Tower of Babel: meet the artists! Edition 4 – Fouad Lakbir

For the project Tower of Babel at NDSM, we enter a conversation with eight artists, who each contributed to this art installation in their own way. Through a variety of workshops, they invited Amsterdammers to reflect on their vision of the city of the future. Together, they created multifaceted artworks that will be displayed in an eclectic wooden tower construction at NDSM, on display from September 18 to October 17. In this fourth edition: storyteller Fouad Lakbir.

Over the phone, Teus Hagen speaks to Fouad, who is working on a festival and theater production in addition to his workshop for the Tower of Babel.

Photography: Victoria Ushkanova

We asked each workshop participant the following question: what does your ideal city look like? How would you answer this question yourself?

My ideal city is a city where labels disappear. A city where people get to know each other on the ground of stories and start a certain relationship with each other on the basis of those stories. It’s a city with lots of space, because I find densification so complicated. You need more things around than just buildings and greenery. My ideal city is also one that celebrates superdiversity and draws strength from this. Oh, and perhaps most importantly: it’s a city where good coffee is a given.

Are you poor or rich, progressive or conservative, entrepreneur or creative, we deal with a lot of hard labels. I myself come from the Kolenkitbuurt area and I am Muslim, Moroccan, nearsighted and I am obese. These are all labels that define you and that people attach expectations to. I would find it very great if we as a city would stop doing this.

What is your connection with NDSM and how well do you think this project fits in a space like NDSM?

To be honest, I find NDSM a strange place. When I’m there I always feel like a bit of a weirdo. It’s not really a place where I’d automatically cycle on a Sunday off to get a drink. I feel like a tourist. I come from West, and NDSM feels more like a daytrip.

But this form of discomfort also surprises me. What I think is really cool is that NDSM always provides a kind of confrontation. That’s why I think it’s a super cool location for the Tower of Babel. It’s nice that in such a special place – with a lot of art in the public space, graffiti, and other cool crazy things – the personal stories of all sorts of Amsterdam residents are brought together. It’s about many different perspectives: what is your ideal city? What is the city of the future? What is the city where you feel at home? That last question – where do you feel at home – is the theme through which I approached this project. That’s why I really like NDSM, for having that conversation, precisely because I don’t feel very much at home there myself.

The original Tower of Babel story symbolizes a balance between pride and ambition on the one hand and humbleness on the other hand. (Humanity yearns to achieve the highest possible by building a tower to heaven, but God punishes them by being for being overconfident and too ambitious.) As an artist, how do you balance pride/confidence with modesty/humbleness?

Yes, I certainly do. A good example is my experience with photography. I’ve been doing it for about ten years now, but I don’t share anything. That has to do with the fact that, a while back, I was very influenced by environments like Instagram, I was too preoccupied with the perfect picture and lost my relationship with photography. I made an extreme choice: I now don’t use it at all anymore.

This is about a fight between a bit of modesty and pride; between an ego that is stimulated by external reactions and the true reason that you create and tell a story about something. That battle is reflected in all my work and the result is that I try – in this time of oversharing – to share very little.

I do seek out physical encounters. And that’s why I find a project like the Tower of Babel exciting. We add to the tower something that we made together. Then, other people go there without me being there. They’ll feel a certain way about it, and at that moment I have to let go of control. I find the making, telling, and reciting very pleasant, as long as I can experience in a direct way how it is received and can start a conversation about this. Everything I create, I create with the idea in mind that I can enter a form of dialogue. The moment I tell you a story, I am especially curious about the memories it evokes in you and how you react to that. That reaction, that exchange, that is the reason why I make things.

In your opinion, how does storytelling contribute to a diversity of voices in the city?

I try to keep the oral tradition of storytelling alive. It’s one of the oldest art forms in my opinion – something that is done by everyone, but at the same time by no one. The moment you tell a story, you not only create space for your story, but also a space where another story can be told. By doing that, you make room for people with different ideas, for people who live their lives differently.

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