We must be radical and innovative if we are to build Europe anew. That was the clear message emanating from the fourth Princess Margriet Award (PMA) dedicated to artists and thinkers who make change possible. The new PMA laureates, filmmaker John Akomfrah and curator Charles Esche, received their awards in the Brussels cultural venue, The Egg, on March 19th, 2012.
John Akomfrah was chosen for his ground-breaking film oeuvre woven from perspectives often hidden from the mainstream narratives of European history ; Charles Esche for his exceptional leadership in rethinking centers and museums of art as public spaces that show us the power and value of art in engaging with the contemporary world.
The prestigious annual public award ceremony was hosted by ECF’s Director Katherine Watson and was attended by HRH Princess Margriet of the Netherlands, HRH Princess Astrid of Belgium and ECF’s President HRH Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands.
In her opening speech, Princess Laurentien observed that ‘the Europe we have today is still young and will not last unless we continue to build, invest in and visualize our future’. She praised the laureates for pushing boundaries and generating images of who we are and who we might become. Read the entire speech here.
The award ceremony was notable for the first screening of Peripeteia, a specially commissioned short film by Akomfrah, and a speech celebrating Esche’s work, given by the Italian activist Franco ’Bifo’ Berardi and called Art in the Age of Barbarisation.
Akomfrah and Esche have mixed aesthetics and radical politics throughout their distinguished careers. In his laudation, PMA jury member Jan Dibbets praised Akomfrah’s whole film oeuvre - begun so spectacularly with the groundbreaking Handsworth Songs - for having cast an honest and loving eye on Europe’s migrants. He also praised Esche, Director of Eindhoven’s Van Abbemuseum, for expanding our ideas of what a museum can be, and proving that culture is a living system of values that is forever changing as we enter into conversation with it.
Prior to the Award ceremony on the 19 March, ECF and Flemish-Dutch House deBuren hosted a public debate "Politics, economics and culture, a different balance ?" between laureate Charles Esche, Franco "Bifo" Berardi (writer and activist), Judith Marquand (Oxford University) with moderator Frénk van der Linden (writer and journalist).
The debate addressed the urgent responsibilities of culture, economics and politics in constructing a new horizon of democracy. Esche, Berardi and Marquand affirmed the need for investment in culture and the arts if we are to safeguard democracy in Europe.
As well as a sum of 25,000 euros each, the new laureates received sonic awards, created by the sound artist Nathalie Bruys to resonate with a unique frequency.
ECF’s hope is that the radical message of the PMA will resonate across the European political and cultural landscape.