From the 1st to the 4th of November, Crossing Border weaved enthusiastic festival-goers in and out of several lively locations in The Hague. The artistic genius of over 80 contemporary writers, poets, musicians and spoken-word performers emanated from the walls of each cultural venue, enriching the lives of each attendee through the power of creative imagination. We attended various vibrant goings-on during the Friday evening festival and listened in on a conversation held at the Mauritshuis on Saturday afternoon. It was a task to pick and choose from myriad innovative literary and lyrical excellence laid out on a platter before us, though we are sure from what we saw . . . we lived far more.
London-based singer-songwriter and producer, Dave Okumu & The 7 Generations stole the limelight to perform thought-piquing songs from his recently released album, I Came From Love; a genre-bending, soul-searching tapestry of Black experience that explores ancestry, the legacy of slavery, and what it means to exist in an unjust society. Okumu and his band stood front and centre, to converse with his ancestors and successors through meandering melodies of protest and spiritual chants. What stood out most were the sea shanties cried out to encapsulate the sound of a slave ship passing by, which reverberated through the souls of every witness. It was a haunting, yet empowering experience representing the true essence of the Black community.
Before we had a chance to unwind, wistful woes were seeping from the doorframes adjacent to us, luring us into an intoxication like no other. The instigators? A mesmerising Belgian four-piece, known as Ão. By blending the melancholic mnemonics associated with the Portuguese sentiment known as Saudade, with notes of indie and subtle electronica and the phenomenal vocals of Brenda Corijn, Ão fashioned an immersive mind excursion into the realm of reflection. The smooth, warm and soft sounds streaming from Siebe Chau’s southern guitar plucking contributed to the sentimental feel reminiscent of a longing for a past that may never return. A truly pan-cultural production.Up next was a riveting discussion with English novelist, Richard Milward on his experimental novel, Man-Eating Typewriter. The novel-within-a-novel is written entirely in Polari, a form of slang used by the British gay male society in the 1960s whereby the psychopathic protagonist, Raymond Novak sends readers into a head spin with his almost gibberish speech. Milward was inspired by the Charles Manson case. In particular, how cult language was used to seduce unsuspecting prey. The end result is a formless 544-page avant-garde book filled with neologisms and dubious verbiage which will most likely confuse the contemporary reader but who knows? It might just be something for you.
Last but not least, we sat in on a chat with US writer, Benjamin Moser who discussed his new novel, TheUpside-Down World: Meetings with the Dutch Masters. Moser’s quest for Love turned search for self in his revealing half-art history, half-personal memoir word of art. After moving to the Netherlands some 20-odd years ago, Moser acquainted himself with the Dutch golden age artists by waltzing through the labyrinths of various Dutch museums. The leading position of his investigation begs the highly contested question: “Why do we make art? And why do we need it?”
Well, the answer to that question is subjectively layered, though the Crossing Border Festival does a good job at responding. The interdisciplinary events held by Crossing Border, blurred the boundaries between audience and artists, creating a safe space for emotional healing and connection. Art is embedded in the human experience; its significance lies not only in the creation and appreciation of beauty but also in its power to inspire and foster community and togetherness… and Crossing Border did just that. Eva Lakeman 5th November 2023