The ‘Christening dresses’ have a turbulent history.
They were born out of child memories.
At the time the ‘Christening dresses’ were conceived, a ‘miscarriage’ was taboo.
The sheer existence of a still born baby was denied. Compassionate civil workers would suggest to the parents to write its name in the matrimony parents in crayon. Yet the child always remained, even unspoken, an undeniable part of the family.
The mother’s warm womb longed for the baby she lost and keeps inviting it back in. She becomes its empty grave for ever. The fragile ‘Christening Dress’ is a symbolic recipient for her dreams unfulfilled: a private altar, a space to grieve.
The Christening Dresses were later adopted by victims of abuse by the church.
They recognise the void they themselves bear inside, ever since the child they ones were, was brutally violated and subsequently muted.
The Roman Catholic Church had a copy produced, and placed this counterfeited “Christening Dress” in Bruges’ Saint Salvator and another one in the Antwerp cathedral. These were even presented as a gift of the victims to the church.
Katerina Gregos selected ‘Esse et percipe’, to live is to be perceived’ for Newtopia’ the state of human rights’(2012). The ‘Christening Dresses’ evoke the ghosts of children abused by the clergy. They seemed to be floating in front a literally and metaphorically black timeline that hid these criminal facts for centuries. Quotes of articles that appeared in recent decades in the international English quality press told their history concealed far too long.
Out of a dark silence, hidden voices finally cried out into the secular world.
Walter van den Broeck selected one ‘Christening dress’ for the cover of his book: ’Het alfabet van de stilte’, (The alphabeth of silence) (2013)
His novel deals with of the abuse by the church and the impact it has on the next generations.
The “Christening Dresses” are part of the collection of: Corning Museum, Corning New York, USA, The Ernsting Foundation, Museum Alter Hof Herding, Coesveld – Lette, Germany, Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg, Germany
Thus the art world recreated a space for, and symbolically returned the christening dresses to the very people they resonate too.
Lieve Van Stappen October 2014
In her work as an artist, Lieve Van Stappen (Wilrijk 1958) makes use of many stunningly different materials to produce her layered and multi-faceted artistic creations. In these, the materials chosen are used specifically to further the purpose of her artistic message. Van Stappen’s message speaks to the seeming inevitable duality of human existence, swung back and forth between cruelty and vulnerability, uncompromising strength and fragility, abomination and beauty, the solid and the fluid, parent and child, war and peace …The work of Van Stappen fits in Belgian tradition where surrealism is simply too strong a word for human subtle yet anarchistic desire to cope with existential duality. This duality ensures that humans succeed in surviving magnificently despite all shortcomings. It is found in Van Stappen’s works.
Lieve Van Stappen searches for the most hidden and the most vulnerable in humans: the persistent fragility of bare existence.
Text: Marc Ruyters 2009 Translation: Hilde Van den Bossche