In Semiramis’ Peace we meet Semiramis Öner-Mühürdaroglu, who came to the Netherlands in 1984 as a political refugee. She currently works on an impressive painting that portrays the Treaty of Utrecht. Three hundred years ago, twenty-one diplomats gathered together with one objective: peace.
Semiramis grew up in Ankara, Turkey, where she was born in 1956. Her family lived above her father’s pharmacy. Her father’s laboratory with its colored glass bottles became a source of inspiration. She started to paint when she was five years old, with help of her older brother. Yet, she couldn’t escape from her fascination for chemicals either and graduated to become a chemical engineer. After that she did a post-doc in pedagogy. Her knowledge of chemistry led her to research into old recipes for paint making. The transparent colors she uses, put on the canvas layer over layer, create a fairytale-like dimension.
As a refugee, she had to leave everything behind. In the Netherlands, she looked for things that would resemble memories of her youth. On a flea market she found a set of crockery like her mother used to have. A bowl identical to the one she had known back home, exactly like the one her father brought to her from Turkey later on. The two identical pieces of ceramic, which she placed in her studio, symbolize to her that wherever you are, there is always something familiar. In diversity you can still find similarities. Semiramis always searched for resemblance, and found it. Her enormous painting of the Treaty of Utrecht is a good example: she painted twenty-one diplomats from different countries who gathered together to establish peace.
The Treaty was signed in Utrecht in 1713 in order to end war in Europe. In 2013 Utrecht celebrates the Treaty’s 300-year anniversary and Semiramis got an assignment to capture the Treaty in a painting. It portrays not only the diplomats, but also a woman that personifies Utrecht and three other women who symbolize peace, justice and art. By putting women, and even a child, in the painting, Semiramis creates spectators to identify with imagery of the painting. She researched the beginning of the 18th century in order to get an idea of how people lived back then, what objects they used, what clothes they wore. It turned out that the 18th century turned out to be hardly documented, but with help from the Central Museum she was able to obtain some information. Yet, it is impossible to create a perfectly historically correct image 300 years later, it will always be an estimation. New information can later on always change ones perspective on the situation back then. Slowly but steadily Semiramis obtained enough information to start painting, also from religious sources, as a French cardinal and a Brittish bishop had been part of the Treaty’s delegation. In Brussels she finally found the right costumes, which served as models for her painting.
The vanishing point on the painting is a globe with Utrecht in front of it. The diplomats and other persons stand next to a long table around the globe. World peace is symbolized by attributes from different countries and cultures on, and around, the table. Semiramis doesn’t force her symbolism on the spectator, but leaves room for one’s own interpretation. Diplomat Van Renswoude, who represented Utrecht, was a known homosexual.
Utrecht was quite conservative at the time and practicing homosexuality was a criminal offence. Most of the other diplomats, who where from the Southern countries, brought along a relatively more relaxed view on these matters and during the two year of negotiating the Treaty Utrecht became slightly more tolerant. However, after the diplomats left, things became as they had been before and Van Renswoude fled the country. Semiramis: “I tried to get knowledge on the inner world of each diplomat in order to accurately portray them and bring them to live for the spectator”.