How to make art (and be happy) in 2018 – my 2005 art manifesto

You can’t really be an artist without having a manifesto, can you? Well, you can, of course, but being trained as an artist in a higher education institution usually involves reasoning why you are making art, and reading the manifestos of other artists. It is quite likely you come up with your own, or several ones over time.


Manifesto I (50 x 65 cm, 22 March 2005) ©Suzanne van Rossenberg. ‘Art is the artist’s desire to tell new stories that will replace older stories.’


I wrote/painted my art manifesto in March and April 2005. It consists of nine works of 50 by 65 centimetres, as reproduced in this blog post. I created them almost a year after finishing my postgraduate studies in Fine Art.


Manifesto II (50 x 65 cm, 25 March 2005) ©Suzanne van Rossenberg. In the work, I mention the performance ‘Ikiro – be alive’ by Takahiro Suzuki, exhibited at the Kröller-Müller Museum (NL) in 2001. Suzuki wrote ‘Ikiro’ on rice paper sheets and created an installation from them.


My art manifesto was significant to me. Though only relevant in my own small context, I was hoping to speak to a wider (future) public of my work. Doing so gave me a feeling of control, very much welcomed in the precarious conditions in which I worked and lived.


Manifesto III (50 x 65 cm, 29 March 2005) ©Suzanne van Rossenberg. I took the phrase ‘changing/transforming one’s own subjectivity’ from Male Subjectivity at the Margins (1992) by Kaja Silverman. On the painting, I also write ‘You need to keep practising these things’, which refers to the repetition required to master a skill (such as living – see above – or changing one’s outlook on life).


My desire to change reality, including my own core being, still strikes me as the key message of my manifesto. The deep longing to be someone else (someone without my baggage) in a different world (a world that is not sexist, racist and homophobic) has always been the starting-point for my art.


Manifesto IV (50 x 65 cm, 1 April 2005) ©Suzanne van Rossenberg. The painting also shows the word ‘body schemes’, which refers to the repetition of dance movements by which the body can start memorizing the movements. In my manifesto, the body scheme is painting (my manifesto).


It is not strange that I ended up working at the intersection of art, advocacy, activism and policy work – trying to create a context in which (my) art could make a measurable difference.


Manifesto V (50 x 65 cm, 4 April 2005) ©Suzanne van Rossenberg. In this work, I additionally refer to transgressing rules, which is necessary for the visibility and recognition of queer-feminist art.


At the time, my art manifesto gave the context to the artistic project I had started called A Room with a Lesbian View, for which I drew, painted and photographed the view from my apartment in Leiden for more than ten years. My art manifesto can be seen as the expression of a queer-feminist strategy, balancing between addressing both a general art public and a queer/feminist counterpublic. I later read about this in Michael Warner’s Publics and Counterpublics for my PhD thesis on art, transdisciplinarity and social change.


Manifesto VI (50 x 65 cm, 7 April 2005) ©Suzanne van Rossenberg. I started changing my own subjectivity by volunteering and working in activism and advocacy, leading to paid roles at human rights NGOs, including being the director of Transgender Network Netherlands.


When I now read and look at my 2005 art manifesto, I see how crucial the words I wrote were for finding my solutions, and, eventually, my happiness (in London) and my work pleasure (at the Government Equalities Office). And, the journey continues: I have not stopped making art – even though some people may think so!


Manifesto VII (50 x 65 cm, 7 April 2005) ©Suzanne van Rossenberg. Art depends on artists wanting to tell their stories. In this painting, I add the phrases ‘LIKE JOURNALISM?’ and ‘because she can’t relax’ – in which you can read my struggle with the reality presented to me.



Manifesto VIII (50 x 65 cm, 18 April 2005) ©Suzanne van Rossenberg. Additionally, the painting says ‘GIRLS DON’T CRY’ (twice), the heart-breaking film which shows the extreme vulnerability of trans (and to a certain degree lesbian) people. Though the story has been very important in my life, I wouldn’t be able to watch that film again.



Manifesto IX (50 x 65 cm, 18 April 2005) ©Suzanne van Rossenberg. The work additionally says ‘Walk on By – Dionne Warwick’ which is a song I listened to at that time [link opens a YouTube video]. The song represents to me letting go of pain, and moving on.

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