for centuries. That came to an end in the 20th century. In 1949, the Netherlands transferred the sovereignty of the Dutch East Indies to the new state of Indonesia. The last remnant of the Dutch colonies in this region was Dutch New Guinea. And that presence also came to an end.

Monique Verhoeckx, maker, and Eddy Appels, project leader, show it in the exhibition ‘BIAK stories’ in the WM Gallery in Amsterdam. Biak is an island of the western part of New Guinea, above the Geelvink Bay, to the right of the ‘bird’s head’. In the period 1957 – 1959, Monique’s father was stationed here for the Royal Netherlands Navy.

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The Marine Corps was present at Biak base camp, as were some units of the former Royal Dutch East Indies Army (KNIL) and the Royal Netherlands Air Force. Local uprisings occasionally broke out, particularly in the Wisselmeren area. Seaplanes were used to reach this area, initially Catalinas, but they soon became obsolete. They were replaced by the Martin Mariner flying boats.

Piet Verhoeckx, Monique’s father, was an instrument maker at the Naval Aviation Service. The flying boats were not always safe. “Several Catalinas crashed, that also applied to the Martin Mariners. Marines were brought to the troubled areas with the planes. In addition, they transported foodstuffs and other products and also medical aid for the Papuans and took back products from the Papuans.”

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Love history

The love story, inspired by the story of Piet Verhoeckx with Hertha Vogel, both Indonesian Dutchmen, is central to the exhibition. “A marine man and a married woman, called Piet and Etta in the video installation, meet each other after many wanderings on this island in the Pacific Ocean. After the internment during the Japanese occupation, the subsequent civil war (Bersiap), the evacuation camp in Singapore and the repatriation to the Netherlands, they – separately from each other – end up in Biak from Amsterdam.”

The blossoming romance does not develop naturally. A love triangle develops, because Etta is already married. This triangular relationship is reflected in the relationship between New Guinea, the Netherlands and Indonesia.

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Five stories

There are five ‘stories’ on display: the dialogue with a Manta, the Sticks Map (‘Stokjeskaart’), a typical living room, photographs by Piet Verhoeckx and a video installation with three films running simultaneously.

The Dialogue with a Manta is a study for a two-sided work on barkcloth (on the other side are original Papuan paintings). The artist’s collages are inspired by the Papuan myth of the Manta, a winged ray in Geelvink Bay. The sun travels through the sky during the day in the form of a bird and returns underwater at night in the form of a fish.

The ‘Sticks Map’ contains various personal objects and stories. It is a large map with long and short bamboo sticks and shells. “They represented ocean currents, waves, swells and islands on the actual stick charts. Such a map was not taken on a sea voyage, but was mainly remembered by the sailors in Oceania.”

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On display are among others a necklace from the Baliem Valley, a decorated piece of bone with cassowary feathers and a matching pouch for making fire, a pen drawing of submarine hunter Hr.Ms. Friesland, which took part in the naval operation, a pot of sand and a pot of red soil, the sand from the beach in Hollandia, the capital, now called Jayapura, and the country’s typical red soil and a flag. The Papuan flag was the independence flag of the population, with the Morning Star and signatures of the members of the F-Compagnie 6 IB.

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Special collection days

Under the title ‘The Museum of Dutch New Guinea’, two special collection days had previously been organized in Breda and The Hague. “Anyone associated with the former colony was invited to bring or send in related items of personal value. Project leader and visual anthropologist Eddy Appels: We made a choice from the objects with their story. This revealed a great emotional involvement of the lenders with the object and with the Papuans. And often a feeling that the Papuans have been abandoned.”

Third story: a typical living room in Biak with two dolls, depicting the parents of Monique Verhoeckx – because yes, Piet Verhoeckx and Hertha eventually became a real couple – with a number of items such as a portable pick-up, with a number of singles from including Nat King Cole, Harry Belafonte, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, a bark painting, a special shell, a slide photo box and a calendar on the wall of New Guinea from 1959.

The photos of Piet Verhoeckx hang on a bulletin board. He was an avid amateur photographer. He had a darkroom on the Naval Air Base site where he developed his black-and-white photos himself. I see Papuans at the Wisselmeren, a football team on Biak with Papuans, Dutch East Indies men and marines.

And then story no. 5, a large installation, ‘Biak stories, a musical bird of paradise dance’ with three screens on which films are projected simultaneously. We see the fun on the beach, the trips of the marines in the bush, the folklore dances of the Papuans and the Dutch (Klompendans), the seaplanes and beautiful sunsets. Sometimes the images coincide, then there is the specific story. Piet’s voice is heard on the left, Etta’s voice in the middle and Walty’s voice, Etta’s husband, on the right. Voice actors tell the story.

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“I selected color slides in which my father captured island life, as well as his black and white photographs of the Papuan people. With fictionalized letter texts, Papuan motifs and historical film fragments I evoke a musical Bird of Paradise dance. In the soundscape you hear the voices of the characters in the love triangle, atmospheric sounds of the island, musical composition and improvisations with a cello. The projection screens are made of decorated bark cloth.” The screens are mounted on oil drums via a bamboo stand. There are a number of separate seats. A reference to the naval air camp on Biak and the provisional seats in the open-air cinema there. “‘KrasnaDrumski’ it was called.”

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The Dutch presence is a thing of the past. In 1962 the area was handed over to the United Nations. The agreement will be concluded in New York on 15 August. Monique and Eddy: “President Sukarno of Indonesia soon took power in May 1963. The Netherlands had promised the Papuans independence in 1969. That never happened. Many marines, now veterans in the Netherlands, feel that they unintentionally abandoned the Papuans in 1962. Some compare it to the events in

Afghanistan. All in all, the Papuans don’t seem to have gotten any better among the Indonesians. There was a large transmigration of Indonesians to the area and raw materials were sent to Indonesia. This while New Guinea had a completely different culture, namely that of Melanesia.”

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BIAK Stories is part of a triptych in which colonization / decolonization and trauma are central. The films De Schattenberg (2007) and Flat Earth (2014) were previously released. The Schattenberg used to be the infamous Westerbork transit camp. Monique’s mother was placed in the barracks in 1950. The film is a journey back in time. In Flat Earth, the filmmaker delves into the lives of her grandfather and father, who suffer from a post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Monique: “I had the idea for BIAK Stories before the Schattenberg film. I actually started at the back.”

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Artist and filmmaker Monique Verhoeckx studied Communication Science. She made her first film at the age of 27. In addition to video installations, she has also made short documentaries about diversity. Eddy Appels studied Cultural Visual Anthropology and Communication Sciences. He made 35 short films for the Jewish Broadcasting Service. He wrote a dissertation on ‘The Mission Film from the Dutch East Indies’ (‘Flores film’).


Finally: what is Monique’s artistic philosophy? “For me, art is a search for the individual truth of things, how one sees the world.”

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Traveling exhibition

BIAK Stories will be presented in 2022 and 2023, sixty years after the transfer of Dutch New Guinea to the United Nations (‘New York Agreement’) and sixty years of Indonesian rule respectively. The opening took place on July 9, 2022 in the Stedelijk Museum Breda. The exhibition was then on display at Museum Sophiahof in The Hague, then at Gallery WM in Amsterdam (February/March 2023) and later at the Kamp Westerbork Memorial Center in Hooghalen (June to August 15, 2023). In addition to the exhibition, an extensive context program will be organized with lectures, round table discussions, film screenings and music performances.


1) Piet in the Catalina, 2) BIAK Stories campaign photo, 3) Eddy and Monique at opening October 1, 2022, Sophiahof. Photo Armando Ello, 4) Photo Armando Ello, 5) Monique and Eddy, photo Pete Purnell, 6) the Sticks Map, 7) dialogue with a Manta, 8) photos by Piet Verhoeckx, 9) shop window WM Gallery, 10) installation with three screens, 11) photo Biak, Piet Verhoeckx

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