Diving into a healing space

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Zeynep Kubat is the curator of Sugar for the pill, the group exhibition that will take place at De Studio during Antwerp Art Weekend. You could call her an all-around multitasker since she’s also a writer, art historian, researcher, editor-in-chief of TYPP Journal, editor at FORUM+ and rekto:verso magazine and has taught at Sint Lucas Antwerpen.

Dive into the healing space they created, stay for a while, learn how to be mild, create space for the ones around you and leave whenever you feel like it.

Artworks by Laurie Charles and Carole Mousset

Is this your first solo exhibition? 

This is the first time I have had the freedom to organise an exhibition however I want. Although I must say I prefer to do it collaboratively with the artists or with co-curators.

I prefer to do it collaboratively with the artists or with co-curators

And did you select the artists yourself?

Yes. It's a mix of people I already knew, artists that I discovered during my research phase or others that I was following on Instagram. I then start with individual conversations with each artist and see what references match their works—this can be very interesting because they are not directly related to each other. After a subject starts to blossom in my head, I start searching for others that might complement the idea that circles my thoughts. 

Making these choices lay between the organic, coincidence and a lot of research. Now I'm coming to a point where I’m like, OK, it's all coming together... and I hope the concept also comes across to the public [laughs].

Tell us a bit more about the exhibition.

Sugar for the pill is about collective and individual healing. Not only physical healing but social as well. We want to create a space where people can think about the damage that certain toxic relationships can cause to people, but also to nature. Each artist starts from his/her/their own background. Saddie Choua, for example, works on 'recipes against racism', while Eline de Clercq has a collection of medicinal herbs from her own garden. Some of these can help with abortion in a non-intrusive, natural way—there is something very social in this without directly being aware of it.

The exhibition is an invitation to descend into the basement of De Studio: it is a mysterious room with a certain kind of energy—it has almost something esoteric about it. The colourful, playful, physical and natural practices of the artists are actually about difficult topics. It is not the intention to convey an explicit political message, but rather to confront people in a bittersweet way with the idea that some things in society need to change.

In the description, it reads ‘art can reveal those wounds and bittersweetly help us heal through confrontation and recognition’. Do you hope the visitor will feel healed after experiencing the exhibition or it is more of a process for the artist? 

A bit of both, actually. This question reminds me a bit of the practice of Lisa Ijeoma: she works very directly with pointing out trauma but does not represent it explicitly. It is the absence of violence in an image that helps process that trauma. If people have experienced something similar themselves (racism, sexism, etc.) it could help reshape memories into a form of weightless awareness. So yes — I do hope the visitors will feel a bit different after seeing the exhibition.

I do hope the visitors will feel a bit different after seeing the exhibition

Who do you feel inspired by?

I do often find my inspirations outside of the art world: Hildegard von Bingen was a German protofeminist who lived in the 12th century. She acquired a lot of power because she had the right friends and came from a noble family. She did all kinds of things that were unseen or unacceptable for women at that time, and sometimes even did things that men were not allowed to do. She is better known as a composer than as an author: she wrote chants that were used in the masses—something that even monks were not allowed to do.

In her book ‘Caliban and the Witch’, Silvia Federici writes an argument that should inspire us to look back and learn from communism and collectivity in medieval times, where especially female communities created examples of healing practices and solidarity, just like Hildegard von Bingen did with her monastery gardens. It’s something that really inspires me.

How would you describe your curatorial approach? 

There are so many curatorial approaches: some are traditional, others do unconventional things… I feel like I am a bit in between. I don't feel creatively ready yet to come up with an intricate concept, but who knows what the future holds [laughs].

A dream curatorial practice for me is something that is very collaborative. I like to sit down with each artist and think about how we could fill the space together.

Did you experience any big challenges while curating the exhibition?

Maybe the short amount of time: I was asked to do this in January. And maybe also the budget: I always want to be able to give every artist as much freedom as they need but I need to strive to bring out the maximum within the parameters of the limitations.

So in 4 months' time you have reached out to everyone, selected their art and brought it together? 

Yes! I am very happy with the space though. You would think that we might face some challenges because it is an unconventional space (not a classic white cube gallery), but we didn’t. We actually want to create a sort of space where you feel comfortable and want to spend time in, not your usual exhibition with a specific route and, so to speak, walk from A to B, where B is already out of the door.

We want a space where you feel comfortable and want to spend time in  


Do you sometimes dream to be part of an exhibition instead of curating it?

Absolutely not! Especially when I look at other artists—the confrontation with great art practices makes me realize I could never be an artist. 

As an art critic, I can be quite strict and quickly criticise other artists - even quick to dismiss their work if their vision does not match my aesthetic values. On the other hand, as a teacher, I learned to give constructive criticism and to be mild.  These are really two worlds that collide, and it would be really insensitive if I would only give harsh criticism. But when I see artists I want to work with, I always think 'wow'.

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