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The Wall Poems of Leiden

The city of Leiden is decorated throughout with surprising 'wall poems'. These poems are part of the project "Poems and walls", which began in 1992 with a poem by the Russian poet Marina Tsvetajeva. That poem was the start of a long series that was completed in 2005 by the painting of De Profundis by Garcia Lorca. Placing poems on the walls was a private initiative by the foundation 'Tegen-Beeld' of Ben Walenkamp and Jan-Willem Bruins. The foundation focuses on the relationship between language and image.Various private and corporate sponsors have also supported the project. 
Despite the deliberate conclusion of the series of 101 poems in 2005, the promoters announced early in 2010 that there will be a follow up.

Explaining the project

The poems, which were written in many different languages, are meant to be for everybody. In most cases a small plaque is placed beneath the poem containing translations in DutcJabra Ibrahim Jabrah and English. James Brockway did most of the English translations. The initiators of this project hope that passers-by are stimulated by the poems as well as by the visual image of the letters against the background formed by the wall. The reader/viewer is confronted by various sorts of characters that refer to different cultures. The common thread throughout this project is that many of these poems reflect upon language, colour, or upon the life as a poet. Signatures indicate the painter as well as the person who proposed each poem for the project. It is the personal choice of the foundation 'TEGEN-BEELD' that decides which poems will appear on the walls.

Jorge Luis BorgesThere is a special relationship between this project and the city of Leiden: Throughout the ages Leiden has been home to a remarkable number of writers. Numerous authors, such as Piet Paaltjens, J.C. Bloem, Maarten Biesheuvel, Jan Wolkers and Maarten 't Hart, lived or studied here. Being a university town, Leiden has taditionally attracted many scholars and scientists from all over the world. This makes the international character of the project all the more worthwhile. In 1996, a beautifully edited guide was issued in the series 'Leids Verleden' [Leidens Past]. The book, reprinted several times since then, bears the title "Dicht op de muur" [Poetry on the wall], and features the first 43 poems. It was written by Marleen van der Weij (ISBN 080139580). The next reprint appeared by the end of 2000 from Burgersdijk & Niermans, editors, with a newly written preface by Anton Korteweg.

Hendrik de VriesAfter a six-month hiatus 'TEGEN-BEELD' picked up the brushes again in the middle of 2000. On June 28, Jan Willem Bruins and Ben Walenkamp finished painting the poem "Een schatrijke tuin" by Hendrik de Vries [1896-1989] on a residence that is headed for demolition. Sadly this poem of protest has been destroyed in 2001 after a complicated struggle about buildings rights. The poem reappeared years later on the wall of one of the new buildings.

Later in 2000, five more wall poems were completed in Slaaghwijk during the months of September and October. Apart from their esthetic contribution these poems are meant to emphasize the multi-cultural character of the Slaaghwijk neighbourhood. The poems, painted in Turkish, Moroccan, Chinese, Surinam and Dutch have been opened officially on December 10, 2000. Meanwhile, a fragment from Bert Schierbeek's "Vlucht van de vogel" was placed on a school building in the new addition Poelgeest (in the town of Oegstgeest), and "Vlieger (2)" by Kees Buurman on sports centre Broekplein.

Kaartje centrumWhen this project started the goal was to complete about one hundred wall poems by the year 2000. That appeared not to be feasible. But production got on its way up from a low 2001 (just 2 new wallpoems: the anonymous élong en Omeros; both at the KITLV). In 2002 4 wallpoems were finished (one without title by Sugawara no Michizane, 'T ZWERK ligt terneergeslagen by J.J. Slauerhoff, Art rythmé; tic / Lit temps nie by Robert Desnos and Het kind en ik by Martinus Nijhoff. In 2003 growth continued with 8 new wallpoems. The final seven wallpoems were painted in 2004 and the first half of 2005.

The project was complete in 2005 (you can see the numbers on the page with the wallpoems in chronological order)! "And then we stop", said treasurer Piet van Veen at the presentation of the "Zilveren Veer" (a cultural price Tegen-Beeld won) allready on November 11th 2003. "For the completion we intend to paint wallpoem 101 near the central railway station, so that all visitors can see that this town is into poetry. We have decided on 'De Profundis' of Garcia Lorca.'' He read it aloud for the occassion.

On this site it is possible to make a virtual walk along the wallpoems! Just click on startpunt voor je individuele digitale wandeling and follow the arrows.

If you would like to see all this in real life - and that seems to be the most fun - you may choose to do the walking tour (in Dutch) on this site. You can also design your own walking tour with the help of this list. A nice place to start your itinirary is grand-café "De Stadhouder", Nieuwe Rijn 13. Inside you will find a chronological overview of the works of 'TEGEN-BEELD' thus far as well as a map. When you are on your way searching for the poems, you will usually find them on sidewalls and back walls of the addresses listed.
Information on guided tours can be obtained from the Tourist Information, who organize these on an irregular basis.


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