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Sam Samiee: A Garden of Clouds

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The exhibition A Garden of Clouds by painter Sam Samiee explores processes of symbolic social ‘anchoring’ in different times — under different names — and amid a dream-scape of clouds.

A Garden of Clouds is inspired by a close engagement with the Rotterdam Stadsarchief, to look at the construction of our Cool neighborhood in the 1870s, following cholera and tuberculosis epidemics. During this time, the botanical garden and Clinical School (1828–1866) were transformed into a newly built environment including our former namesake the Witte de Withstraat. Today the botanical garden is known by the Boomgaardsstraat or ‘Orchard Street’, the smaller and quieter street that references the natural environment and gardens existing in this area of Rotterdam prior to its urban development. Together with Research and Programs Manager Vivian Ziherl, Samiee has consulted city maps, journals and a botanical catalog holding pressed botanical specimens.

For Samiee the Garden of Clouds is a site of day-dreaming and association. The artist draws upon his psychoanalytic training to contemplate the two personae of our name change — the seventeenth-century colonial Admiral Witte Corneliszoon de With after whom the Witte de Withstraat is named, and the former art student Melly Shum whose image appears on the Boomgaardstraat in a billboard by Canadian artist Ken Lum. Images of plant specimens, medical history, Persian gardens and Dutch maritime painting are brought together with portraits of de With and Shum as ‘floating signifiers’. Between layers of history, Samiee welcomes a collective renegotiation of the colonial patriarch as a symbolic father.

This exhibition takes place as part of our Anchored series, which explores the histories of our building, street, and neighborhood. The presentation takes place alongside Rotterdam Cultural Histories #22: Hortus Botanicus, presented in partnership with the Rotterdam Stadsarchief and presenting newly recovered nineteenth-century maps and a plant catalog. The exhibition A Garden of Clouds is developed with the support of Stichting Elise Mathilde Fonds.

On the occasion of the exhibition, the Rotterdam City Archive will launch a new page dedicated to the botanical garden and Clinical School — a new addition to their online documents of the city. A unique digital activity will accompany this presentation, developed by Emilia Aivazian and Emmelie Mijs.

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Stichting Elise Mathilde Fonds

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