Our The Living Room project 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 4 pm. By sharing stories, 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.
We asked Shafiq about his favourite memories from the project. “I think the Living Room may be one of the most important art projects that we have here 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! ”
Which experience has made a big impression on you?
Shafiq Omar: “Some time ago, I was ready to invite people in for a cup of Afghan tea. One visitor replied 'I don’t like foreign influences in the Netherlands'. I responded: 'Well, I am standing here in front of you right now with my Afghan identity and if you don't see that reality then you are really missing out. 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 (even though he was a bit unsure about that) I started to tell him about 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 1.5 hours and drinking seven cups of tea! At the end, he shook my hand and said 'Shafiq, thank you very much! You've totally changed my mind. I have relatives who have similar feelings to those I had when I came in, but I'm going to bring them to the museum.’ Two weeks later, he returned with six relatives. We laughed, talked and I explained it all to them. 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?
Shafiq Omar: “Another time, I invited a man and a woman for tea in the Living Room. I introduced myself and told them that I am from Afghanistan. They were immediately quite curious and asked me where I used to live exactly. They turned out to be very familiar with the country, the man worked at the Dutch embassy in Kabul. I really liked that, because I had been working with the embassy for Project Afghanistan for years and when I mentioned a few names we appeared to share quite a few acquaintances. Our conversation ended up being a lot of fun and we exchanged numbers. Back at home, I looked him up on Facebook and he turned out to be THE Dutch ambassador in Kabul. He apologised for not saying who he was right away, for safety reasons, but he said I was more than welcome to come and have a cup of coffee with him as soon I was back in Kabul. I traveled to Afghanistan that same summer and we did have that coffee. We had a good conversation and talked about the project, which we continued together. The tea room at the Van Abbemuseum is very important. These are talented young girls and boys, refugees without a residence permit. They have no future, no address, no income, they basically don't exist. Here, they can talk to people. We offer them the opportunity to share their story. Conversely, a visitor who may have originally come to the museum to see a Picasso, may, with a cup of tea and an open heart, be able to share stories and experiences.”