Since 2013, Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art and the Willem de Kooning Academy collaboratively organise the Read-In Series for the WdKA Critical Studies minor. During this yearly program students are encouraged to sharpen their personal vision on the social relevance of art and culture through confrontation with theories, concepts and analytical methodologies from the philosophical tradition of ‘critical theory’. The Read-In Series consists of close-reading sessions and presentations guieded by Robin van den Akker, Yoeri Meessen and Esma Moukhtar, followed by a closing symposium organized by the students of the minor.

This year, during the 2017/2018 Read-In sessions, the students explored the different ways in which the theme of ‘love’ is established in different social spheres. Love, or the lack of it, seems to be a problem but is possibly the answer to the prevalent tension in social, political, public and private spheres. Our relations in and with the world have become more and more ambiguous, which makes a critical analyses of the concept ever more significant.

Four selected texts have been analyzed and discussed by the participating students. The texts consecutively consisted of chapters from Cruel Optimism by Laurent Berlant, The Human Condition by Hannah Arendt, Against the double Blackmail by Slavoj Žižek and Commonwealth by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. These texts, starting from different points of view, critically analyse the position that love has or hasn’t, should or should not have in contemporary society. By deconstructing the theme,a base is created for discussion and for a new perception of the place and meaning of love.


For the symposium ‘Heart Chambers’ the students have invited Quinsy Gario, Nanda Oudejans and Samira Ben Laloua as speakers to reflect on this theme. These contemporary thinkers and makers are connected to the subject through their own practice. In this way they will be able to give different perspectives, starting from a direct connection between practice and subject. For the symposium the speakers are provided with the studied texts and they will express their view on how love whether or not manifests itself in our contemporary personal, public, political and economic spheres, and where they see new possibilities for love as a means to connect and commit.

Nanda Oudejans

Nanda Oudejans is a philosopher who teaches legal and political philosophy at Utrecht University. She is primarily interested in the protection of human life at the limits of law. Her research focuses on human rights, collective identity, violence and injustice within the context of human displacement. Refugees, stateless persons and irregular immigrants take centre stage in her writings.

Her dissertation from 2011, Asylum; A Philosophical Inquiry into the International protection of Refugees, addresses the question why western democracies would care to protect refugees. The book was awarded with a cum laude distinction and several academic awards.

TOPIC: International refugee law aims to offer refugees legal protection so as to assure they have a normal and human life: a life in which they are free to be who they are. The past decade, however, we have witnessed a glaring gap between legal obligations states themselves voluntarily accepted and the political willingness of states to comply with those obligations. When it comes to refugees, law and politics fall apart. This makes the question urgent: why would we care to protect refugees?

In The Double Blackmail Zizek argues that humanitarian empathy won’t do the trick. Empathy, sympathy and solidarity with those who suffer separate the naked life of the refugee from everything that makes life human. Taking Zizek’s argument a step further, it can even be argued that it is inhumane to care for refugees in virtue of a presumed common humanity as this ignores who they are and what matters to them. But even if identity – theirs as well as ours – cannot be ignored, does this exclude the possibility that we care because they are here and near? Does not proximity - the fact that they become our neighbours in the everyday sense of the word – provide the reason that we start to care and give them a life in which human possibilities can flourish? If, according to the dictum of St. Augustine, love means ‘I want you to be’, should we then not explore proximity, love and everydayness to protect refugees beyond law and politics that utterly fail to do so?

Quinsy Gario

Quinsy Gario (1984, CW) was born in Curaçao and raised in St. Maarten and the Netherlands. He studied Theater, Film and Television Studies at the Utrecht University with a focus on Gender and Postcolonial Studies. He won the Hollandse Nieuwe Theatermakers Prize 2011, the Issue Award 2014, the Amsterdam Fringe Festival Silver Award 2015 and was a finalist in the 2011 Dutch National Poetry Slam Championship. His most well known work 'Zwarte Piet Is Racisme' critiqued the general knowledge surrounding the racist Dutch figure of Black Pete, which he followed up by bringing out into the open the governmental support that keeps the figure alive in the Netherlands. His recent focus is on state protection of the marginalized and political resistance as performance.

He is a board member of de Appel Amsterdam, member of the pan-African artist collective State of L3 and a recurring participant of the Black Europe Body Politics biannual conference series. His work has been shown in Gallerie Image, Aarhus; Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst, Antwerpen; Gallery 23 and Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam. He has performed among other places in Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam; Contact Theater, Manchester; Ballhaus Naunynstraße, Berlin, and The African Community Center, Jerusalem. Currently he is enrolled in the Master Artistic Research program at the Royal Academy of Art The Hague.

TOPIC: When James Baldwin published ‘Letters From a Region in my Mind’ in the New Yorker in 1962, he got critique from an unexpected corner. Hannah Arendt, who later also publishes for the New Yorker, wrote him a personal Letter. She thought his use of ‘love’ as a motor for anti-racism was dangerous because of her experience with and fear for totalitarianism, and that the valuable qualities Baldwin attributed exclusively to ‘the Negro people’, were characteristic properties for other oppressed peoples in general. Quinsy Gario will in his contribution, according to this example, question the role of love in contemporary anti-racism. What role does love play in our current society and which form of love do we need? Gario investigates these issues from out his vision on (post)colonialism, as a poet, activist and performer.

Samira Ben Laloua

Samira Ben Laloua is the founding principal of the graphic design studio BL/DP and the director/editor-in-chief of the multidisciplinary platform Extra Extra. In addition to working on commissions with Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Het Nieuwe Instituut, de Rijksakademie and various publishers a.o. Sternberg Press and Nai/010 publishers, she has been the co-founder of Club Donny, a strictly unedited journal on the personal experience of nature. In June 2013 Samira Ben Laloua launched the multidisciplinary platform Extra Extra: an internationally distributed magazine, an online platform and small scale events celebrating mondaine and sensual city life. Extra Extra looks at creative endeavours with a witty and sophisticated eye. Extra Extra brings in-depth interviews with cultural producers who dare to share the sensual fantasies that can be encountered in their work and personal life. Past contributors include a.o.: Kenneth Anger, Catherine Breillat, Atelier Bow-Wow, Mary Reid Kelley, Nicolas Provost, Carlos Reygadas, Rebecca Solnit and Alejandro Zambra.

TOPIC: Samira Ben Laloua will present in relation to the role of love in the private and public sphere. As the founding editor and publisher of Extra Extra, a multidisciplinary platform exploring eroticism and culture, Ben Laloua will take que from Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s classic Commonwealth and wonders why love is such a crucial notion to both understand work in the sensual city and to create a politics of the body. In a quest of an international language of the urban, Extra Extra promotes cultural and social dialogue and shares stories of a blazing imaginative city life. Whether fictional or true, these adventures form a true aphrodisiac.