Amsterdam University, Faculty of Law, 2017
On behalf of the Faculty of Law visual artist Barbara Broekman has designed three key works for the new faculty building on Roeterseiland. In the Atrium are two monumental works of art; the Judiciary and Lady Justice. For the boardroom Broekman choose a carpet with a detail of the Judiciary.
To represent the judiciary Broekman uses two sources; first, the development of law as shown in Western painting. Think of the first written laws and scholars who are important for the development of law and legal philosophy. Botticelli paints an impressive portrait of the medieval philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas who first makes the distinction between divine and human law. He argues that "the divine law based on mercy, does not take away the human right which derives from reason”.
In addition Broekman uses mythological and biblical stories that show the struggle between good and evil. From the Middle Ages until now painters have been inspired by stories like Solomon's Judgement, The Fall and The Last Judgment. Their paintings show emotions such as fear, violence, revenge and love. For Broekman the essence of law is "rationale wins over emotion."
The way in which different artists display these universal themes, shows some of the attitudes from the era in which they live. The Moses of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo (1945) is a symbolic narrative based on the Moses of the psychoanalyst Freud. Rembrandt van Rijn chose, in Moses breaking the Tablets of the Law (1659) to depict a raging Moses.
In the 16th century, the painter Rubens often chose to depict a literal representation of the Biblical stories. With his distinctive baroque imagery he paints the figures with accuracy.
In her work Broekman regularly mixes multiple images together. Images she sources from books or newspapers. Today a simple search on the computer provides an abundance of imagery. This multitude, which is so characteristic of the visual culture in which we live, Broekman here as part of her concept.
Anyone who spends a few hours at the computer knows how difficult it is to form a whole construct from this plurality of information and images. It is the mastery of Broekman that she is able to transform more than 500 image fragments into one powerful visual, where the sum is more than its separate parts. "In recent years I have used so many techniques, working with so many materials that I now feel free to deal with anything."
One of the central themes in Broekman’s work to attraction and seduction. At first glance, the viewer sees a swirling, soft, colorful image. As one approaches, one distinguishes different fragments and is invited to compare details and form a deeper impression. The Judiciary (30 by 4.5 meters) hangs over seven floors. There is no position from where it is possible to see the whole cloth. At each place in the Atrium the viewer sees a different part of the work and is thereby enticed to take a few more steps to form a new perspective of the work.
The icon of justice in the Western World is Lady Justice. She has illustrious predecessors. In ancient Egypt the goddess Maat presided over justice and harmony. Maat is portrayed as a young woman holding in one hand a scepter - the symbol of power - and in the other hand an ankh - a symbol of justice. In Greek mythology, the goddess Themis and her daughter Dike are responsible for justice. One of Dike's attributes is scale. Her mother Themis carries a sword, which she uses to distinguish fact from lies. Iustitia, the Roman goddess, is the first to be depicted wearing a blindfold. These goddesses are the inspiration for our Lady Justice. A number of attributes have disappeared in the course of time, such as wings, a laurel wreath and an ostrich feather.
For this collage Broekman has used a kaleidoscope of images from art and popular culture, such as sculptures, paintings, photography, drawings, cartoons, movies, and theater sets. The images collected Broekman can be serious, hilarious or mocking. Justitia holds a prominent place in US courts of law and an equally proud position in Communist Russia. She is innocent, a bitch, is mocked, hailed and in some cases even corrupt. Broekman does not choose an ideal Justitia, but leaves the choice to the viewer. In this Lady Justice (4.5 to 7 meters) some 250 women fan across the canvas. The play of light and movement forges the multitude of different images into one light-hearted work.
For the room where ‘justice is spoken at academic level’ Broekman uses a detail of the Judiciary for a black and white carpet of 6 x 14 meters. The detail was enlarged on a computer so that the image was divided into pixels. This creates an exciting image from afar that is just recognizable, but up close looks like an abstract representation. Here Broekman plays her characteristic game with the viewer. For Broekman it is important that each work offers levels of pleasure, investigation and deeper meaning. The carpet on the wall is surrounded by paintings of the scholars who taught at the Faculty of Law through the centuries.
"Before the real work started," Broekman says, "we spent at least 300 hours in the studio researching and cutting." Each printed painting is studied by Broekman until she has just the one detail that she intends to use. When she finally begins to work on the collage, she uses one long table in her studio strewn with fragments. Her collage builds step by step. She hangs above it, stands back, walks around, considers, ponders and carefully arranges the elements. Then she starts again.
The three works are first photographed in very high resolution and then digitally printed on cloth and carpet. Broekman has recently begun digitally printing her work. This technique is ideal for an artist who wants to produce a few pieces but is not looking to factory mass produce.