I was born into a family of strict Calvinists and grew up in a small village in the Netherlands. At the time I was born, my father was a Forester but he retrained and by the time I was 11 years old, he became pastor. I was the oldest of four children and the only girl. Ideally, I wanted to be a boy because I saw that my brothers had more privileges than I, just because they were boys. Whenever I protested, I was told that the bible simply said that boys had more rights, which I found humiliating.
Sundays were treated as special days: we went to church and we could not play around or get our clothes dirty. Typically we weren’t allowed ice-cream on Sundays. With my father’s new role as a pastor, us children had to play our part – and conform to the expectation required of the pastor’s children.
I was expected to behave accordingly but everything in me rebelled against it. As a child, I believed that there was a God, but I could not imagine that this had to do anything with the tedious church routine and the endless rules I had to observe. Nevertheless, I still went to church until I was 19 years old. Not because I wanted to, but because I did not dare to rebel against my parents.
Around that time, I moved in with my boyfriend, who came from a Catholic family. Since we were not yet married, it went completely against the principles of my parents but to my surprise they were not really difficult about it. They did say that they were sorry but I could still go my own way. Sexuality in those days was very difficult for me. I had learned that I should have no desires, that everything that had to do with feelings and passions were forbidden. My body had to work hard and to serve God but not to enjoy it. I suffered prudery and shame. But otherwise this was a relatively happy period in my life and after a few years together, we got married, had a son. When I was pregnant of our second child, my husband died very suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage. I was 28 and my world collapsed.
I no longer believed in God. I thought, but I blamed him for the grief inflicted on me and my children. I was furious with him. I thought, if there is a God, and he let innocent children suffer, then I do not want to have anything to do with him. I started reading books about life after death and ended up being rapidly involved with the New Age movement. I read about it, went to meetings, visited psychic fairs and prophets, did workshops, immersed myself in philosophy and lifestyles of North American Indians, shamanism and nature peoples.
I learned a lot but I kept a strong sense of rebellion as people tried to convince me to live according to their rules. I was allergic to authoritarian behavior and felt disgust when people set themselves up as gurus or white Dutch peasants brand themselves as shamans and so frequently try to expel evil spirits from me. They thought that my anger against their authority was a big black field in my aura 🙂 !
People who knew me felt I was derailing. I had changed and they wanted me remain as I was but I could not. There was a life to live and I had 2 children to take care of. I wanted to be free of all judgments which I was brought up with to give my boys a better childhood than I had myself. My father did not understand much of my quest and my mother did not interfere too much with it because she did not want any fuss. After a period of about 10 years I gave away my New Age books.
We are all born innocent but we get values, rules and dogma imposed by our parents, educators and our environment. Rules necessary to keep you standing in the world where you live but also rules that serve to maintain a certain religious or political system or outlook. Rules that are not necessarily good for you and even quite harmful for the person that you are. I believe that to be happy and to live in peace, it is necessary that you can be who you are meant to be. That you realize that there are no good or bad feelings, that anger is just as legitimate as love. It is necessary that we learn not to judge what we feel. Anger, fear and hate can only be overcome if we dare to face it, if we dare to feel and not to judge ourselves. If we can do that, then we do not have to fight any wars anymore. Not deep down in ourselves and also not with people who are different than ourselves.
Today, I work as an artist and photographer, often investigating themes about people and subjects that are considered taboo. In my practice I explore questions of life by taking a closer look into the ordinary and from aspects of daily life.
My latest photo series The Liberation of the Heavy Black takes inspiration from my childhood, but I think it is not just about me but about all of us. The heavy black is synonymous with the religion-relegated darkness that I experienced in my childhood. The church is a symbol of the house of God, the place where you should feel at home. I show the church as it was intended (in my opinion) as a place to be at home: to be who you are. And you can only be at home when you are free from dogma and restrictive rules. Homecoming brings to mind the parable of the prodigal son, who had to go his way and find himself in order to return home. His journey is synonymous with life, the way we move and the homecoming.
Grietje Bouman is an artist and photographer living and working in the Netherlands. Her work is available on www.grietjebouman.nl Her photobook publication Waartoe Zijn Wij op Aarde? (Why Are We on Earth?) is available here on ISSUU. You can also follow her work on Facebook.