Evelyn Groenink


Halloween seems a perfect time to scare the world with the Dutch tale of the bone snatcher. Dutch artist Tinkebell, previously known for provocative art that denounced battery farming, has taken to dead people as art material. Specifically, in this case, the victims of the textile building collapse disaster in Bangladesh last year. Tinkebell went to Dhaka, snatched some of these victims’ bones, successfully smuggled them into Holland and waved them around on Dutch TV. She is now invited by the NGO Wereldpodium (‘World stage’) to speak to an audience about her ‘saving the world’ efforts.  (I didn’t make it up. “Saving the world” is the title of the lecture.)

Tinkebell’s trip to Dhaka, I learned, -after I had stopped thinking that this was surely a bad joke and realised that it actually happened-, was part of a ‘Fair Textile’ project motivated by concern for the workers in the textile industry in that country. Sent there by ‘Fair Textile’, the artist had visited what was left of the building disaster rubble. Tragically, not all remains had been identified or buried. Many victims’ bodies were still missing and bones were still scattered among the rubbish. Relatives still visited the spot daily, mourning and looking to identify their loved ones. Tinkebell cried a little when she narrated the scenes on TV. She then went on to explain that a local woman, probably a relative of one of the victims, had approached her and put some bones in her, Tinkebells, hand.

“She clearly wanted me to do something”, Tinkebell told the TV anchor. What the woman had wanted precisely, Tinkebell did not know, she said. She thought it might have concerned help with identifying the bones, something that the government was dragging its feet on. What she most probably did not ask was for Tinkebell to take the bones to Tilburg.

It is illegal to walk the streets with human bones. This is pretty much a worldwide rule, based on public health concerns and on respect for human dignity. Both seem to be lacking in the person who is about to tell an audience in Tilburg how to save the world. The lecture, incidentally, is taking place on 2 November, the Halloween day commonly referred to as the Day of the Dead.