The Living room - with Shafiq Omar

Foto: Marcel de Buck
Foto: Marcel de Buck

The Living room with Shafiq Omar

11:00 - 17:00

The project The Living Room offers you the opportunity to enter into a conversation with someone who was forced to flee their home country every Wednesday between 11 am and 5 pm. By enjoying a cup of tea and sharing your stories together, you can really make a connection. This project was developed in 2018 by artists Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti and is coordinated by Shafiq Omar, who was forced to flee Afghanistan several years ago:

“I think The Living Room may be one of the most important art projects in the Van Abbemuseum. What other work of art can bring about such great and positive changes in our visitors? There is even someone who found his true love in our Living Room, they have created a life together!”

A conversation with Shafiq about The Living Room:

Which experience has made a big impression on you?

“Some time ago, I invited visitors in for a cup of Afghan tea. One of them replied: 'I don’t like foreign influences in the Netherlands'. I responded: 'Well, if you join me for one cup of tea, I will tell you how I got here and what my story is.' I convinced him and after we took off our shoes, which he was a bit unsure about, I told him why I left Afghanistan, why I came to the Netherlands and why I drink tea with people here in the Van Abbemuseum. We ended up sitting together for an hour and a half and drank seven cups of tea. He shook my hand and said: 'Shafiq, thank you very much! You've totally changed my mind. I have family who have the same views as I had, but I will bring them to the museum.’ Two weeks later, he returned with six relatives. We laughed and talked. They though it was fantastic. It is very special how we can positively influence people's thoughts!”

What was the most special guest in the Living Room?

"Two other guests who I remember well, are a man and a woman. I introduced myself and told them I am from Afghanistan. They were immediately very curious and asked where exactly I lived in Afghanistan. They turned out to be very familiar with the country; the man worked at the Dutch embassy in Kabul. I liked that; I had been working with the embassy for a project for years. We even turned out to have a number of mutual acquaintances. Our conversation was a lot of fun and we exchanged numbers. When I looked him up on Facebook back home, he turned out to be the main Dutch ambassador in Kabul. He apologized for not telling me who he was, it was for security reasons. He invited me for a cup of coffee as soon as I was back in Kabul. Coincidentally, I travelled to Afghanistan that same summer and we had coffee and talked about the project, which we then continued together."

What is the importance of the Living Room?

"The Living Room, or Tea Room, at the Van Abbemuseum is very important. The people you meet here are talented girls and boys, refugees without residence permits. They have no future, no address, no income, they hardly exist. Here they can talk to people. This project offers them the opportunity to share their story. At the same time, a visitor who initially comes to the museum to look at a Picasso, can share stories and experiences with a cup of tea and an open heart."