At the Dutch pavilion, curator Malkit Shoshan presents her ongoing research on architecture in conflict areas. She focuses this exhibition on the United Nations’ peacekeeping missions, more particularly on Camp Castor in Gao, Mali. This topic fits perfectly within the ‘Reporting from the Front theme’, set by Alejandro Aravena.
The United Nations has peacekeeping missions in hundreds of sites around the world. These military bases are self-sustaining islands, shut off from their direct surroundings, but make no contribution to improving the lives of the inhabitants of these regions. By linking cultural research to architectural research, Malkit Shoshan aims to make visible the spatial challenges and opportunities of this complex situation.
The colour blue is used as a metaphor for the conflict, uniting architecture and human rights. The peacekeeping mission is located in the desert region of the Toeareg, known as ‘blue men’ because of their indigo clothing, and is carried out by UN Blue Helmets.
Blue presents a new series of narratives for architecture in conflict areas, central to which is the potential to improve the lives of millions of people. These stories are based upon conversations with military engineers and architects, anthropologists and economists, activists and policy makers.
The Netherlands positively surprised me with the ‘Blue’ exhibition. Even though it is focused on Mali, you also get a feeling about the other UN peace missions across the world. The interesting part is that Malkit Shoshan doesn’t look at these missions from a military point of view, but really from an architectural angle. She shows how they evolve over time, from the emergency start up to the moment the situation has been cleared and the site is returned to the local citizens. Stories related to personal objects give it a lasting impression. Make sure not to miss the story about the cheese knife, which will make you realize how important a link to home is for the soldiers (or if you don’t intend to visit, drop me a line and I will tell it to you). Even though I hadn’t made a preview page on this pavilion, The Netherlands is one of the 12 exhibitions which you should really visit at this Biennale.