Saturday, November 5, 2016
Quinsy Gario and Zwarte Piet
In another month, it’s the Dutch festival of Sinterklaas again. Sinterklaas is a mythical figure with legendary, historical and folkloric origins based on Saint Nicholas.
Zwarte Piet (in English Black Pete), is the companion of Saint Nicholas in the folklore of the Low Countries. The character first appeared in his current form in an 1850 book by Jan Schenkman and is commonly depicted as a blackamoor. Traditionally Zwarte Piet is said to be black because he is a Moor from Spain. Those portraying Zwarte Piet typically put on blackface make-up and colourful Renaissance attire, in addition to curly wigs, red lipstick and earrings. In recent years, the character has become the subject of controversy, especially in the Netherlands.
Quinsy Gario (1984) is an activist in the movement against Zwarte Piet, as well as a performance artist. He was born in (the Dutch colonies of) Curaçao and raised in St Maarten before moving to the Netherlands.
Quinsy Gario with beret
Gario created the Zwarte Piet is Racisme project (Black Pete is Racism). In 2011 he was arrested for public disturbance at the traditional annual Sinterklaas festival where he was protesting against the use of Zwarte Piet. He appeared on a national television talk show in 2013 to make his case which was part of a series of events in October that The Economist says "polarised cultural life and dragging in celebrities, politicians, and even the UN" and "changed Zwarte Piet". For many, even if a year ago Zwarte Piet was not a symbol of Dutch racism, he certainly is now.
Good on you, Quinsy!