© Het HEM

Although not as sprawling as London, Paris or New York City, the urban dynamics of Amsterdam are quite similar. The city’s recent economic boom has obviously spawned a huge increase of activities on almost any level, but also reshuffled the entire metropolitan fold and how locals perceive it. The arts sector has long been well represented in the Dutch capital, given the many museums, galleries and related institutions which have set up home here, but for quite some time now, the local scene has also shown an unattractive staidness compared with other happening Euro capitals. Critics have blamed the government for prioritizing merely economic growth over all other issues, including cultural affairs and relevant funding, but it should be said that interesting private initiatives have been lacking in equal measure.

Well, until recently that is. Situated on Amsterdam‘s outer urban fringes, alongside the North Sea Canal in the neighbouring town of Zaandam, a new arts venue has emerged which has set the record straight. Called Het HEM, it’s a private initiative led by Dutch entrepreneur and philanthropist Alex Mulder, and occupies an elongated mid-20th century industrial building which was originally erected as an ammunition factory. Measuring approx. 10,000 sqm. (107,639 s.ft.) set largely across two floors, the industrial legacy of the premises have been fully retained and now form the inspiring backdrop for a rotation of curated contemporary art shows, performances and other events, in addition to restaurants, a living room-style library, artist workshops, and if required permits will be granted, a new hotel by revered architecture practice OMA will soon arise right on top the entire length of this industrial landmark building.

Currently on at Het HEM is the inaugural show CHAPTER 1NE by Patta founders Edson Sabajo and Guillaume Schmidt. Founded in Amsterdam fifteen years ago, the streetwear brand quickly resonated across the planet, gaining a sizeable global following thanks to the duo’s ability to capture specific style sensibilities and connect with relevant entities. The show extensively explores their hiphop-inspired cultural background and focus by way of a series of exemplary artworks by artists from home and abroad. Collectively, the works form a narrative of an irreverent and thriving urban culture with distinctive traits and ready to take on the world, and is being further elaborated by way of three pivotal aspects.

First, the method of breaking, sampling and assemblage as an artistic language and modus operandi to create something new based on the work of others. Aware of standing on the shoulders of giants, this sampling culture honours icons from the past through the free appropriation of references and quotes, and places Western concepts about originality and creative genius in a broader perspective. As a counterculture, developing outside the established cultural venues, hiphop has grown from a philosophy of learning through doing. Working independently from such institutions, cooperation, brotherhood and mutual support are an important engine for exploring new terrains. The community is therefore an essential hothouse for creativity, providing makers with the encouragement and incentive needed to make something out of nothing.

It’s within this context where the installation of artist Gabriel Lester fits in, embedding a functional boxing ring replete with a training programme and viewing tribune. The third aspect lies within the roots of this culture, a complex story of migration and the representation of role models of colour. The body itself functions as an instrument of self-expression, as an anchor for rapprochement and social cohesion, but also as a beacon of conflict. All to often, individuals are held responsible for the image and reputation of an entire group, while this is based solely on skin colour or ethnicity. By exposing ourselves to diverse stories, examples and role models, we aim to break ingrained mechanisms of rash and often harmful assumptions (on through Sep 21). Location: Het HEM, Warmperserij 1 (Zaandam).

© Het HEM / Photography: Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk