Eline Martherus, 'Bonde', 2021, currently on view at Hama Gallery

Courageous and joyful: Hama Gallery and Eline Martherus in Amsterdam

Issue no5
Oct - Nov 2023

In the little over a year of its existence, Hama Gallery has put on nine exhibitions, presenting works by artists whose names and faces are often left out of the rosters of the art world. Olivia Brown visits its current exhibition I Bought You Flowers by their newest artist, Eline Martherus, and sees that while some parts of Hama’s presentation seem to contradict their mission, there is much to be celebrated about this Amsterdam art space.

I visit Eline Martherus’ solo show, I Bought You Flowers on opening night, when the gallery is filled with many friends of the artist, happily chatting and celebrating her success. Martherus’ abstract paintings, uniformly painted in hues of indigo, black, and white, dominate the walls. The cool tones of the canvases cut through the loud crowd to create a moody and sophisticated atmosphere. During my visit, I am quite surprised by the traditional commercial-ness of Hama Gallery. The space breathes prestige and class, with hors d'oeuvres neatly laid out on a glittering marble countertop. When I turn my attention back to the repetitive color and movement of the pieces, I notice that Martherus’ works fit very well in Hama’s space. They are not shouty works, but ones that demand close attention if you wish to see the subtleties of the interaction between her hand and the uncontrolled splashes of wet medium featured throughout. Her images may be appreciated by stepping back and absorbing them in their full body, but the real treat comes when engaging with them on a closer level. Forms spring out of the layers of indigo dye and acrylic paint, suggesting swirling oceans, billowing clouds, paper cuts, explosions, stains.

Martherus' images may be appreciated by stepping back and absorbing them in their full body, but the real treat comes when engaging with them on a closer level

Eline Martherus, 'Bu', 2022, currently on view at Hama Gallery

Martherus states that her intuitively made works feature a sacred geometry that is present in nature all around us. While her older works feature mandala-like shapes overcut with paint and under-dyed by pigments, these works have a subtler connection to sacred geometry. A connection to the natural world is recurrent in her use of indigo, which Martherus observes, “symbolizes the blueprint of humanity,” and whose use comes from her background in fashion. Her associations to an ancient human spirituality and the beginning of mankind are honored by her process, in which she uses humble tools such as brooms and used brushes to create textured effects on her canvases. In addition to her large and small canvases, Martherus exhibits a smattering of ceramics and glassworks, which she says interplay between water and sun, translucence and movement. One of her glassworks, titled See the Rise, Feel the Sun, is modular, transforming from vase to bowl, and back to an artwork; “a binding between landscape and glass,” as Martherus puts it herself.

Eline Martherus, 'See The Rise Feel The Sun', 2022, currently on view at Hama Gallery

Eline Martherus, 'Vases', currently on view at Hama Gallery

The gallery is located in the Museumplein district of Amsterdam, shadowed by the major art museums right down the road. It is an almost-typical white cube space, with crisp white walls and gorgeous crown moldings covering the baseboards and surrounding the ceiling lamps. Hama presents itself as a “space where art and people meet without boundaries,” seemingly contradicted by all of the trappings of intimidating art spaces, right down to its prime location. However, I can understand the use of markers that would elevate the space to a respected contemporary art gallery, and I do not want them to stop serving cute bites or suggest Hama can only exhibit in empty warehouses on the edge of town. I bring this up to voice the struggle I personally experience of galleries feeling exclusionary, even when everything in their ethos contradicts this.

Nina Hama, the owner of Hama Gallery, has made a clear and concerted effort to represent those whose works and bodies that have often been deliberately excluded from the art market, and she has certainly succeeded. Hama says that her manner of finding artists to work with is based in friendship. She and Martherus joke about how the artist slid into the gallerist’s Instagram DMs, eventually bringing them to working together a year later. Hama is also not unaware of the effect galleries can have. She points out that many people “have never been to a gallery because they do not feel welcome,” and that “gallerists are partly the cause of this in the larger whole of the elite art world.” Hama believes that the gallery has convinced many visitors to be unafraid to step into its space and to talk about art, even if they lack experience. I am inclined to believe her. When you make space for people, they will step into the vacuum that you provide. The crowd on this very evening is young, diverse, and vibrant. It feels more like a party than an uptight art affair. There is certainly much to be celebrated in terms of whose body gets to exhibit in this gallery space, and the courage of the gallery to stick to a certain vision and center works of art made by those typically underrepresented in the art world.

The team at Hama Gallery is undertaking viscerally important work if the goal of having underrepresented artists present in art markets is to be taken seriously

Eline Martherus, 'Bao', 2022, currently on view at Hama Gallery

And yet, a feeling of cognitive dissonance persists. As I walk around Martherus’ show, I recognize the struggle of making an art career in an unjust market, and the gallery itself taking on aesthetics of a dominant hegemony to do its job—sell art. Perhaps in the pursuit of making this space appear as possible, professional, and worthy, there is yet still some longing for excitement in its presentation. The simple and clean show, while beautiful, did not dare to escape the boundary of the gallery’s white (and sometimes indigo) walls. Walking around the gallery I am left questioning if Martherus’ pieces could have been displayed in a way that more fully exhibited the depth of her creativity, enhancing the beauty of the works, or if it was presented this way simply to sell. If done well, I would think that the pursuit of the former would lead to the success of the latter.

This critique notwithstanding, there is a joy to this space and event that should not be overlooked. Martherus’ show exhibits her knowledge of pigments with a free-form painting process. With her combination of backgrounds she has created artworks that are sorely needed in contemporary art space. Her interest in the oneness of all beings, what Martherus calls the “Flower of Life,” can be found in the overwhelming scale of her works. Her interest in working with various materials: glass, broom, and indigo, give her work a unique character. The artist’s life experiences come together in new works and show what can happen when you allow the multifaceted nature of a person’s being to exist all at once. I would say the same of Hama Gallery—like any precious thing in its development, there are contradictions that make it easy to poke holes in the way it presents itself to the world. However, the team at Hama Gallery is undertaking viscerally important work if the goal of having underrepresented artists present in art markets is to be taken seriously. The multidisciplinary work of Martherus is a solid match for Hama Gallery, and all that remains is to see how both of their trajectories bloom forward, apart and together. What I will take away from all of this is a nugget of wisdom delivered by Hama herself: who really knows about art anyway?

Eline Martherus’ solo show, I Bought You Flowers at Hama Gallery in Amsterdam runs through November 6th

Olivia Brown
is an artist and writer from New Orleans, LA, currently finishing her MA in Artistic Research at the UvA surrounding themes of cli-fi, Black bodies, and contamination

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 5 — 2023