''I have nothing against gays, as long as I don't see it''. A comment Arjan Spannenburg, soldier and artist, was told by a colleague when he showed his photography to him. A comment that actually insinuates that he had better get back in the closet. It was precisely these kinds of "innocent" comments and hidden discrimination that were the starting point of the project: ESTRANGED. Even today, the rainbow community does not feel safe everywhere in the Netherlands. Many LGBT+ youth experience daily fear of rejection, confrontation, discrimination and increasingly aggression. As a result, youth partially hide their identity and become further estranged from themselves every day.
In meetings with DNB Pride, De Nederlandse Bank (DNB) discovered the power of the project. Thus arose the partnership to create an exhibition that opened on Coming Out Day 2022. The exhibition consists of 8 images along with the photo book, which will be on display at the DNB office building until January 2024. Parts of the project ESTRANGED have already been exhibited in an exhibition at the Zandvoorts Museum and the PAN Amsterdam art fair. Works from the series have also already been exhibited internationally in Nigeria and Malaysia. Because of this great interest, the success of the project on a global scale can no longer be denied.
On a local scale, Spannenburg is also busy bringing attention to the vulnerable and impactful stories from the project. For example, he worked with the Cultuurfonds Almere to distribute the book ESTRANGED in waiting rooms throughout Almere. This way visitors can easily immerse themselves in the lives of LGBT+ youth. Together with Rosa Spier Foundation, he will present the exhibition in Laren at the beginning of February 2023. The project is already having a great impact both locally and internationally.
ESTRANGED does this by bringing attention to the experiences of LGBT+ youth with 23 black-and-white portraits and 18 short personal stories. He has chosen to make the project as accessible as possible. He does this by portraying the models vulnerably and stylishly. Spannenburg did not want shocking images as we saw in, for example, the Pride Photo Award. In those, there were images of naked men being intimate and the genitals of transgender men visible. "The confrontational images of the Pride Photo Award caused the exhibition to be damaged several times and people spoke negatively about the LGBT+ community. In this way you only achieve a resistance to talk about important topics." explains Spannenburg. The very purpose of the project is to introduce people to the issues experienced by rainbow youth. "Resistance to the images would also create resistance to these young people, whereas you want to give the viewer space to empathize with the other."
With both ESTRANGED and Spannenburg's other projects, the photographer seeks to bring about substantial social change. "Because art should provoke a reaction, it should make people think and reconsider. In doing so, you don't always have to agree with me, as long as you think about it."
If you are curious about the ESTRANGED project or more work by this emerging artist, please visit here: www.arjanspannenburg.nl/artworks
ESTRANGED at DNB : https://www.arjanspannenburg.nl/boek-estranged
Interview with Omroep Flevoland and the cooperation with Cultuurfonds Almere : https://www.arjanspannenburg.nl/boek-estranged-almere