Article by Milo Vermeire
Although Rob Sweere (1963) is unlikely to use the word himself, he has a lot of ‘respect’ for the artist’s profession and its audience. Partly for this reason, he is concerned about the current art world, which, according to him, has completely lost its connection with its audience and where artists have less and less to say. He himself actively establishes a connection with the viewer through his sculptures in the public space and with his Kwanokkels.
The Kwanokkels of Sweere originated during the first year of Corona: “One of the things that was an issue was of course the loneliness. We were all told by the government to keep our distance, even though this is not natural for us humans at all. I see this as a broader phenomenon than just a consequence of corona. Loneliness is the number one problem in the Netherlands.” With this problem in mind, Sweere started a series of masks with a strong social approach, the Kwanokkels.
“There have been traditions around the world regarding the use of masks for a long time,” says Sweere. “A mask is often about symbolic identities within a community. When someone puts one on, they assume the identity that goes with that mask. During that time, you no longer have to adhere to normal manners or the applicable values and standards. This is often done as an expression of basic wishes or fears in society. The most famous are of course the African masks, but masks are really used all over the world. So I thought it would be great fun to make masks for the Netherlands with a modern design language and about contemporary themes,” says Sweere.
“I made these Kwanokkels with themes that I think are relevant now. When you put them on, you become a symbol for that theme. With Interlocking, the idea is that you both put one on and connect them together so that you become one object. The lines that go around your head are a kind of bloodstream or energy channel that connects you. By working together, two individuals become one being with shared energy pathways.”
With Interlocking as a symbol of connection, Sweere acts against loneliness and at the same time presents a symbol that challenges current norms and values in society. According to Sweere, we are “not a community that takes care of each other, but we live in a meritocratic neoliberal society where every individual has to be an ‘entrepreneur of himself’.” His Kwanokkels give the opportunity to imagine a rigorously different world for a while and to put connection above the individual.