In this new recurring feature, visual arts editor Aaron Rosen interviews curators about their current projects. Lieke Wijnia is the Curator of Catholic Collections at the Museum of Catharijneconvent, Utrecht, the Netherlands.
Image: What exhibitions are you currently curating?
Lieke Wijnia: This spring I began working as curator at the Catharijneconvent, which is a national museum for Christian art and heritage. This is an exciting time to have joined, because we’re in the midst of reconceptualizing how we present our collection. We’ll be working with themes like ritual, rather than treating particular periods or types of objects. I think this will be more appealing and meaningful to visitors, who I hope will relate to these themes in very direct and personal ways.
Image: Are there temporary shows you’re working on as well?
LW: There’s a wonderful project for families called Kerstival (a word that combines Christmas and festival). The goal is to familiarize kids with the foundations of the feast days they celebrate each year. For the 2019 Kerstival, I selected the theme of animals, which offers a simple but intriguing prism through which to see our museum’s collection.
Image: It’s interesting that the museum feels such a strong responsibility to educate people about religion, rather than leaving this to the church.
LW: Overall, the museum’s mission is to convey the aesthetics, history, and knowledge of Christian heritage in the Netherlands. Religious literacy is an important element in the new plans since knowledge of Christian traditions is fading in the country. Yet even as we experience secularization and religious diversification, many Dutch social structures and habits are rooted in Christian notions. In our museum, religious literacy primarily means fostering a sensitivity to the stories, rituals, and convictions that both bind and separate us.
Image: Can you say a bit more about religious diversity in light of being a museum oriented toward Christian heritage?
LW: Although Christianity is our focus, we definitely open up points of relation to other religions and spiritual traditions. Think of the figure of Mary Magdalene, for example, who will be the subject of a major exhibition I am working on for the spring of 2021. The stories around her derive from a very limited and ambiguous set of scriptural sources, but she has been appropriated in a variety of ways by a broad range of groups. If the exhibition can provide insights into this dynamic process of sacralization and appropriation, I think we are doing a good job.
Image: How do you think a visit to the museum might change a person’s perception of religion, art, or both?
LW: I hope our exhibitions reinforce how religion is intrinsically connected to materiality. While religion is often regarded as being strictly about belief—something of the heart and mind—it manifests itself just as much (perhaps even quintessentially) through matter. Objects, rituals, and sites make the spiritual present, function as witness or proof of the miraculous, and turn individual perceptions into collective convictions. In various ways, the arts provide a face for the spiritual. Maybe visitors will even relate that phenomenon to objects they cherish in their own homes. If people took this away from a visit, I’d be over the moon.
Lieke Wijnia is curator at Museum Catharijneconvent in Utrecht, the Netherlands. She recently published Beyond the Return of Religion: Art and the Postsecular (Brill). Her research on art and the sacred has been honored by the Teylers Theological Society and the Jeffrey Rubinoff Sculpture Park.