Boerenzij  (ENG)
Rural migration in Rotterdam-Zuid

Boerenzij (2018-2019) - or the ‘rural side’ – is a project on rural migration. It takes the “nickname” of Rotterdam-Zuid, the South Bank as a starting point. In the former century the name "boer" was connected to the rural workers and their families that moved in to have work in the Rotterdam habour. Industrialisation made urbanisation.

Boerenzij is a year of (private) events and an exhibition in TENT 10 October 2019 till 12 January 2020. This project is a collaboration with TENT Rotterdam and the citizens from Rotterdam-Zuid. It resulted in a Boerenzij-film, a geological animation, a collection of rural objects, a panorama of harbour drawings, framed balcony scenes and last but not least there was lots of mutual learning and knowledge exchange.

Current developments in Rotterdam generated a momentum for a project that will open new perspectives on what rural migrants have brought to the city. The Boerenzij, situated around Maashaven and Rijnhaven, is moving away from the ‘urban periphery’ and becoming ‘part of the centre’. Densification and new buildings that overlook the port are bringing the centre ever-closer. High-rise flats with panoramic views are attracting newcomers, particularly young urban professionals. The Boerenzij is disappearing – part of it has gone already and the rural presence seems almost to have died out. But it is also a fact that there are still rural people come over to Rotterdam-Zuid, workers, refugees and students that come straight from the country. They (still) find cheap housing close to the new centre. And as centrifugation goes on, the south bank changes and will change drastically in the coming decades.

Boerenzij presents a complex challenge because there are many times and places that have to be given a voice. There are participative and representative moments across the entire creative process, from intimate and private to patently public. The basis will be formed by all sorts of private rural worlds and neighbourhood observations at micro level, which will lead to the emergence of a more abstract image as a result of the angle of approach, the framing, and the chosen method of reporting. The activities focus on:
1. Neighbourhood and soil – all starts with the ground we can live on – so with the department BOOR (Archaeology in Rotterdam) we made an animation that talks about the layers of soil and the farming and living on the south bank. The fact that 25000 years ago this was a valley and that we are now facing a delta means lots of sediments. In a 4 minutes animation the BOERENZIJ goes from mammoths on dry soil to stone-age hills, peat, clay, polders, floods, harbours and building sand. Floods by the sea and by the river. As we are in a fruitful delta again floods are on the horizon.
2. Table Talks – we talk in my studio or at your table about memories, draw maps of our home-villages and exchange knowledge. We collect objects and talk about the use of it (sometimes in front of the camera).
3. Kale dinners (Boerenkool met Toppings) are gatherings in my studio or at host locations on the Southbank – we eat, read poets, sing harvest songs, make new poems, explain objects, do screenings and celebrate the fact that we are BOEREN (farmers).
4. Visits to farms, children-farms, community centres, care-homes, allotment gardens, harbour walks, and so on.
5. En plein air drawing sessions at Maashaven and Rijnhaven (the docks). With teachers or as a group. All are invited and some come along to make a contribution to the big panorama that shows in over 200 drawings how the harbour looks like in 2019.
6. Balcony scenes – artist were commissioned to make a drawing from the view of the private balconies of apartments and offices around Maashaven and Rijnhaven. 19 balconies were visited.
7. Exhibition and public screenings – see link to show in TENT.

Migration from the countryside to the city is causing urbanisation and rural shrinkage across the globe. But migrated rural culture is not regarded as a welcome enhancement to urban art and culture. I will take a closer look at this disdain. My starting hypothesis in Boerenzij is that migrant workers from rural areas retain their rural culture for the rest of their lives, sometimes unconsciously and in the background. Often, it lies hidden behind closed doors. A few objects and memories might be shared within the family circle, but even there they may remain untouched and unmentioned. Memories of the rural culture of origin are stored in various home languages and in the private sphere. But is this knowledge and culture inaccessible outside its original rural context? Or could the rural mental space that exists in a migrant city be made more visible? It is precisely because of the cross-cultural nature of rural knowledge in urban environments that there is no shared rural identity that is recognisable to others (fellow city-dwellers, civic art and the wider population) or even to the various people who are themselves involved. To instigate new ideas of rural cultural identity in the city, we must organise perceptions and visualise what is currently fragmented or hidden.

With the generous support of Mondriaan Fonds, CBK Rotterdam, Cultuur-Concreet and Gemeente Rotterdam.

NOTE: I have lived and worked in Rotterdam-Zuid for more than twenty-five years and as the daughter of a dairy farmer in Friesland I can draw upon and apply my own rural knowledge in the observations and interactions in Boerenzij.


Photo by Aad Hoogendoorn

Photo by Aad Hoogendoorn

Photo by Aad Hoogendoorn