Crafting Cultures – a Report on the Exhibition Opening

Crafting Cultures – a Report on the Exhibition Opening by Student Reporter Laura van Alden

On Tuesday 31 May 2022, LeidenGlobal, together with the Faculty of Archaeology of Leiden University, organized the opening of the Photo Exhibition "Crafting Cultures" at the Faculty of Archaeology.

As a result of the committed cooperation between LeidenGlobal and the Faculty of Archaeology of Leiden University, the welcome exhibition "Crafting Cultures" was opened in the Van Steenis Building. The location is a deliberately chosen one. The opted main hall of the archaeology faculty serves as the righteous first place of temporary residence for the exhibition, which will also be showcased in other locations around Leiden. As a contributor to society's ability to interpret and experience the past, the Centre for Global Heritage and Development was represented at this event. 

The exhibition's opening began with an introduction by Prof. Pieter ter Keurs, chairperson of LeidenGlobal and Scientific Director of the LDE Centre for Global Heritage and Development. Prof. ter Keurs offered both the exhibition's attendees and all parties involved warm salutation and acknowledgement. After his welcoming words, the two main speakers of the event were introduced. 

One of the selected works of the exhibition “Crafting Cultures.”  The photo shows a woman, part of the Tampe-Kukuo community, practicing the craftmanship of shea butter production, Eza J. Doortmont.
One of the selected works of the exhibition "Crafting Cultures." The photo shows a woman, part of the Tampe-Kukuo community, practising the craftmanship of shea butter production, Eza J. Doortmont.

Dr. Maikel Kuijpers, advisor for this photo exhibition since the start and Assistant Professor in European Prehistory, set off with an interesting foreword on Crafting Cultures. Dr. Kuijpers raised several moving questions about our - either mutual or general - understanding of "crafting;" what do we experience in terms of thought if we hear the words "craft" (ambacht) or "craftmanship" (vakmanschap); did we allow ourselves through the years to give a misinterpreted connotation to it? Dr. Kuijpers disputes the definition and the rather nostalgic implication these terms inherit; why do we relate crafts and craftmanship so often with the sentimental and romantic past? Is the profession of craftmanship and the productions of crafts really distinct to our present, daily life? While absorbing these questions, the answers turn out to be profound: crafts and innovation have been going hand in hand from the past onwards, and they play a central role in our current sciences and developments. Crafting doesn't only play a major role in our history, it also contributes to our contemporary existence, and it will (have to) impact our future too. 

After this riveting denouement, Prof. Luc Amkreutz, introduces his contribution to the exhibition. Prof. Amkreutz, curator of prehistoric collections at the National Museum of Antiquities and Professor by Special Appointment in Public Archaeology, contributed to the exhibition "Crafting Cultures" with his item "Traces of Ancient Glue" a photo of "just" a piece of stone chosen over his other submission, an ancient sword. At first sight, the photo he took of the 'Sword of Ommerschans,' an astonishing 3.500-year-old icon of Dutch archaeology, seems more commanding. However, the stone selected for the exhibition is actually a flint toll covered with a tar-like substance extracted 50,000 years ago. Used as an adhesive by the Neanderthals to make it easier to hold the piece of flint, Prof. Amkreutz passionately explained that CT scans together with chemical analysis of the tar showed that a complex technique was used. The production of birch tar adhesives was a major technological development, demonstrating complex Neandertal technology and advanced cognitive ability. The small groups leading highly mobile lives who were able to produce technically skilled tar suggest a degree of task specialization and support the hypothesis that ecological risk drives the development of complex technology. It's a rather absorbing and fascinating story that almost starkly contrasts with the photo itself. 

Both introducing talks stirred the relatively small but enthusiastic group of attendees to take a close look at the photos after the opening ceremony. All photos were accompanied by a condensed context of the diverse research and their relation to the theme of craftsmanship and innovation through craft. One of the photographs was also assisted by the photographer herself, adding an extra dimension to the work showcased: Eza J. Doortmont, visual storyteller, documentary filmmaker, videographer, (visual) anthropologist, and journalist, provided a soul-stirring introduction to her selected image. The photograph - made when Eza was doing fieldwork and filming her documentary in Ghana called "Paɣiba Salma | Women's Gold" - was published in the Journal for Anthropological Films and presented at many documentary film festivals around the world. The photo tells the story of shea butter production, traditionally solely made by women. With the growing demand for shea butter, the production (or, craftsmanship) of this product (or craft) has changed significantly. Eza's documentary investigates ideas of social space, dignity, and gaining more than material independence by following the women of the Tampe-Kukuo, a community on the outskirts of Tamale, in relation to the shea butter industry. This selected photo exhibited in Curating Cultures perfectly summarizes Dr. Maikel Kuijper's introduction and embroiders on the gist of Prof. Luc Amkreutz's story, a well-glued exhibition, one can say. 

> On "The Traces of Ancient Glue"

Niekus, Marcel J. L. Th, Paul R. B Kozowyk, Geeske H. J Langejans, Dominique Ngan-Tillard, Henk van Keulen, Johannes van der Plicht, Kim M Cohen, et al. “Middle Paleolithic Complex Technology and a Neandertal Tar-Backed Tool from the Dutch North Sea.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences - PNAS 116, no. 44 (2019): 22081–87.

> On "Paɣiba Salma | Women's Gold"

Doortmont, Eza. 2020. "Paɣiba Salma | Women's Gold". Journal of Anthropological Films 4 (01).


Production of Shea Butter (1.1 MB)