Recently I re-explored one of the most famous and one of my favorite museums in my small country of the Netherlands. The Rijksmuseum contains famous artworks of the 18th and 19th century, initially opened in 1808 envisioning to become one of the nation’s main accessible places to view and discuss art produced by the great masters. Unlike the Parisian art scene where the salon culture strictly determined what people considered aesthetically beautiful enough to display, the Rijksmuseum intended to showcase all Dutch art to the people of its country. Every time I visit the museum I discover new things, both in the art and in my experience of viewing art. Among the overwhelming abundance of famous Rembrandt and Van Gogh works, a portrait of a young girl stands out to me most. She looks about half my age, covered in jewelry and dressed like a young lady or a princess. While other visitors blindly walk past her, she holds my gaze.
Why does this portrait intrigue me?
Her simplicity and ability to appeal to all ages transcends her beauty for me in confounding ways. Even though she lived in another time period, she grew up in the same country, experienced similar customs, and experienced life through a close relative of the language I speak currently. She has the capability of making me feel young and old at the same time. In some moments, she seems like she could jump out of the picture and start playing tag. Simultaneously, she looks serious and can captivate and inspire you with her all-knowing gaze. This girl has engaged countless visitors of all ages in a way that humbles the spectator, even when they know nothing about her.
She brings up questions for me that I can relate to my upcoming experience as part of the Moxie Project in New York City. I will intern at the Bronx Family Justice Center for eight weeks, where I will meet children of all ages. BXFJC offers legal services for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, and their children affected by the experiences of their parents. Not only do they fight for the justice of victims while offering a safe space for children, but they also further the ultimate goal of preventing these crimes from occurring in the future. My goal for this summer involves connecting in a meaningful way to victims and children of all ages, similar to how I have connected to Portrait of a Girl Dressed in Blue in every stage of my life. I would like to transcend age barriers to offer productive help by sustaining relationships with people from all walks of life.
Although accessibility to paintings such as Portrait of a Girl Dressed in Blue has never completely formed an issue for me, art has evolved through the centuries from functioning as a visual assistance to those seeking spiritual guidance into something perceived as a pleasure only appreciated by the upper classes. Thus I do not wish to take on all properties of the painting, and recognize that I cannot connect with every person I will meet this summer. My goal involves forming a point of accessibility for people, while remaining unassuming and open-minded about the stories I will hear and the people I will meet.
I hope to overcome my shortcomings in experiences with children, this neighborhood, and this city, but not let the dearth of relevant knowledge hinder me in my interactions with people. Yes. I am a Dutch girl. I grew up in a homogenous society, and sometimes fail to realize what offends people. I forged my identity in a society where people define themselves less and less by what they believe in, but rather by who they are and what they do. In the Netherlands people generally construct a sense of self based on how well they fit in, instead of the degree to which they stand out, a crucial component to survival in a pluralistic society. I may not have experienced the same traumas or witnessed discrimination happen in my life. I do, however, show compassion, empathy, and a desire to listen to people’s stories in an unassuming way. I can learn so many life-changing lessons from my placement, but I will also give back in many different ways.
I am Julia Dunn. You will see me obsessively post pictures this summer of the Moxie Project, life in New York City, and everything else that comes my way. I am twenty years old, and a rising junior at Duke. My academic interests include Psychology and Global Health, and I love documentary photography. I have photographed for the Breaking Out Project, a photography project that gives voice to sexual assault victims on Duke’s campus. When I’m not photographing or reading great psychology and sociology books, I love to play ultimate frisbee, a sport that has in many ways shaped who I am today. I am interested to explore how I can incorporate my academic and non-academic experiences into my internship this summer. I hope to eventually develop into more of a person that can relate to any age group, demographic, and story. I hope to become The Girl Dressed in Blue, but transcend her stoic smile in a more engaged, active, and empathetic fashion.