The Amsterdam-bred artist Rob Schrama has been an active figure in the arts since the heydays of performance art in the 1970s. As a multi faceted activist who uses art as a form of peaceful protest for world causes, his work has led to the development of the concept Art Confrontation as well as teaching positions in the Netherlands and Germany and a book titled Art Confrontation; Politicising Art and Aestheticising Action. Recently Rob Schrama has been organising performative events in Jerusalem, shining light on the need for reconciliation in the face of the Palestine/ Israel conflict. Here he talks exclusively to the Amsterdo about his work in the Middle East, the power of art to improve society and his future projects.
What is Art Confrontation and how were you involved in its development?
When I was a student, more than 35 years ago, I came to live and study in the dynamic and magic city of Amsterdam. I was not satisfied with how art was functioning in society and I was searching for ways to develop art into a vehicle for change. So I was supporting action groups and peace movements, using the discipline of art to create new, effective and humorous ways to use actions for a better life. I developed the “Stichting Kunstkonfrontatie” (Art Confrontation) and put on a lot of events in the 70s and 80s all over the Netherlands. I gave lectures at universities and art schools and the events I created became more and more significant. The Stichting Kunstkonfrontatie remained a kind of ‘think-tank’. It can be seen as my way of making art: Art Confrontation.
A lot of people seem to romanticise the 70s, seeing it as a progressive time, when young people and especially artists seemed to question and confront society, aesthetics, tradition etc. Coming out of that generation and developing Art Confrontation you seem to fit into this sub-cultural ideal. Was the romanticism a reality and are young artists today any less savvy, critical or socially aware?
Yes and no. The 70s were more politically engaged, everybody, especially students. Now we have more access to the media and social media, so for organizing and mobilizing, we have new tools. But consciousness has also become institutionalized. The goals we wanted to achieve do have their own institutions now like Amnesty International, Greenpeace, etc. But every generation and also every area in the world gets their own problems. Just look at the Middle East at the moment. The young generation do not believe the values of their (grand)parents, they do not believe that the Israelis must be thrown in the sea, for example. They have new tools in their hands for creating action, but they miss the experience we had in the 70s.
You seem to be very interested in the Middle East, as seen in your projects Jerusalem Hug and Jerichon. Why did you decide to carry out projects confronting the Israel/ Palestine conflict?
Sometime in September 2000 I came home and switched on the TV. Sharon ( Ariel Sharon, the Israeli opposition leader at the time) was climbing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. I could see the hatred of the Palestinians on the screen. I remembered what my mother, who lived through WW2 said to me when I was a kid: ‘ Be aware of your time and remain alert. See and recognize when a fool is standing up who might cause a world war’. In 2000 my daughter was 6 years old…. Suddenly I realized that the future of my child might be in danger here in Europe because of that individual climbing the Temple Mount. Next day I bought a ticket to Israel to start an act of Art confrontation there. The Jerusalem Hug has taken place six times since 2007, bringing Palestinians, Israelis and Internationals together in Jerusalem to encircle the old city, hold hands for a better life together for themselves and their children, in a united Jerusalem, in a Holy Land for Israelis as well as Palestinians. The next event will take place on May 9th.
Have you had any attention from the media, politicians and locals?
In terms of citizens we have a lot of support, about 1500 people are joining the Hug. But I see that this is what I can do, but I can not do greater things. I hope that the amount of participants will grow. And indeed, Israeli and International media have been paying attention. But still there is no peace… That is why I want to create a huge laser pyramid above the old city, much similar to the example we set up in Amsterdam in 2006. I tried to take the laser pyramid to Jerusalem three times now, even had the lasers sponsored, but got turned away by the authorities.
So what is the intention behind the Pyramid of Light in the Israel context?
We create a sacred symbol in the middle of the city and we invite all communities, all religions, all cultures to come together under the pyramid of light, to celebrate their oneness and their wish for peace in their city and in the entire world. I hope to create a chain of pyramids of light around Jerusalem and the world… At the moment I am approaching Munich and Cape Town in order to introduce the Pyramids of Light project in different towns around the world.
Asides from being a performance/ conceptual artist you are also a visual artist. Does Minerality ( a series of oversized paintings/ sculptures recalling mineral qualities) have a social function like your other work?
Yes and no. In Minerality I break symbolically through the framework of a canvas, creating my own size and frame. For this I need to make use of my own hands. Creating and organizing my own art events means for me that I am sitting 16 hours per day behind a desk, to organize everything…. So there is a lot of computer- related work, managing etc. Therefore to counterbalance I sometimes need to be alone in a big studio, far away from everything so I can create my own things.
What issue do you see here in Holland that could be ameliorated through artistic projects?
One of the big problems these days in Holland is the ageing population. I am one of them. I am a “Babyboomer”(1951). The issue here is the suffering of the old generation; they are isolated, their pensions are insufficient etc. So this year for my next project I will set up a kind of talkshow about the Babyboomer ‘DeSalon.TV’. I will be looking to ‘re-activate’ the good old boys who were young in the 60s and 70s, who are still feeling youthful but are in fact getting old, many of whom make up my audience. To this aim I will create different events involving this crowd such as organising flash mobs. It will be not only about mobilising them but also having fun.
For More information on the life and past and future projects visit the artist’s official website: