Artist Joyce Overheul has been invited by the Municipality of Utrecht to make a monument for resistance woman Truus van Lier. The monument will be placed on Friday 22 April 2022, on Van Lier’s birthday, in the Zocherpark, near the intersection at Willemsplantsoen and Walsteeg. Overheul’s design was selected last autumn after a presentation of three sketch designs by three different artists. A think tank representing the initiators of the monument made this choice.Overheul (1989) is a Utrecht artist who often works with textiles and photography. She makes art on political subjects such as emancipation, equality, sexism, and feminism. The characteristic of her work is that she takes the environment and context of a subject and location as a starting point to see which design is most suitable for each project. Her design was chosen because it establishes a surprising relationship between the past and the present and it expresses both the strength and the vulnerability of Truus van Lier. In a personal text, Joyce explains what inspired her when making the sculpture and what the thinking behind the artwork is.The design and context
“It is Thursday morning, February 24, 2022, I am typing this text from the train and it is the morning when Russia invaded Ukraine on a large scale. According to some western world leaders, a new world war is waiting for us. Deep down I hope they’re wrong, but I’m afraid of it. In recent months I have worked hard on a statue for Truus van Lier, a resistance woman who murdered NSB police chief Gerard Kerlen during the Second World War, in the hope of preventing more suffering. This morning I think of Truus and what must have gone through her mind when the war started in Europe in 1939, and the moment she realized that it was going to affect her life enormously as well. Russian President Putin used the same rhetoric as we heard from Hitler in his declaration of war last night, history is repeating itself yet again. The video message in which he shared his attack plans turned out to have been recorded days earlier. Despite announced sanctions and threats from the West, it has long been clear what Putin’s intentions are: it will be war. And that war has now begun.
In March 2021 I was approached by the Municipality of Utrecht to make a sketch design for a war memorial for Truus van Lier. Van Lier was a young woman from Utrecht who was a member of the resistance group CS-6, for which she distributed illegal literature and smuggled weapons. She also took Jewish people to hiding places. She was part of the armed resistance and on September 3, 1943, at the age of 22, she shot and killed the NSB member Gerard Kerlen. After the murder, Truus fled via the Walsteeg and went into hiding, but was betrayed six weeks later, imprisoned, deported to Sachsenhausen, and shot. I consider it a great honor that my design has been chosen, and I also feel a great responsibility that comes with making such a monument.
I usually do more conceptual art. I graduated from the Utrecht School of the Arts in 2012 in Fine Art and have been working as a visual artist ever since, with a studio in Zuilen. My work often deals with political topics such as women’s rights, feminism, emancipation, and inequality. With my work, I highlight social problems to increase awareness. The media I often work with are textiles and photography, although I always look at which material best suits the concept of a project.
Before every work I make, I do research. For example, it was important for this image that it would also be representative, in addition to being a tribute to Truus. That is why I started looking at what kind of images can already be found in the collection Art in the Public Space of the Municipality of Utrecht. I divided the artworks into ‘people’ and ‘not people’, then into ‘anonymous’ and ‘non-anonymous’ people, and both categories into male/female/other. This selection provided a clear picture of how the current collection is put together: of the total of 443 images, 168 (37.9%) were recognizable as human figures. Of those 168 images, roughly half were from anonymous people. Of the anonymous people, the distribution between men, women, and other than irreducible was neatly balanced. This was different from the images of famous people. In Utrecht, there are 83 statues in the public space of people we know. Think of the statue of Anne Frank at the Janskerk, or that of Herman Berkien at the Ledig Erf. Only 10 of those 83 images are of famous women. Needless to say, that is not in balance.
With this information, I decided that the image of Truus should become a recognizable image of this brave young woman. It has to stand for a long time and it comes in a classically decorated place, so bronze is the most obvious material. But how do you do that? Only a few photos of Truus are known, and then all of her head and shoulders. It didn’t seem appropriate to just create a body for this statue, because who am I to make choices about what Truus would have looked like. That’s why I decided to do it differently. Truus also studied law at the University of Utrecht, and I came up with the idea of having a law student at the UU of about the same age as a model for Truus’s body. Ultimately, the then 19-year-old Juliëtte Meeuwsen was the model. A cast has been made of Juliëtte and this forms the body, arms, and legs of the statue. As a result, the image also has a scale of 1:1, which makes it extra realistic and Truus really comes between us viewers. The clothing the statue wears is clothing that is common for a young woman in the 1940s as well as today. The classic school bag that Truus is holding in her left hand refers to the unobtrusive distribution of illegal paperwork and weapons, but also to Truus’ life as a student. The bronze statue has a light, green-brown patina. The head of the statue is a similar portrait based on the photos known by Truus, it has been modeled on top of the body by sculptor and craftswoman Marieke van der Meer.
Marieke van der Meer studied at Leiden University and KABK The Hague and has been working as a sculptor since 2011. “The history of Truus van Lier teaches me that no matter what happens, there is always hope. She represents hope and humanity to me. Truus is not only an icon as a resistance fighter but a human being, a real person. I tried to capture that real person in the portrait. So in addition to the determination and strength, also the love, the sadness, and the pain she must have felt. I feel connected to Truus in my own way because my grandmother hid a Jewish couple in her house for years. It was an honor for me to capture Truus van Lier in her portrait.”
Thanks to Juliëtte’s strong attitude and Marieke’s inspired modeling skills, the statue has become a true tribute to a powerful young woman, who unfortunately was not allowed to grow old. Truus has only turned 22, but she will continue to remind us of all her courage and decisiveness for many years to come at the Willemsplantsoen.