From innovators to agitators
What is a freethinker? Many answers are possible. The organizers of the exhibition Freethinkers: from Spinoza to now see freethinkers as innovators, idealists, subversives, free spirits, and activists. A freethinker looks beyond the prevailing morals and conventions and creates space for new thought. But anyone who is a freethinker in one person’s view can be seen as an agitator by another.
The exhibition provides an overview of four centuries of free spirits, from Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677) to the present. How tolerant are we, actually, of aberrant thinkers and doers? To what extent do we allow space for the convictions of another? Can you “cancel” people for their opinion, and does everyone deserve a stage? Such questions are highly topical. The exhibition challenges visitors to determine their own position in this regard.
Amsterdam, city of freethinkers
The exhibition Freethinkers: from Spinoza to now begins in Amsterdam, a city that since the seventeenth century has been associated with freethinking. On display are the censure imposed on Spinoza by the Jewish community in 1656 for “abominable heresies,” Theo van Gogh’s typewriter, T-shirts from the first Black Lives Matter demonstration, and the handbag belonging to artist Tinkebell, which she made from her cat. The Amsterdam Museum reveals and relates what these critical minds thought, what drove them, and how society responded. Many were faced with condemnation, intimidation, repression, and violence. Anyone who dares to question risks coming under fire.
Artists as freethinkers
Themes such as religion, freedom of expression, feminism, gender, ethnicity, and the human relationship with nature continue to evoke fierce emotions today. To reflect on these themes, the Amsterdam Museum highlights historical thinkers who were engaged with them, as well as selected contemporary artists. Circus Andersom (Martijn Engelbregt), Aam Solleveld, Ni Haifeng, and Domenique Himmelsbach present new, space-filling installations. Remy Jungerman, Jeroen Jongeleen, Sunny Bergman, Melanie Bonajo, Renzo Martens, Tinkebell, Jonas Staal, Patricia Kaersenhout, Ari Versluis and Ellie Uyttenbroek, Jan Hoek, Wafae Ahalouch and Leendert Vooijce, and others offer their views on historical issues around freethinking through existing work. Henk Schiffmacher, Tim Hofman, Ulysse Ellian, David van Reybrouck, Nanoah Struik, Jerry Afriyie, Lale Gül, Hedy d’Ancona, Femke Halsema, Imane Valk, Nienke van Ittersum, and Samya Hafsaoui also share their visions on the subject in a video series of the museum.
The exhibition is a collaboration between the Amsterdam Museum and the Humanistisch Verbond and is made possible in part by the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, Mondriaan Fonds and the Creative Industries Fund NL.