Juan, opening a studio to 'new' Rotterdammers

By Niki Sluijter
Photograph by Justice and Peace

Juan Heinson Huala fled from Chile almost forty years ago and now works as an artist in Rotterdam. Justice and Peace got to know him as he was one of the driving forces behind the Welkom Hier festival in Rotterdam (January 2018).

On top of being committed to many local art and culture activities for refugees and with refugees, Juan works with new Rotterdammers every day in his studio in the Delfshaven district. The long, paint-splashed work table immediately gives an impression of openness. This is where Juan’s students work, surrounded by all kinds of colourful paintings. “We do not teach. We give space for you to develop yourself, starting from who you are, from the first line that you can draw.”

For Juan, art is more than a lesson about drawing or painting. Through art, he hopes to teach children and adults to develop an attitude to push their ideas to their fulfilment into an ‘end product’. A philosophy that his students also use outside the studio. “’Think, plan, execute and then you have an end product. You can do it!’ They especially realise that when we organise a presentation or an exhibition, then the students see what they have achieved.”

“We see that their confidence in their own abilities, the fact that they develop something, brings so much good. We see that after a while the students dare to do things themselves and believe more in themselves. This is what we encourage, that they believe in their own capacities”

– Juan Huala Heinsohn, painter.

With activities such as the Welkom Hier festival in Rotterdam, Juan hopes to encourage ‘old’ and ‘new’ Rotterdammers to embrace the individual and collective power of art and culture at the local level. “I would like all cultures in Rotterdam to get a good podium.”

Juan hopes to realise more art and culture projects with refugees in a strong, supportive Rotterdam in the future, as a volunteer for VluchtelingenWerk and Rotterdam Verwelkomt Vluchtelingen, two organisations that provide support to newcomers. “I think it’s very important to reflect on the fact that we get people with lots of great talents, people who do not want to sit at home, but want to do business. Young people who want to study and complete studies that they started in their own country. We must show that refugees do not fit the image that the media likes to sell. In this sense, the Welcome Hier festival, which has attracted more than 1000 visitors, is a very positive message.

Juan closes the interview on an inspiring note. “Do not be afraid, you have great possibilities in yourself to discover everything, much more than you had thought. Find opportunities and enjoy. Talk to each other, search together for the best solution. Listening to each other is really important. And look for help now and again, because that help can be found!”

Do you want to know what you can do for and with refugees in your region? Take a look at www.welkomhier.nl

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