Polite Fictions

Behind the public face of diplomatic gifts 

Throughout history, the exchange of gifts has played a central role in the conduct of international relations. While the rules, traditions and culture of gifting evolve, it remains a universal ritual that often reveals deeper truths about what it means to be human.

Polite Fictions examines this gifting ritual in the diplomatic field, where gifts once had the power to initiate negotiations, ease tensions or send subtle messages. What role do gifts play in fostering international relations today? What messages do they carry? And what can they tell us about the relationship between two countries?

Intending to research the meaning and significance of diplomatic gifts, my camera was denied access by the authorities. The government of my home country the Netherlands and the European Commission refused me permission to take photographs, as such transparency has the potential to harm bilateral relations. Only in carefully controlled settings is it possible to see, photograph and interpret diplomatic gifts.

In contrasting that which is seen in the public eye and that which happens behind the scenes, I created new representations of the gifts and their fate. Stored away and concealed, they underline both the prudence and practicality of European diplomacy. Polite Fictions uncovers the paradoxes of diplomatic gift exchange and portrays a system of conflict avoidance and securing interests.


Installation views

Photographs: 100 x 75 cm, baryta fine art prints on dibond, black wooden floater frame. For the full series click here.
Documents and drawings: inktjet and laserjet prints 
Video: 6:26 min


Click here to see a few spreads 

Click here to read the author’s note

The truth is a worthless currency



What do curved bananas, high heels and a dog bone have in common? They are all items that have been banned by bureaucrats in Brussels, at least according to the British press.

British newspapers, predominantly the tabloids, have a long and well-observed tradition of fabricating stories about the European Union. The European Commission has incessantly tried to debunk the falsehoods in detailed blog posts, but the sensationalist stories and headlines are sticky. Fighting lies with facts and evidence only seems to draw more attention to the untruth. In times when objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal beliefs, a different language to conquer misinformation is needed.

This project presents a bizarre set of misrepresentations as well as concerns. The photographs encourage the viewer to take a closer look, but also to consider the consequences that lies and half-truths in the public debate have for the society that we live in. What do we do when the truth is worthless?

Publication presented in handmade newspaper holders. Produced in a run of 20 on the occasion of the exhibition A Series of Contradictions at De Helena in The Hague (sold out).