Annotations on Afrikaanderwijk

Annotations on Afrikaanderwijk (2019) is a series of photographs by Hannah Dawn Henderson.

The photographic series Annotations on Afrikaanderwijk recollects a period of site-specific research undertaken in the framework of Wider Perspectives, an exhibition programme presented at Het Gemaal op Zuid (Rotterdam), commissioned by Afrikaanderwijk Coöperatie in collaboration with Furtado Melville. This research culminated in an essay that can be read in the Rotterdam, een postkoloniale stad in beweging (Published by Boom, 2020).

The photo series is accompanied by short texts that contextualise and question the depicted imagery. This constellation maps out a chronology of three events that are embedded in the neighbourhood’s urban landscape, pointing towards its past, present and prospective future. These events are: 1) the creation of the neighbourhood and the naming of its streets, 2) the 1972 riots that saw a violent eruption of xenophobia underpinned by economic deprivation, and 3) the forthcoming renovation of Tweebos, an area within the wider neighbourhood which will entail the displacement of current residents per the demolition of social housing.

Constructed in the early 20th century, the Afrikaanderwijk was intended to re-house dock-workers following the expansion of the nearby harbour. Following government-led efforts to recruit a labour force from Turkey and Morocco, racial tensions swiftly arose, largely underpinned by economic factors — namely, opportunistic landlords exploited the increased need for housing by over-renting poorly maintained properties well beyond their capacity, resulting in deteriorated living conditions. This resulted in violent clashes between residents over the course three days, during which tenants of non-Dutch heritage were physically dragged from their homes. The response of Rotterdam’s municipality was to legislate policy limiting the number of migrant residents.

Today, the neighbourhood’s demographics remain international and working-class. However, new private housing developments signal the onset of gentrification and the potential displacement of the existing residents. Again, economic and, by extension, ethnic factors appear to possess significance — in that the ‘betterment’ of the neighbourhood seems to be predicated on the notion that the ideal resident is financially advantaged. Statistically, this infers that the such a desired resident is more likely to be of Dutch heritage. Whereas in the past the municipality enforced this paradigm by means of policy, the conditions of present day require a wider analysis. On the one hand, gentrification often necessitates the improvement of local amenities and public facilitates, yet this is usually dependent on increased rental costs, which in turn displaces those of a lower income.

This history of socio-political shifts and turns in Afrikaanderwijk is rendered all the more complex when one takes note of how the neighbourhood’s street names all make reference to the Dutch colonial presence in South Africa. These references, either in the form of street names or monuments, to people such as Paul Kruger, Christiaan de Wet and Joseph Chamberlain essentially venerate figures who actively supported colonial occupation The neighbourhood’s name is indicative of the rose-tinted gaze that narrations of national memory typically project unto the colonial past. Today, these street names appear especially jarring alongside the many local businesses that are reflective on the neighbourhood's international demographics.

(Note: the imagery of the 1972 riots is derived from a television broadcast, sourced from Youtube, viewable here).


Installation photo: Katarina Jazbec.

The project was made possible with the generous support of Kunstcentrum Stroom, CBK Rotterdam and the Municipality of Rotterdam.

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