By Hanne Hagenaars

‘The response of people to my work is often that it is horrific, and cruel, morbid,’ says Natasja Kensmil, ‘but if I look around me, this is all I see. Yes, chaos.’

Understanding life is difficult, we get used to the malice, while at the same time asking ourselves how it is possible. When we open the morning paper and see a photo of a girl that has disappeared, we carry on eating our croissant and sipping our coffee. We carry on with our life.

Natasja Kensmil is not someone who looks away, but who immerses herself in it. Her studio is where she is able to process these images and make connections until new images are shaped. The evil of which mankind is capable, the deep darkness that lies hidden within every human being: this is what she brings out in her paintings. Not that she explicitly depicts the violence, but she does portray men of power who make it all possible, dictators, historical persons who have failed.

‘The past is important for today, it feeds and shapes today, the two negotiate with one another’, she said in an interview. In her vision of history, power and violence cannot be ignored. A certain reality that comes to us quite directly via photos is dissected and reinforced in a painting.

Intense paintings emerge from the darkness, such as this Self-portrait with a Cross. Colonialism is also part of our history. Her grin in a face that has been obliterated with black paint is inescapable. Just wait, just wait and see. The past doesn’t want to be ignored. The canvas reeks of the bad breath of the Christian faith’s drive to convert, which often went hand in hand with the desire to control countries that were completely alien to us. The flowers were taken from the throne of Queen Beatrix. What right did we have to set foot in Surinam and take over power. Our colonial past is like the morning paper that we open: we look, we know and we put another spoonful of sugar in our coffee.