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Jennifer Tee, ‘Tulip Palepai, navigating the river of the world’, 2017

Central Station | World

The Central Station metro station is located under the 1889 railway station building of Cuypers and Van Gendt. Cuypers designed the station building as an inviting city gate for the traveller, and it continues to serve that function today. Not only do 16 million day-trippers and commuters pass through this ‘city gate’ every year; each year 4.5 million tourists also come in from Schiphol airport or by international trains. Eighty thousand people use the metro station every day. The arrival of the North/South line means that the station no longer turns its back towards the IJ, but opens itself to the northern part of the city. On the side of the station facing the city centre, the original idea of the city gate is restored by giving pedestrians ample space and escorting them towards the centre via the ‘Red Carpet’ route.

The national icon that Cuypers designed and whose façade features allegories for Amsterdam as an international trade, shipping and industrial city demanded a contemporary counterpart in the underground metro station. A pendant that echoes the international mix of visitors and residents; Amsterdam in the light of the world. Central Station offered space for two art commissions: one in the concourse-hall, which provides access to the railway station, the East line and the North/South line, and one in the central hall of the North/South line. The two art locations are exactly above each other and exactly under Cuypers’ façade.


The collage is being meticulously assembled | Photo: Jorrit ’t Hoen

Trading history

The assignment for the concourse-hall was to design a narrative band as a contemporary, global counterpart to Cuypers’ decorative programme. Jennifer Tee (Arnhem, NL, 1973) was selected to carry out her design. She proposed making a collage out of dried tulip petals. In her design two elements come together: the tulip, the world-famous Dutch icon, and the palepai, large woven ship cloths from the south of Sumatra with a representation of a ship.

The Sumatran palepai testify to a long and rich trading history with the Dutch, Chinese, Javanese, Arabs and Portuguese. The main motif is that of a ship full of human figures, animals and a mast that becomes a tree of life. The images symbolized a transition to new lives or to the afterlife. In marriages cloths from two different families were brought together. Tee designed two palepai, one for each side of the entrance to the railway station. The ships contain symbols and elements from (recent) Amsterdam history: historical lanterns of the Damrak, the North/South line as a life line, the Amsterdam lion.

100,000 tulip petals

After working out the design drawings, Tee began experimenting with the picking and drying of tulip petals. She visited the Hortus Bulborum to get a good picture of the diversity in shape, colour and size of the tulip, and made test collages with dried petals to see how long they would hold their colour. At the same time she started an investigation into how to digitally record and translate the drawing into the intended material: glass.

After the research phase, the actual collages consisting of 100,000 tulip petals were precisely assembled by a team of assistants. The originals were scanned with all their minute details retained, and, before their colour faded, they were exhibited in the Rijksmuseum. The scans were prepared tile by tile to be printed on a foil, placed between layers of glass and mounted.


Jennifer Tee during the presentation of her original work at the Rijksmuseum | Photo: Jorrit ‘t Hoen

About the artist

Tee is the daughter of a Dutch-English mother and a Chinese father, who was born in Indonesia. Ships play a major role in her personal history. In 1950, the first ship brought her father together with his parents and sister from Indonesia to the Netherlands. The second ship brought her maternal grandfather annually to and from America for his company Leen van der Mey & Son, which traded in flowers and bulbs from Lisse.

In her work Tee explores the variability and complexity of existence, in which cultures constantly overlap. The forms she employs to express these ideas range from sculpture, installations and performances to photography and collages. Tee has participated in the Manifesta in Zurich (2016) and the Bienal de Sao Paulo (2004) and she won the sixth Cobra Art Prize in 2016. In 2018 she will create an artwork for the Vredenburgplein in Utrecht.

About the work

Title: ‘Tulip Palepai, navigating the river of the world’ | Opening: 15 December 2017. | Material: scan of a collage of dried tulip petals, mounted between glass. | Measurement: two panels, each circa 3 x 9 m.