HENK, A COLORFUL FASHION PORTRAIT OF FATHERHOOD AND integration
Numéro had the honor of meeting with Lisa Konno (fashion designer) and Sarah Blok (writer/director), two friends who united their passions and skills to create a trilogy of three films accompanied by three fashion collections. They started with the films NOBU and BABA and they will now conclude their trilogy with the film HENK. The films are colorful portraits of fathers who migrated from various countries, revealing their unique journeys. They utilized fashion as a way of capturing a person’s story and individuality via clothing and gave it an extra layer via film.
We talked about how fashion shapes identity and sparks dialogue and how their perception of migration changed while making the films.
How did your friendship evolve into a collaboration? How did you influence each other, and what did you learn in the process together?
We have been friends for over 15 years, but we only started working together after finishing different art schools. Lisa studied fashion at ArtEZ, and Sarah theater writing at HKU. Our collaboration started with the need to make something interdisciplinary. And Nobu, the father of Lisa was whom the trilogy started. We tried to capture the complexity of migration, without losing the light-footed tone that suits Nobu. After making this first film we decided upon the fact that we wanted to make a series of 3. With our different expertise, we both have different ways of handling narratives. Fashion can sometimes be seen as an unapproachable art discipline but via film, we tried opening the dialogue and creating stories that are a hybrid of fiction and nonfiction. Together we learned that it is good to stand behind your ideas and listen to your gut feeling.
What made Lisa decide to compliment her fashion collections with film? What else can film convey that the collections alone couldn’t?
There is a limit to what a fashion collection can say, it can be viewed as abstract, something purely visual. That was the start of the conversation with Sarah, I was frustrated as to what point a fashion collection could say something to the main public. Fashion can be viewed as inaccessible. People will say “I am not into fashion” But you don’t hear people say, “I am not into music” or “I am not into movies” They will specify which kind of music or films they are interested in, whereas fashion is generalized more and seen as one abstract thing.
For some people, fashion is less accessible. If they see something crazy people wonder; “what is this supposed to tell me?” They find it hard to read. Film is a nice way to give it an extra layer. To have a more accessible form of narrative in there because I can add symbols to my collections, but then there is always the need for words and information that people can read, within a movie you can have a dialogue that can provide the viewer with this new kind of understanding.
Besides the medium of film, are there any others you would like to add?
For now, we are not making any more films. In the future, I would like to keep adding more disciplines to my collections because I like the way how you can morph what fashion means in this way. It can be so much more than just a piece of clothing it can have different forms and collaborations.
What moved you to tell the stories of fathers who migrated, and did making the films change your perception of migration?
We always knew Nobu and Baba as joyful, cheerful people who didn’t view their migration to be an issue. However, as we were telling their stories, we discovered that there is an inevitable fragmented feeling, a certain displacement. Perhaps the simplest way to explain it is as an unavoidable homesickness sensation. This is something that not only the fathers but also their children, carry with them. This emotion is not just melancholy, but it can also be considered enlightening. What surprised us was the degree to which people who move from diverse countries and cultures have similarities. The underlying feeling appears to be universal, regardless of where you migrate from. The subject is difficult to grasp, which is why we were drawn to it.
The series began with NOBU, which starred Lisa’s father, and continued with BABA, which portrayed your friend’s father. What did you keep in mind when selecting the last father to finish the trilogy with? How did the search for HENK differ from the others?
Because we wanted the third person to fit the tone of NOBU and BABA we had to interview a lot of different fathers. The search was difficult, especially because of the lockdown. We spoke to many different fathers, but it is hard to grasp why someone is good on camera and how their story would fit the series. Some stories were too heavy, some fathers wanted to have too much grip on how the story would be told, and others maybe did not want it in the end. So the search was very long.
How do you think fashion helps people to express their culture and keep it alive in a different country?
It can help a lot. Sometimes when people move to a different country, they even express themselves more in traditional clothing. It can become this moment where they are very recognizable to be from this specific culture. It shapes identity, allows people to identify with one another on the street, and can spark dialogues. When Henk was wearing the coat with the Surinamese “buttons” or “matten klopper” symbols on there which represent the iconic Surinamese symbol, other people on the street reacted to it. They would be like “hey man, I know/see you”, which creates some sort of a bond through clothing.
How does the collection that is made for HENK differ from the others? Are there any design details that are especially for him? And is there something through all 3 collections that connects the collections together somehow?
What ties all the collections together are the shapes and colors. The collections are odes to the fathers. The big silhouettes and emperor-like coats elevate the fathers into the kings of their own stories. Since every story is unique in its own way, each collection has its own symbolism and personalized details. For HENK, the ‘matten klopper’, or check patterns, are made of a scan from a tea towel that represents him as a father and a concierge, but the check is also very important in KOTO, Surinamese traditional clothing. Another detail that stands out is the keys which represent his work as a concierge at the Rietveld Academy. To collection consists of many layers which represent his life.
Is there something about HENK that influenced or inspired you, and in what way?
Henk showed us that you don’t have to prove yourself to everyone. Slowing down and allowing space in your head is something he lives by. During the release of our film and while being busy with a lot of projects, his mindset is something that we want to learn from. In this society, you can easily let the pressure of accomplishments and acknowledgments take over. Henk does not care about that, he showed us that there should be space and energy to be a good friend (a good dad) and to be a nice person. This has inspired us.
“With the film, HENK Lisa Konno and Sarah Blok have sketched a colorful portrait of the inspiring Henk. In the 1970s Henk Shakison left Suriname as a teenager with his mother and sisters for the Netherlands. In his younger years, he made music, danced at a high level, and roller-skated his legs off. But you won’t hear him talk about that anymore.
Henk’s opinion cannot be pigeonholed. His disinterest in getting recognition makes him an exception in these times, especially at an art academy where students strive to be seen. Nor do Henk’s optimism and seeming invulnerability stem from a “wonderful Dutch society without racism,” but primarily from his own resilience. Through his life story and his light, sometimes contrary attitude towards the multicultural world we live in, we discover his original view on themes such as migration, fatherhood, and happiness. We show ‘normal’ people in our films and reveal the extraordinary stories that lie behind these fathers.” – official press release.
The film HENK will air tonight, April 19th on Nederland 2 VPRO at 23:15.
The film will also be available to watch online via this link: https://www.2doc.nl/documentaires/series/2doc/kort/2022/henk.html
If you want to see the previous documentaries NOBU & BABA you can watch them here: https://vimeo.com/sarahblok
Interview & words by Aïcha Pilmeyer