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Tali Pusat

Peggy Van Mosselaar’s practice circulates around the subjects of mental health, care of the elderly people, and identity. Thali Pusat (2019) is a story about the artist’s mother. Fientje Ida Wenzel was born on September 28, 1937 in Lahat Regency is of South Sumatra province, Indonesia. She moved with her family to the Netherlands on the Johan van Oldenbarnevelt boat, the photograph of which has always been present in her apartment. In 2013, she was diagnosed with vascular dementia. She compared her experience to as if there was a bird in her head trying to get memories out. In an attempt to reconstruct some memories and to share a journey to the roots, Fientje and Peggy travelled to  East Java in 2019. During the travel, they went to all the places of the mother’s childhood which she didn’t see since 1954. They went the old school where Fientje studied: it still functioned—nothing has changed there though, including the portrait of Wilhelmina still hanging in a class room. They went to see the best friend Twie Tjen in Surabaya—an emotional reunion. They went to the former Japanese labour camp in Josenan in the Madiun regency, where the four year old Fientje got with her siblings and mother and stayed for four years. It was now overgrown and hidden, the place of no commemoration. Peggy documented the traces of her maternal family’s life: a house for tea and coffee plantation labourers, the tracks of the Burma Railway in Sumatra, on which her grandfather, the Japanese prisoner of war, had to work on. After they returned to the Netherlands, Fientje didn’t remember the travel. But gradually she was proudly telling everyone how her children went with her on a journey. Fientje made collages out of Pegg’s photographs, one of them includes an image of a cloud: “That is how I feel all the time,”—she said.

Peggy Van Mosselaar tells a vulnerable and multilayered story. It is the search of her own identity, the search of the dialogue and even artistic collaboration with her mother, as well as it is addressing the larger notion of migration and how national histories influence ones personal life. As Lara Nuberg puts it in the essay Bearing your mother: bodily traces of a colonial past (DOC! PHOTO MAGAZINE #48): “With the colonial history at the bases of Fientjes and Van Mosselaars life, the question of what will be left of you when your brain tends to forget your memories, becomes even more relevant. Who are you when you don’t remember your own past? When you are not able to express an identity, influenced by colonial history and thus colonial narratives? When your body remains nothing more than silent evidence of a history that once was? Well, what remains of you is a bodily archive. An archive, inseparably linked to generations of fathers and mothers that came before you. In that way, an umbilical cord can never be cut completely. We stay connected with our ancestors, retaining their stories in our bodies, trembling through our veins, as long as we are alive.”

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