Hans Broek | Preview

Hans Broek (Veenendaal, 1965) paints as if he were laying bricks with palette knives dipped in pitch. Slave forts, slave dungeons, plantation complexes in Africa and Surinam. Many buildings are still standing today. Guilty architecture, sometimes overgrown by nature. He travelled and worked on site, in Senegal, Ghana and Surinam. He remarks that the architectural typology of slavery’s past was “a gruesome eye opener … with a power structure that the Nazis learned from.” As a painter, he calms his bewilderment through his work.

Broek is “furious and precise”, as interviewer Pieter van der Wielen put it in the Dutch radio programme Nooit meer slapen. He digs up the tangible traces of history, all the more so after studying his own family tree and finding a relative who was involved in the Dutch West India Company and the Admiralty of Amsterdam in the 17th century. “That golden age of glory, which also affected the arts,” he says, “has a shadow side that we must face in order to let it go.”

“The psychological depth of Rembrandt and the fine light of Vermeer did not exist in the slave churches. These were places steeped in suffering. Dark and without empathy. What would you call the crimes, tortures, and rapes that were the order of the day for 250 years, part of official Dutch government policy? Beastly? Well, animals do not inflict this terror on each other. Calling it diabolical might cover it.”

Hans Broek, ‘Elmina' (oranje), acryl op linnen, 125 x 200 cm, 2021

In addition to his expressive, raw paintings of dungeons and fortresses, Broek has recently started painting architecture built in the Netherlands at the time: spaces filled with wealth, prosperity, status, and power. He zooms in on canal houses in Amsterdam that reflect the profits of slavery. A veil falls over the illustrious historical scenery. He also reflects on the Royal Palace of Amsterdam, formerly the city hall and also, as the title of this work explains, the Society of Suriname. This was the seat of the trading company that, as the legal owner, administered the colony of Surinam. The monumental building looms up in all its weight, carrying the past in an atmosphere of mystery, covered by clouds full of ghostly apparitions.

Text: Wilma Sütö

About Hans Broek

Hans Broek made his name internationally as a landscape painter in the mid-1990s. After studying in Utrecht and at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam, he left the Netherlands. Following in the footsteps of the 17th-century Haarlem painter Frans Post, he wanted to paint “new worlds”. In the USA, he painted panoramic landscapes in California and his home city of Los Angeles, depicting cinematic suspense, often at night or dusk. Later, in New York, he also created portraits and interiors. In 2021, he delivered impressive results with his research into the Dutch history of slavery at Museum De Pont.

Hans Broek, ’Societeit van Suriname’, acryl op linnen, 125 x 200 cm, 2022