The Semini statue, incorporated above the entrance gate of Het Steen, is one of the oldest statues in Antwerp. It is a pagan symbol of fertility and prosperity that is an important part of the town's folklore. There is no certainty about the exact origin and meaning of the figurine, so that it has been subject to different interpretations over the centuries. For artist Sharon Van Overmeiren, this open history of the historical image was a grateful point of departure for the assignment to create a new work of art inspired by the Semini figure. The artist sees the different layers of meaning and interpretation around the image as the layers of the river bed, which are exposed and disappear again with the tides. The image that Van Overmeiren made was, as it were, fished out of the Scheldt soil: all layers of meaning from the past are attached to it.
Sharon Van Overmeiren, who herself grew up near Het Steen, brings together various historical and visual references in her new work in a unique sculpture. It was made in wrought iron, bronze and clay, materials that refer to the colors and textures of Het Steen itself. In her own visual language, the artist embraces the untamed energy that Semini evokes as a pre-Christian, erotically charged idol and channels it into an exuberant contemporary work of art.
The new work is titled De Gulle Waard/The Generous Gatekeeper. This innkeeper or host follows in the footsteps of folklore figures such as Lange Wapper and Druon Antigoon, the earlier inhabitants of Het Steen. The innkeeper is generous and welcomes visitors with a big smile and open arms.
The wrought iron pedestal on which the statue stands is like a cage with wavy bars. This is on the one hand a reference to the flowing river nearby – formerly and today the lifeline of the city – and on the other hand to the historical function of Het Steen as a prison. The fortress was also a safe depository for treasures and riches, and was a bastion of power and prosperity. This is portrayed by the artist in the form of jewels, a crown, chains, keys and locks, all contained within the bronze base of the statue. This profusion of “bling” is protected by dragons and snakes grinning (or is it laughing?) staring ahead. Van Overmeiren was inspired here by a historical interpretation of the original Semini figurine, in which the legs of the figurine were regarded as snakes.
The top, handcrafted in clay, takes the shape of the historic Semini figurine standing with legs and arms outstretched. By repeating this shape, a swinging upward movement is created that ends in two open arms. The figure welcomes visitors and the whole world to Het Steen and the city. This ceramic totem contains organic motifs of ears of corn, archaic symbols for fertility and prosperity, as well as hearts, symbolizing love and passion.
The statue was inaugurated on 24 September 2021, and commissioned by Visit Antwerp in collaboration with the Antwerp Public Art Collection.
About Sharon Van Overmeiren
Sharon Van Overmeiren (Antwerp, 1985) is a visual artist. In her work she freely combines forms and motifs drawn from diverse sources, from classical antiquity to pop culture and from medieval heraldry to pre-Columbian sculpture. This creates what Van Overmeiren calls 'fictional sculptures', figures whose story or identity can never be grasped in one go.