This essay draws on the feminist and queer organization Flamboyant, the first and only nationwide Black and migrant women–run meeting place, active in the 1980s in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. After five years, the collective was forced to leave their space due to a lack of funding and burnout. The organization was named after the tropical flamboyant tree (Delonix regia), which according to the founders “has not been tamed and would prefer to die instead of shrinking in the Dutch living room.” I argue that this metaphorical mission statement is an articulation of wildness that rejects Dutch colonial expectations of integration and order. Flamboyant’s refusal to be tamed eventually led to the demise of the only archive run by Black women and women of color. This essay firmly situates Flamboyant within a Black and women of color (WOC) European scholarly and activist experience. Drawing on archival materials and geographical reflections of place, I demonstrate how the loss of Dutch feminist and queer of color spaces and archives are embedded within transnational feminist genealogies of mourning.
“What is in a name.”
Flamboyant is the name of our center.
We are continuously asked how we got our name and what it means.
Here it goes:
Flamboyant: Flaming (Van Dale)
Flamboyant: The most beautiful ornamental tree of the tropics. He gets about twenty meters high, has wavering leaves like an acacia, and blooms with big bunches of beautiful flowers in the colors of a flame, varying from yellow-orange to fire red. When the tree blooms, the flowers look ablaze, hence the name.
Contrary to other trees/plants from the tropics, nowadays known as Dutch house plants (the ficus, hibiscus, etc.), the Flamboyant tree has not been tamed and would prefer to die instead of shrinking in the Dutch living room.—Flamboyant
The Flamboyant collective played a central role in the feminist and queer Dutch Black, Migrant, and Refugee (BMR) movement. Flamboyant was the very first and only nationwide Black and migrant women–run meeting place and documentation center, which operated between 1986 and 1990 in Amsterdam. Known for its commitment to information services for BMR women, coalition activist praxis, and politics of refusal, Flamboyant offers important insight into how diasporic interventions shape European Black feminist thought and women of color feminisms. Flamboyant’s work was central to feminist, queer, and anti-racist movement work in the 1980s—a time when BMR women were faced with the rise of right-wing politics and the exclusionary practices of the white feminist second wave movement (see Botman, Jouwe, and Wekker 2001). The collective played a key role in shaping political activism and intellectual thought in the Netherlands. Yet, too often European Black and women of color (WOC) feminist and queer movements are illegible or solely read in dialectical opposition to second wave feminism. Even more so, European Black and WOC feminisms are frequently understood through a U.S.–dominant lens, which erases the specificity of colonial and migratory histories. This illegibility limits how we might imagine other sites of queer feminist diasporic presence. Flamboyant’s history thus offers us a different configuration of how BMR women created and imagined spaces across local and transnational geographic sites. These models of affective diasporic kinship offered me a home and shaped my feminist politics and queerness as a Dutch South African Indian woman in the Netherlands and beyond.
Flamboyant was one of the first BMR collectives to actively encourage political organizing across racial and ethnic divides. Early Flamboyant organizers such as Kittie Lie, Mavis Carrilho, and Edith Mager were keen to make the center into a national platform to become more accessible to BMR women across the country. The collective had a board, a general coordinator, and a variety of paid and unpaid employees. The very first board members were Mea Venster, Tania Leon, Nanny Nierath, Maddy Tolud, Lioe Tan, Kitty Lie, Troetje Loewenthal, Kamala Kempadoo, and Cisca Pattipilohy. Flamboyant’s first board reflects the coming together of Black women and women of color from different countries such as Suriname, the Dutch Antilles, Indonesia, the Moluccas, Guyana, and South Africa. Quite a few women already had solid work experience within academia, politics, and policy work. For instance, Troetje Loewenthal played a prominent role in the BMR movement and wrote the well-referenced speech “De witte Toren van Vrouwenstudies” (“The White Tower of Women’s Studies”). Mea Venster cofounded the Gemeentelijk Allochtonen Overleg Amsterdam, which focused on improving the experiences and positions of Black people and migrants within the Amsterdam municipality. Lioe Tan worked in the field of immigration law and had the legal know-how. Kamala Kempadoo studied gender, race, and ethnicity at the University of Amsterdam and was a part of the Walter Rodney Collective prior to becoming an active member of Flamboyant. Tania Leon had left apartheid South Africa, organized with the Dutch Black lesbian collective Sister Outsider, and cofounded the international women’s fund Mama Cash. While Flamboyant included a wide range of board members, volunteers, and collaborators, the main organizers were highly educated, which was at times a subject of critique (see Deekman and Hermans 2001: 91). Nevertheless, the center did seek to strengthen the position of all BMR women in service of feminist movement work.
Flamboyant was envisioned to be a place where knowledge, information, and experiences could be exchanged across racial and ethnic groups (Flamboyant 1988a: 9). Because postcolonial and labor migrants, and later refugees, comprised the BMR movement, organizing across racial divides was a necessity. Women from different migration backgrounds found themselves subjected to similar mechanisms of exclusion. The umbrella term Black, Migrant, and Refugee sought to address the different histories of migration within the Dutch context. Generally, it was understood that “Black” women came from former Dutch colonies such as Suriname and the Dutch Antilles, including, at times, women of non-African Black descent such as Indonesians and Moluccans. The term migrant was used in response to waves of labor migration from Turkey and Morocco, and later the term refugee was employed to account for the presence of women who had fled war- or conflict-torn areas such as Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Iraq, Iran, Kurdistan, and Somalia. Similar to the use of political blackness in the United Kingdom, BMR women claimed there was a strategic benefit to using political blackness as a mode of solidarity and anti-racist organizing for non-white subjects. Yet the specificity of anti-Blackness often remained unaddressed. While the term BMR is no longer in use, these layered and complex histories of naming continue to shape and inform how scholarship on Black/WOC feminisms is engaged.1 Terms such as POC have carried over from the United States, but BIPOC is not a common term in the Netherlands. The term indigenous in the settler colonial context does not carry the same connotations in the Netherlands, and often claims of indigeneity are bound up with whiteness and the Far Right. Increasingly, phrases such as “real Dutch people” and “indigenous Dutch people” are used to further populist rhetoric. I thus emphasize the need to be specific in tracing the trajectories of Black and WOC feminisms in Europe.
In this essay, I argue that Flamboyant’s metaphorical mission statement is an articulation of wildness, which rejects Dutch colonial expectations of integration and order, but above all offers a different model for situating Black and WOC feminist and queer stories in Europe. I set out how Flamboyant’s practices and strategies pertaining to knowledge production, archival access, and feminist and queer politics illustrate the importance of theorizing race and migration from different histories of empire and displacement. In doing so, I draw on three key theoretical concepts to address how wildness can be understood. I read Flamboyant’s praxis of wildness in relationship to Dutch coloniality and pillarization (Wekker 2016; Weiner and Báez 2018), queer and feminist critical regionality in Europe (Gopinath 2008), and loss and possibility within archival praxis (Arondekar 2009; Arondekar et al. 2015). In doing so, I propose that the everyday and unruly practices of Flamboyant unsettle how we come to understand Black and migrant opposition in the Netherlands.
Wild Spaces, Dutch Coloniality, and Untamed Feminisms
Flamboyant and their politics offer us a way to think about wildness, loss, and possibility together. To analyze Flamboyant’s articulation of wildness, I will lay out the theoretical stakes that inform this essay. Situating Flamboyant as a site of loss and possibility allows us to tend to the quotidian social and political conditions that reside within the transnational feminist imagination. Flamboyant’s first location was on the Singel, one of Amsterdam’s most famous canals. Following the shutdown of Flamboyant, its archival materials are now scattered among white feminist institutions and former members. There is little trace of this very first feminist meeting place and documentation center that shifted the imaginary of what BMR archives would look like. What remains of collectives and archives of color within white colonial spatial geographies? How do these encounters shape new conceptual frames for feminist queer diaspora?
Recognizing loss and mourning in relationship to Flamboyant’s location is not a nostalgic endeavor. Mourning is not about recuperating Flamboyant, but about asking what we make of this feminist geography of loss. A geography of loss here evokes questions about how absence, and the embodied experiences of lineages of feminist and queer organizing, might steer us in new directions. In Flamboyant’s mission statement, I read a call to gather under the red flaming bloom, to reject processes of integration and domestication, and to embrace the untamable wildness, of the tree and the collective. Through engaging with Dutch coloniality and the politics of archival access within a critical feminist and queer regional framework, I model the generative possibilities that such a gathering might engender.
I use wildness as an orientation to break open other ways of understanding how collectives such as Flamboyant refused a racial order based on forced nonpolitical integration and domestication. Wildness for Flamboyant was a collective orientation, which can be traced within their feminist and queer organizing, the disruption of Dutch colonial spatiality, and the politics of archival in/visibility. In 2015, I came across Flamboyant’s “what’s in a name” explanation, shared at the beginning of this essay, in one of the Flamboyant newsletters in the International Archives for the Women’s Movement (IAV) at Atria, in Amsterdam.2 In claiming the flamboyant tree as both an anchor and a political force, the organization firmly articulates their collective mission as a refusal to shrink.
In using wildness as an approach, I draw on the Flamboyant Nieuwsbrief (Flamboyant Newsletter), one of the only BMR–led newsletters, which was critical to the construction of BMR feminism and anti-racist organizing in the 1980s.3 IAV holds the most complete set of issues of the Flamboyant Newsletter, which are yet to be digitized. BMR newsletters were a central method and medium for BMR women to share experiences, scholarship, and poetry, and to remain connected to transnational feminist endeavors. While white second-wave feminist print media is well studied, Black and women of color grassroots publications in Europe remain largely unknown. The newsletters document the realities BMR women faced, including racist and sexist policies, precarity caused by immigration laws, discrimination within the labor market, and the racism of the white feminist movement. The editorial team demonstrated a commitment to practices of solidarity but also honed into the particularities of the struggles that, for instance, Moroccan or Surinamese women faced.
Flamboyant’s statement articulates a politics of refusal against forced integration and assimilation, a process that the Dutch government instituted in the early 1980s. I locate Flamboyant’s presence and interventions against the backdrop of the 1983 Ethnic Minority Policy. The idea behind the policy was to allow segregated groups to have their own “places of worship and media,” which were subsidized by the government. This form of multicultural policy is largely understood to be derived from a common Dutch feature called “pillarization,” which refers to the “segmentation of society into religious and secular blocs and subcultures” (Schrover 2010: 332). To a large extent, this well-known religious practice of pillarization was continued with the minority policy and still informs dominant political organization (Weiner and Báez 2018: xi). Existing scholarship on pillarization is vast, and I will not be able to expand on it here; however, there is a continued need to analyze the impact of integration policies and strategies from the perspective of BMR women. BMR women mobilized against the use of pillarization as a means of integration.4 Organizing across racial and cultural divides then became a mode of kinship, which was characterized by working out a new model for solidarity and coalition politics.
The Flamboyant conferences, workshops, and newsletter articles show that BMR women were actively theorizing their lived experience and positionality within Europe and started developing a feminist pedagogy through shared learning. For instance, Kamala Kempadoo initiated feminist organizing on BMR sex workers’ rights. While such issues were at times contentious, Flamboyant was one of the first BMR collectives to focus on this kind of advocacy work. Flamboyant organizers like Lioe Tan and Troetje Loewenthal led political conversations such as, “What do emancipation policies have to offer Black/migrant women?” (Flamboyant 1987a: 34). All this political work actively moved against nonpolitical modes of assimilation enforced by the Dutch state. This is where I locate the potential for a radical Black and women of color feminism marked by wildness that manifests itself through everyday political experiences. The organization’s refusal to shrink exemplifies its radicality—its wildness. However, the refusal to shrink is not solely about resistance or metaphor. The refusal to be domesticated within the confines of the living room underscores Flamboyant’s ongoing wildness, its ability to make and unmake itself under and against government assimilationist policies. For Flamboyant, these modes of refusal became the organizing principles that also eventually led to the organization’s demise.
Flamboyant’s commitment to documentation and creating archival access complicates the meanings of loss. In theorizing loss and possibility, I turn to Flamboyant’s interventions in relationship to archival work. The conversations on funding that underlie the mission of Flamboyant to become a nationwide meeting center, information service, and documentation project tell an important story about “emancipation” policies in the Netherlands. The Dutch government’s “emancipation” policies for BMR women were geared toward the arts, crafts, and basic participation in society. Yet the government could not see how the documentation center would possibly contribute to the emancipation of BMR women. While there were national archives; municipal archives; specialist archives such as IAV, IDC, and IISG; and public libraries, these archives were run by and for white women; they did not cater to the needs of BMR women.5 Flamboyant thus strategically identified the need to document and coordinate initiatives on a nationwide scale to keep track of BMR organizing.
One of the newsletters aptly states, “It seems important to spread information about the thousands of flowers that are blooming” (Flamboyant 1986: 16). Flamboyant provided study as a feminist project outside of the regulations and constraints of Dutch academia, where race, gender, sexuality, and colonialism were purposefully not studied. Halleh Ghorashi (2005) writes that even though BMR feminists contributed to debates in the United States and United Kingdom on the exclusionary practices of white feminism, there has been hardly any international or Dutch media attention toward the movement. Dutch women’s studies programs focused on Euro-American or Third World feminist studies of the Other, which did not emphasize BMR histories of colonialism or migration. This further informed the need for Flamboyant to create a BMR–run archive.
The loss of the Flamboyant building and archive thus brings out multiple registers of loss: of a shared political project, of a meeting place, and of an accessible archive. Yet these ideas about loss are also informed by what remains and how using the flamboyant tree as a metaphor allows us to tune into how loss and possibility are intertwined. I follow feminist theorist Anjali Arondekar et al. (2015: 216) in exploring “how the absence and/or presence of archives secures historical futurity, and what proceeds from an unsettling of that attachment, from a movement away from the recursive historical dialectic of fulfillment and impoverishment.” In this sense, Flamboyant’s demise due to lack of funding, burnout, and the center becoming too intellectual according to the Dutch state, requires a troubling of the work that archival absence or presence does for feminist and queer futurity. The notion of archival futurity and documentation is especially crucial for Black and WOC feminisms in Europe considering the lack of archival sites.
Taking up the invitation to tend to Black and WOC feminisms within Europe thus requires a critical understanding of how regionality can be situated within a transnational framework. Such an endeavor will make possible a more rigorous analysis of how diaspora, race, sexuality, and gender intersect within the European context. The concepts of loss and possibility pertain as much to Flamboyant’s material archives as to their geographic locality within the Amsterdam colonial city center. I assert that the very presence of BMR women ruptured this white colonial imaginary of the Amsterdam city center. Not only did Flamboyant take up radical space in a building funded by the municipality, the collective eventually lost their funding because it was deemed too intellectual. Flamboyant’s presence within this white spatial arrangement invites us, as Bacchetta, El Tayeb, and Haritaworn (2015: 769) suggest, to “rethink the racial and colonial imaginaries of subjects and space in Europe.” In doing so, I engage with critical queer regionalism scholarship to explore the connections between Dutch coloniality, loss and possibility, and regionality. Scholars such as Gayatri Gopinath (2008) and Cüneyt Çakirlar (2016) remind us of the potential and risks tied to centering the regional. In making use of the regional and regionality as a theoretical framework, I am not attempting to reconfigure queer regionality within the European context. Rather, I explore how a Black and migrant collective such as Flamboyant complicates regional situatedness. Overall, the theoretical stakes of this essay shape how Flamboyant used wildness to challenge, push against, and create tension within a white ordered spatiality that demands integration and assimilation.
Wildness as an Orientation
Flamboyant was located on the Singel nr. 260, which is part of the infamous Amsterdam Canal Ring or Grachtengordel in Dutch. This UNESCO heritage site is hailed for its seventeenth-century architecture and canal mansions that come forth from what the Dutch call the “Golden Age.” Amsterdam’s explosive growth and wealth during this time were a direct result of the Dutch involvement in slavery and colonialism. Csilla E. Ariese (2020: 119) argues that “the symbiotic relationship between the colonial system and the city of Amsterdam continued in a mutually entangled display of causes and effects over centuries.” Flamboyant’s presence within the colonial infrastructure of Amsterdam thus brings critical connections between colonialism, migration, and political identity formations within Europe to the fore.
A feminist and queer regional lens foregrounds other kinds of LGBTQ+ formations. While there has been an influx of scholarship tending to regionality and LGBTQ politics in Europe (El-Tayeb 2011; Mizielińska and Kulpa 2011; Dasgupta and Rosello 2014; Haritaworn 2015; Tudor 2017, 2018), a more rigorous approach to the confluence of diasporic feminist and queer presence is needed. Mobilizing Flamboyant’s wildness, I consider how regionality for Black and WOC feminists was both situated and imagined. Within the tightly and neatly managed Amsterdam historic city center, there is an apparent lack of “wild” space. Flamboyant’s wildness thus causes a “dislocation in space and time” (Bacchetta, El-Tayeb, and Haritaworn 2015: 771). Amsterdam’s historical city center is a quintessentially white site. The canals are hailed as a “masterpiece of hydraulic engineering,” and the seventeenth-century architecture is seen as a prime example of Dutch “civilization.” Yet, the ongoing colonial histories and legacies are mostly silenced. The city center is the locale of wealth, trade, and upper-class white aesthetics, while Black people and migrants are relegated to the margins of the city.
Flamboyant’s transnational and diasporic feminist and queer politics troubles Eurocentric and Western frames for queer regionalism in Europe. Different from white second wave feminist organizations, the BMR movement often did not differentiate between feminist and lesbian/queer politics and spaces. While there were BMR groups and collectives focused on queer people, such as the Black lesbian group Sister Outsider or the Surinamese gay-centered group SUHO, the BMR movement was characterized by non-Western approaches to sexuality, desire, and kinship. Notably collectives such as Strange Fruit pushed for the inclusion of trans* people within the broader movement. Scholars such Martin F. Manalansan IV et. al (2014: 2) have called for “deployment of sexuality and gender as vantages to reformulate region and regionality.” Despite the distinct differences and contributions of feminist and queer geographies, I follow Larry Knopp (2007) in seeing the potential and alliances between both geographical inquiries.
Flamboyant hosted conversations about lesbian politics, organized conferences on sex workers’ rights, and offered courses on Black feminism in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Black American feminists such as Alice Walker, bell hooks, and Angela Davis all visited Flamboyant. Board members described Flamboyant as a “survival strategy,” a “safe space,” and a “gathering of knowledgeable women” (Flamboyant 1989b: 2). As a national center, Flamboyant was an important meeting place for these transnational convergences. In this sense, collectives like Flamboyant interrupt white hetero- and homonormative ideas about space, belonging, and identity (see Bacchetta, El-Tayeb, and Haritaworn 2015; El-Tayeb 2011). Flamboyant proposed new ways to think through queerness and visibility by accepting fluidity and non-Western modes of sexuality within different cultures. For instance, a conversation between the Afro-Caribbean poet and writer Audre Lorde and the well-known Surinamese novelist Astrid Roemer, moderated by Gloria Wekker, specifically addressed the possibilities and limitations of naming. As the Flamboyant newsletter recounts, Roemer felt strongly that the word lesbian was not applicable to women in Suriname because they had more freedom “to experience the complexity of feeling” (Flamboyant 1986: 8). Roemer’s views are on par with Gloria Wekker’s (2006) work on same-sex mati practices between Afro-Surinamese working-class women. Flamboyant was a key site in shifting Western expectations of coming out and modeled other paths of feminist and queer becoming.
A critical focus on region challenges dominant white western perception of liberalism and sexual politics. The Amsterdam city center is understood to be a liberal safe haven for white gay men—in constant need of protection from what the queer studies scholar Jin Haritaworn (2015) calls “hateful others.” This powerful intervention addresses how, within European liberalism, migrants of color and Muslims have become the main threat to white gay men and homonormativity. Wekker (2016) reminds us that herein lies the implicit bias that gays are white, and the racialized threatening other is straight. However, the nostalgic longing for a time when “hateful others” did not interfere with the project of white gay liberation is seen as innocent and on par with Dutch liberal colorblindness. In this vein, Wekker (2018: 140) argues that the Dutch see themselves as:
Champions on women’s liberation, and the emancipation of gays, lesbians, and transgender people; inherently and ethically on the right side of all kinds of socio-political issues; the “natural” procurers of international justice, euthanasia, the legalization of soft drugs, prostitution and what not. We, in addition think of ourselves as always having been proverbially tolerant, colorblind and free of racism, so much so that others, newcomers, interlopers, notably people of colour, now take advantage of us.
I cite this fragment at length to draw attention to how collectives such as Flamboyant unsettle the presumed absence of queers of color. Flamboyant’s work and organizational politics disrupt the idea of progress rooted in the need to emancipate BMR women and liberate gays from “hateful others.” The assertion that the Dutch nation-state is “tolerant, colorblind and free of racism” normalizes the conditions of slavery, colonialism, and migration (see Weiner and Báez 2018; Alejandro Martina and Schor 2018). It is within this environment that I situate Flamboyant’s wildness as an orientation that breaks free from white ordered spatiality.
Flamboyant’s feminist and queer politics is characterized by a necessary unruliness within normative Dutch constellations. Wildness has been picked up in queer studies (Halberstam 2020), animal studies (Chen 2011), and disability studies (Alaimo 2017; Jasbir K. Puar in McRuer and Johnson 2014: 164). Wildness can also be recognized in figures such as the feminist killjoy (Ahmed 2017) and the wayward (Hartman 2019). These interventions point to new directions in theorizing wildness as a category and embodied experience residing outside the established frameworks. In the Netherlands, wildness has been coupled with mass migration and the need to tame and civilize the racialized other. Kamala Kempadoo notes that the integration of ethnic minorities was often focused on limiting dissatisfaction, resistance, and social conflicts, and on enhancing harmonious social relationships (Flamboyant 1988b: 17). Flamboyant activists thus had a keen sense of how Dutch integration policies were aimed to suppress any disruption to the established white order. Most notably, Wekker (2016) has pushed to unpack the myths of racial purity, colorblindness, and white innocence residing within the Dutch imperial archive of four hundred years of colonial rule. While Jack Halberstam (2020) uses wildness to offer an alternative history of sexuality, I use wildness to chart what Flamboyant’s refusal to be tamed tells us about Black and WOC feminist and queer opposition. However, I do not posit wildness as a fixed or static project that situates Flamboyant as the disorder to white normalized order. I recognize that the project of wildness, as Halberstam and Nyong’o (2018) set out, is one that operates across temporalities. Wildness has a past and a present and is oriented toward exploring the possibilities of the future (Halberstam and Nyong’o 2018). The notion of wildness should not be separated from Dutch imperial fantasies and preoccupations with “the wild” (Halberstam and Nyong’o 2018: 459). Yet, here wildness as a trope becomes most visible in Flamboyant’s commitment to rethinking systems of solidarity, difference, and knowledge production.
Flamboyant’s wildness is marked by the ways in which the collective opposed institutional heteronormativity within a migratory framework. The refusal to be tamed as an extension of wildness speaks against forced pillarization efforts and archival erasure. The pillarization of BMR women, and the focus on emancipation and integration through nonpolitical activities, are an extension of Dutch processes of domestication. The Amsterdam municipality preferred BMR women to organize along the lines of ethnicity and to stick to nonpolitical activities such as arts and crafts. Flamboyant was one of the only organizations that actively resisted ethnicity-based research funding. As a result, the coming together of women from the Dutch Antilles, Indonesia, South Africa, Suriname, Morocco, Turkey, the Philippines, and Pakistan within the Flamboyant center produced a racialized notion of intimacy (Eng 2010; Lowe 2005). David Eng (2010: 10) reminds that “racialized subjects and objects are reinscribed into a discourse of colorblindness.” As in the United States, Dutch immigration policies and BMR-focused funding were used to maintain the status quo of colorblindness. Thus, on the one hand, we see the institutional workings of the state—machinations to prevent any intimacies that might emerge from coalition building—and on other hand BMR women forge these intimacies because of how policy and racialization affected them.
In an April 1988 newsletter reflecting on the three-year existence of the organization, Kamala Kempadoo writes, “Flamboyant activities are not limited to one ethnic minority or migrant group. On the contrary, the center endeavors to stimulate an exchange of knowledge, information, and experiences from and among all black/migrant women” (Flamboyant 1988a: 9). In terms of coalition building, Flamboyant recognized the limitations of being stuck between the white feminist movement and “general,” nonpolitical Black and migrant organizations. Where white feminism did not include an analysis of race and class, migrant organizations were easily convinced to just focus on the cultural aspects of “ethnicity” and hardly considered gender.
Flamboyant moved to a new location in 1989 and finally opened the doors to their library and documentation center. By this time, Flamboyant had started the “Bidoc” project, a research project to index the lacunae in existing white libraries, documentation centers, and archives.6 Toward the end of the 1980s, the project had gathered eight hundred titles that had previously been difficult to access, or had been completely inaccessible. However, by 1991, Flamboyant’s work and research had become untenable because Flamboyant had lost the funding battle. The Amsterdam municipality thought that the center had become too intellectual. The center was initially funded to enhance the integration of BMR women and their activities, including the “Bidoc” project which showed that their integration was “complete.” Eventually, to become “documented” was to be “emancipated.” The center, by foregrounding documentation, knowledge production, and self-study, had become too intellectual by Dutch standards. By mapping itself into existence Flamboyant had become a threat.
Cisca Pattipilohy, a former Flamboyant board member, librarian, and information specialist, played a key role in shifting the political archival landscape for BMR women. In a lecture delivered for the National Day for Women’s Archives, Libraries, and Documentation Centers, later published in the newsletter, Pattipilohy outlines the racialized politics with which the center contended:
Is there truly such a great need for literature relevant to Black women? What does it comprise? For which groups would it be meant, and on which level?
Surely there is relevant literature in public libraries, university and state libraries, for Black women?
Besides, isn’t there an International Archive for Women (IAV) and an Information and Documentation Center for Dutch Women (IDC) that are specialized? (Flamboyant 1987a: 26–27)
These questions speak to the archival imaginary—how knowledge is made and preserved within the terrain of memory work—and require a close analysis of the racial taxonomies of archives. The questions of a Dutch government official as narrated by Pattipilohy above remind us of the fraught relationship between white feminist archival interventions and the erasure of BMR histories. In the 1970s, there was a push from women who spoke out about the need to become part of archival collections, and as a result feminist movements addressed the absence of research on women in archival collections (Cifor and Wood 2017). However, these undertakings were solely focused on the white second wave feminist movement in the Netherlands. Maryanne Dever (2017: 1) states that archives are “sites of promise and desire, even as we recognise they are also sites of power and privilege that have long been implicated in acts of violence and erasure.” Recent scholarship, following the “archival turn,” has moved away from solely situating the archive as a theoretical construct. Scholars have pushed to think beyond the textual qualities of the archive as the dominant mode of archival evidence (Dever 2017). Feminist and queer approaches to the archive have homed in on the “affective” (Cvetkovich 2003), the “ephemeral” (Muñoz 1996; Halberstam 2005; Kumbier 2014), and the “messy” qualities of the archive (Manalansan 2014). These approaches decenter the archive proper and the reliance on the institutional and colonial archive. What is the potential of the Flamboyant archives, and in which ways might they steer us toward other archival interpretations?
The work conducted by Flamboyant in relationship to archives and documentation offers “a map towards a new or different perspective on the production of space” (McKittrick and Woods 2007: 5). After being granted a small research budget, Flamboyant started the aforementioned “Bidoc” project in October 1987, to “try and get an impression of the material available in libraries and documentation centers and how accessible these materials are” (Flamboyant, 1988a: 5). One of the main findings of the project was the lack of documentation from BMR women’s perspectives. Even though materials and literature relevant to BMR women were available, they were hardly visible or accessible. How do we access what is not visible? As Pattipilohy’s questions demonstrate, the structures of white feminist archives are built on the universal category of “white woman” and consistent assertions that white women (and their experiences) are “archivable” and therefore “human.” Flamboyant’s alternative archival practices responded to the Dutch government’s erasure of BMR women as illegible, unlocatable.
The request for a BMR–focused archive emerged from here, disrupting the official intended use of archives and documentation. Flamboyant showed that existing archival sites either did not hold relevant information at all or that such material was not accessible. Another key finding was that due to the separation of metropole and colony within the Dutch imagination, BMR women were rendered invisible while “Blackness” was solely situated in the so-called Third World. The titles they did find were, according to the “Bidoc” team, retrieved entirely by “using our own orientation” (Flamboyant 1989a: 14). Loss was thus already embedded within the existing archival structures. What happens when we are able to detach from the promise of archival inclusion? In reference to the colonial archive, Arondekar (2009: 16) reminds that our turn to the archive often begins with presence to arrive at absence. The absence of BMR women in the archive demands to be theorized within a wider framework of Black and feminist and queer of color genealogies in Europe. In thinking with archival absence, we can mark the epistemic violence of erasure as well as the possibilities embedded within this loss that reside outside of the archive proper.
Pattipilohy goes on to detail other instances of loss and erasure that gave rise to Flamboyant. She recalls an experience at the Women’s University in Nijmegen in 1983. For the second time, the program had not included anything about Black women and women of color apart from the subject of “non-Western cultures.” In this category of research, Black women and women of color featured as research endeavors or objects in faraway countries that white women probed and collected for knowledge (Flamboyant 1987a: 24). Additionally, BMR women were not only left out of the program; they were also used to educate white women on how to unlearn racism. Their own knowledge production, praxis, and scholarship were not deemed relevant. In these discussions, Pattipilohy observes, “there was no reflection on the actual lives of these women, let alone a connection made with the reality that several women from these cultures actually live in Dutch society” (Flamboyant 1987a: 24). This line of thinking is on par with the persistence of the Dutch imaginary that slavery and colonialism happened over there and not here.
Following these experiences, BMR women started to conceptualize the idea for Flamboyant. Pattipilohy explains,
Among the many existing women’s libraries, archives, and documentation centers, there are none for Black women, focused on their own struggle or issues, and set up from their own vision. Besides gathering information and literature, the center can also contribute to research and the analysis of the history and struggle of Black women. (Flamboyant 1987a: 24)
BMR women were not understood to be part of the archival landscape and even existed outside of the Dutch imaginary of what was constituted as “woman” and “other.” To demonstrate the importance of these connections and to advocate for funding for Flamboyant, Pattipilohy headed a research project across thirteen libraries that held collections on the Third World. However, literature about women was incredibly hard to find or not available at all because these materials had never been indexed under “woman.” In other words, there were no entry points to make the subject “woman” searchable (Flamboyant 1987a: 24).
Following this research, the Directorship of the Coordination of Emancipation policy decided to fund Flamboyant for a year (and a quarter) to make an inventory, in the form of a bibliography, to index literature relevant for Black women in libraries in the Netherlands. Every quarter Flamboyant was to publish a list of titles they had found, accompanied by a short description. The four-part bibliographies that Flamboyant made to assert their presence and relevance in the (white) archival world were made available for sale and are now part of the IAV collection. These bibliographies not only reflected the knowledge production that the BMR women had generated, they also situated BMR women in a wider diasporic constellation.
The Flamboyant women who worked on the archival research projects outlined above altered dominant understandings of feminist archives while becoming archivists in their own right. Flamboyant turned their attention to interrogating the power structures embedded in white feminist archives. In so doing, they proposed an archival methodology that was focused on how BMR experiences become erased. This was particularly significant because Flamboyant sought to cater to a broad group of women who fell under the categories of “Black,” “Migrant,” and “Refugee.” In so doing, their efforts went beyond a desire to be found.
Collectives can—as was the case with Flamboyant—exceed the purpose of “integration” and become obsolete for the nation-state. I situate the cutting of funding here as a direct response to Flamboyant becoming too visible and in this sense too “wild.” Alongside the notion of a completed and successful path to “emancipation,” we can thus read how political self-organization needed to be “tamed” by the Amsterdam municipality. And yet, Flamboyant’s story and the living archive that preserves its many parts continue to generate novel understandings of intimacy and collectivity that emerge from experiences of loss and dispossession. In Living a Feminist Life, Sara Ahmed (2017: 46) writes that “collectivity can become a direction: a clearing of the way as the way of many.” The metaphor of the flamboyant tree refusing to shrink is a proposition for a collective direction, a wildness that “interrupts the neat narratives of freedom and escape” (Halberstam and Nyong’o: 455). From the flamboyant tree’s embrace of death comes an enunciation of freedom. Death and dying here are the ultimate refusals of Dutch integration politics, an articulation of feminist and queer approaches to death, mourning, and dying that deliberately move away from Western exclusionary hierarchies within the politics of grieving (see Chen 2011; Butler 2016; Radomska, Mehrabi, and Lykke 2019).
The metaphor of the flamboyant tree’s orientation toward death offers a feminist and queer theoretical inquiry into the material realities of BMR women. Flamboyant had become a home for many BMR women and smaller collectives. Zenzele Isoke (2011: 188) theorizes homemaking as “a critical form of spatial praxis. It involves reconfiguring a hostile and deeply racialized landscape.” Flamboyant’s praxis of homemaking within the Amsterdam city center shows a rich tapestry of interactions and political actions that reconfigure race, gender, and sexuality outside the bounds of the nation-state. Yet much organizing was done with little to no financial compensation. After five years, many Flamboyant organizers described feeling burned out. While Flamboyant dissolved as a collective, a couple of women who had joined Flamboyant at a later stage set up an organization called ZAMI. Flamboyant’s documentation center and archive were no longer able to materialize on the same scale. What remains, in terms of documentation, are the newsletters, bibliographies, and other archival documents, part of the IAV Collection at Atria.
In 1995, Pattipilohy was asked by Atria to become involved with a project called “Information Service within the Field of Black and Migrant Women,” which had set itself the task of developing an anti-racist women’s thesaurus. In the concluding document of the project, the working group writes that “we need to look at racism within women’s information” (Van Groningen et al. 1995).7 The group concluded that the work that would go into this, alongside the setting up of new structures, was not about “marginal adjustments but a fundamental revision of the women’s thesaurus” (Van Groningen et al. 1995). The work and the report are jarring to read because Pattipilohy and other BMR women had long identified the lacunae in information gathering. Despite efforts to get funding to restructure the IAV collection this never quite materialized. Nevertheless, Flamboyant’s archival knowledge production is still very much alive albeit without a BMR institutional home. In this sense, these forms of knowledge still run “wild” and have not been contained by the archive.
Working with the Flamboyant materials as well as with geographic reflections on place begs the question of how mourning and wildness become bound up with affective sites. What becomes of a mournful archive? Flamboyant’s archival interventions obscure the boundaries between different stages of mourning. In using wildness as a mode of orientation, mourning takes on a new direction. “What is wildness for those who have been forcibly gathered under its sign?” (Halberstam and Nyong’o: 455). I return here to the flamboyant tree to bring together ideas on mourning and possibility as gathering. The imaginary of the flamboyant tree provides an important connection with the natural world. Flamboyant specifically references tropical trees or plants such as the ficus and hibiscus that have acclimatized to the Dutch climate. The taming of these trees or plants is juxtaposed to the untamable flamboyant tree. The declaration that “the Flamboyant has not been tamed and would prefer to die instead of shrinking in the Dutch living room” brings an alliance with nature to the fore. Yet this alliance is not premised on heteronormative assumptions of nature and embodiment, but on a diasporic feminist imaginary.
Flamboyant’s orientation toward death and dying is bound up with the Dutch racist climate. This became visible in Flamboyant’s organizational strategies as set out earlier. However, there is another important material element to climate in the Dutch context. About one-third of the country is actually below sea level, and the Netherlands is sinking. Water, in the Dutch empire, created a complex intimacy between metropole and colony. Moreover, water continues to inform constructs of white Dutch national identity and global entrepreneurship. While I will not be delving into the colonial and cultural significance of water in the Netherlands, I circle back to the watery spatiality of the Amsterdam city center. Diasporic feminist and queer regionality in Europe would benefit from a deeper engagement with how such sites cultivate a sense of place. This “sense of place” can be found in the spatiality of the city as well as the place of gathering that Flamboyant offered BMR women.
While the collective no longer occupies physical space in the Amsterdam city center, I explore how Flamboyant’s relationship with their environment might offer the potential to subvert what resides between mourning and possibility. Flamboyant’s refusal to be “tamed” and “shrink” did create loss, and subsequently mourning. But it also opens up a different possibility to understand the role of archives and space for feminists and queers of color. Flamboyant’s archives continue to energize important crosscurrents that saturate BMR feminism in relationship to diasporic feminisms across time and space.
Flamboyant offers alternative imaginaries to think through loss, mourning, and possibility. In using the flamboyant tree as a metaphor, a different kind of storytelling about the collective has become possible. Flamboyant’s “what’s in a name” mission statement describes a beautiful tree with wavering leaves that refuses to be tamed and would rather “die instead of shrinking in the Dutch living room.” By unsettling white normative understandings of order, spatiality, and knowledge production, Flamboyant’s organizational and archival politics break open how wildness can be used as an orientation. A close reading of Flamboyant’s strategic solidarity practices and knowledge production on archival inclusion, absence, and loss provides a rich history of feminist and queer collective struggles in the 1980s. Contributions of the Flamboyant collective speak to the need to theorize historical Black and migrant grassroots organizing in Europe, but also ask how we best tell these stories. Instead of a linear history of Flamboyant, I have centered the collective’s unruly politics and contributions that continue to inform the need for social change.
Flamboyant’s collective organizing shows that wildness within the tightly ordered Dutch nation-state must happen through everyday and ordinary interventions. Wildness becomes about the labor and tensions that are part of creating a framework for solidarity across BMR women while keeping difference at the fore. Organizing against forced pillarized assimilation is premised on the refusal to be domesticated within the Dutch living room. From workshops to conferences and parties, Flamboyant centered a feminist and queer transnational politics in the pursuit of navigating the colonial, social, and political inequities and violence underlying the Dutch commitment to liberal tolerance. Such an analysis allows us to go beyond narrow interpretations of loss and mourning. In the loss of Flamboyant as a nationwide BMR center also lies a possibility to theorize about what remains. Working with broader themes, untamable feminism and the refusal to shrink, allowed for deeper connections to emerge between organizational politics, racial structures, and systems of control embedded in Dutch society.
The branches of the flamboyant tree remain wild, untamable, holding out hope for futures yet unseen.
The author would like to thank Wigbertson Julian Isenia and Gianmaria Colpani for the invitation to present this work at the International Conference of Europeanists in 2018. Special thanks to Tiffany E. Barber and Anima Ajdepong for their generous feedback on earlier versions of this manuscript. Finally, thanks to the editors and the two anonymous reviewers whose insightful comments strengthened this essay, and my deepest gratitude to the Flamboyant collective—may you continue to bloom.
In the early stages of the BMR movement, women predominantly organized under the framework of political blackness. While political blackness was not widely adopted within the Dutch movement, it does beg the question of how racial solidarity and difference were conceptualized and theorized (see Frank 2019). For the BMR Movement, political blackness offered a framework to reject the forced depoliticization of postcolonial migrants and labor migrants. However, the framework of political blackness obscured the specificity of anti-Black racism within the Dutch colonial project and contemporary society. Recent debates on political blackness in the United Kingdom and in the Netherlands address the importance of centering anti-Blackness in solidarity models. Botman, Jouwe, and Wekker (2001) provide an insightful history of the politics of naming in the Netherlands within a transnational framework.
Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are my own. The epigraph is my translation of the most relevant parts of Flamboyant 1987b in English. The Dutch translation is included below. In Dutch, the Flamboyant collective uses the hij pronoun for the tree, which translates as “he.” I have kept the direct translation in English:
“What is in a name.” Flamboyant, heet ons centrum. Hoe we aan deze naam komen, wat het betekent, wordt ons steeds gevraagd. Daar gaat ie dan:
Flamboyant (van Dale): Vlammend.
Flamboyant: De mooiste bloeiende sierboom van de tropen.
Hij wordt ±20 meter hoog, hij heeft geveerde bladeren als een acacia en bloeit met grote trossen zeer mooie bloemen in de kleuren van een vlam die uiteenlopen van geel-oranje tot vuurrood. Als de boom bloeit lijkt het wel of de bloem in vuur en vlam staat vandaar ook zijn naam. Hij bloeit vaak 2x per jaar. Hij behoort tot de familie van de vlinderbloemige of luguminosae. Het is de spectaculairste boom van de tropen en wordt daar ook overall aangeplant.
In tegenstelling tot andere bomen/planten uit de tropen die inmiddels ook in Nederland als kamerplant bekend zijn geworden (de ficus, hibiscus etc.) heeft de Flamboyant zich niet laten temmen en gaat liever dood dan dat ze zich in de Hollandse huiskamer laat “verdwergen.”
Other BMR–led newsletters and periodicals include the Surinamese women’s paper Ashanti, the Surinamese gay paper SUHO, and Umoja.
BMR women were a relatively small group in the Netherlands, which heavily influenced the strategic organizational structure of the movement (See Deekman and Hermans 2001).
Informatie en Dokunmentatiecentrum voor Nederlandse Vrouwen (IDC), International Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis (IISG).
Bidoc brings the two Dutch words Bibliotheek (library) and documentatie (documentation) together.
“Naar een anti-racistische vrouwenthesaurus” (“Toward an Anti-racist Women’s Thesaurus”) was a brief written as a result of the women’s thesaurus subproject Project Informatieverzorging op het terrein van Zwarte en Migrantenvrouwen (“Project Information Service within the Field of Black and Migrant Women”).