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Jan Banning was born in the Netherlands to parents from the Dutch East Indies. He studied social and economic history. The influence of these elements can be seen both in his choice of subjects and his overall artistic approach. The subjects Banning investigates generally have a dominant social content such as the consequences of war, (governmental) power, justice and injustice. For his projects he collaborates with various research institutes, including the Max Planck Institute, and travels all over the world. His ability to convey intimacy results in exceptional portraits.


Whilst “the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam is proud to have his series Traces of War and Comfort Women in its collection” (Wim Pijbes, General Director Rijksmuseum, 2008-2016), Bannings work has also been acquired by foreign museums such as the High Museum of Art, Atlanta and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.


Red Utopia. Communism 100 years after the Russian Revolution

Red Utopia will be a beautifully executed big format art photo book documenting communist parties and their iconography. 

For more than a century, communism was a source of inspiration for idealists and revolutionaries who sought a more just society. The struggle between communism and capitalism was a mayor theme in recent history, certainly between 1917 and 1989.

Red Utopia is a non-propagandistic search for what is left of

communism, 100 years after the Russian Revolution. The book will contain photos of interiors of communist party offices: “museums of a future from the past,” as one young Italian communist said. It also presents environmental portraits of officials and activists in five countries: India, Italy, Nepal, Portugal and Russia.

Order the book here.

Traces of War. Survivors of the Burma and Sumatra Railways

The 24 Dutch and Indonesian men in the book and exhibition “Traces of War” share the brutal World War II experience of working on the Burma or Sumatra (also called: Pakanbaroe or Pekan baru) Railroads, for which the Japanese used forced labor. Sixteen of them are former POWs, the other eight are former Indonesian romushas (civilian forced laborers). For the portraits, Banning took them back to the period of their slave labour: he photographed them the way they worked on the 

railroads; bare from the waist up.
In addition to taking their portraits, Banning interviewed the men about their experiences as forced laborers and how these experiences influenced the rest of their lives. Banning‘s grandfather survived the Burma Railroad, and his father, the Sumatra Railroad.

Law and Order. The world of criminal justice

Law and Order is an artistic interpretation of criminal justice in Colombia, France, Uganda and the United States. The book and photo series are the outcome of his research on the differences, both visual and intrinsic, between the legal systems in those countries. Jan Banning contrasts prisons and judicial institutions;

thereby highlighting the divergent ways in which societies cope with crime and the institutions they have created to combat it. The selection of countries was made in close collaboration with the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law in Freiburg, Germany.


The project Bureaucratics consists of a book and an exhibition with 70 photographs. It is a comparative photographic study of the culture, rituals and symbols of state civil administrations and  the civil servants who work in them. Selected on the basis of political, historical and cultural elements, Banning chose eight countries on five continents: Bolivia, China, France, India, Liberia, Russia, the United States, and Yemen.

In each country, Banning visited the offices of a vast range of members of the Executive in different services and at different levels. The visits were unannounced and the accompanying writer, Will Tinnemans, kept the employees from tidying up or clearing the office by interviewing them.

To view the complete series click here

Comfort Women / Troostmeisjes

The raping of women is a frequent and tragic by-product of war. During World War II, the Japanese military even set up a system for sex slavery where tens of thousands of Asian women in, so-called “comfort women”, were forced into prostitution in military brothels. Many girls were sexually abused on a nightly basis in railroad wagons, factory warehouses or at home. Most of these women have suffered physical and emotional consequences ever since. Jan Banning and writer Hilde Janssen visited Indonesian women who were victims of forced sexual labour during the war.

In this series eighteen women break the persistent taboo on this issue, and paint a picture of the awful hidden history.


The photo series Comfort Women is part of the permanent collection of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.


The corresponding documentary Omdat wij mooi waren, Indonesische Troostmeisjes (Indonesian Comfort Women). By Frank van Osch, Hilde Janssen, Jan Banning, 2010.

National Identities

Xenophobia, and especially islamophobia, is on the rise in many European countries. In my native Netherlands, as well as in Italy, Austria, Denmark and Hungary for example, anti-immigration parties are involved in the national governments. In others such as France, Sweden, Poland and the Czech Republic, similar parties are represented in national parliaments. These anti-immigration parties have thrived on resentment, anti-globalism, rising inequalities, the economic crisis and the resulting uncertainties, and are scapegoating non-western immigrants.

Given these circumstances, I feel it is important to take a stand on these developments in European society, and mobilize against intolerance and narrow-mindedness. In this series (“National Identities”), based on national cultural symbols, I give immigrants a main role by using them as models in my photographic variations on classic iconic paintings. By doing this, I question the concept of homogeneous “national identities” of European countries.

The Party for Freedom (PVV) here in the Netherlands, with its political leader Geert Wilders, demands strict measures against immigrants: itself sheltering criminals among its parliamentarians, it presents them as a safety risk for “ordinary Dutch citizens”. It demands that foreigners, especially if they are “non-white,” should assimilate and adapt to Dutch culture at break-neck speed, or else pack up and leave.

But what is this supposedly monolithic and static national culture, in Holland and elsewhere? Migration is not a new phenomenon and often, immigrants have played an influential and constructive role in different sectors of society, such as economics and culture.


The 17th century was economically and culturally Holland’s Golden Age.  The percentage of immigrants in the Netherlands was about the same as it is now.  One quarter to one half of all the sailors, soldiers and other employees of the Dutch colonial VOC (East-Indies Trading Company) fleet were from foreign countries. Many of the “Dutch” national figures or their offspring were immigrants themselves: philosophers Descartes (France) and Spinoza (Portugal), the great writer Joost van den Vondel (present-day Germany), painters such as Frans Hals and Gerard de Lairesse (Flanders), Govert Flinck and Caspar Netscher (Germany).  These men are all considered protagonists of Dutch national culture. Many of the people in the parliament/government now who are concerned with the cultural assimilation of immigrants are they themselves descendants of immigrated foreigners.

Cyprus: The Green Line


A buffer zone in Cyprus was first established in 1964. The UN sent peace keepers to prevent a recurrence of fighting, following intercommunal violence between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots that had flared up in December 1963.

After a Greek Cypriot coup d’état and a Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, the United Nations Security Council extended and expanded the mission, and a 180 km long (and up tp 7.4 km wide) demilitarized and depopulated Buffer Zone was established: this “Green Line” de facto splits the island in two. The UN mission in Cyprus, UNFICYP, – keeping peace, patrolling the buffer zone etc. – is the UN’s cheapest and costs some EUR 50 million a year.

This “Green Line” cuts right through the centre of the old town of Nicosia. In some parts, it is only one street (3.3 meters) wide. Outside of the capital, there are several deserted villages in the buffer zone. Nicosia’s international airport also lies in the Buffer Zone: its brand new terminal was opened in 1968, but since 1974 it has only been used by pigeons.

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