Newspaper photo of a foiled suicide attempt from the Meinbert Gozewijn van Soest collection. © Bernie Orham, Tampa Bay Times, 1964 Newspaper photo of a foiled suicide attempt from the Meinbert Gozewijn van Soest collection. © Bernie Orham, Tampa Bay Times, 1964

Tot Zover

The Birdcatcher. Image essays on suicide and prevention

It is an uncomfortable reality that in the Netherlands an average of five people commit suicide every day. A reality that doesn't have to be so. The Bird Catcher is a wake-up call for the rising number of suicides. With work by Jasper Bruijns, Gert Jochems, David van Reybrouck, Richard Sluijs and Meinbert Gozewijn van Soest.

This art exhibition contributed to breaking the taboos surrounding suicide and communicating the hopeful message: 'Talking about it helps'.

Minister of Health, Welfare, and Sport, Edith Schippers opened the exhibition. In her opening speech, she awarded 3.2 million euros for suicide prevention.


The Papageno effect

The exhibition refers to the bird catcher Papageno, a character from Mozart's opera Die Zauberflöte. When Papageno is about to end his life, three boys pass by, they talk to him, and offer different perspectives than death. Papageno decides to live on. Every year, 95,000 suicidal Dutch people experience the same as Papageno, they are helped by doctors, rescue workers, but especially by human communication. For example, helpline 113Online, with a listening ear and understanding forms a safety net through which negative thought patterns are broken over time.

Media and Hope

The media can also change people's minds by giving hopeful reports about suicide. For example, by not glorifying suicide and by not describing sensational details. This prevents imitation behavior and encourages people to seek help earlier. This preventive communication is known in technical terms as the Papageno effect. The Bird Catcher was a media vehicle with the Papageno effect as its main purpose; by making hopeful communication people choose for life.


Five Presentations

The exhibition consisted of five presentations by resp. artist Meinbert Gozewijn van Soest, designer Richrad Sluijs, filmmaker Jasper Bruijns, Photographer Gert Jochems and author David van Reybrouck.

Life Extension Support

The gripping photo collection 'Life Extension Support' by artist Meinbert Gozewijn van Soest shows people who were saved from their attempted suicide. The American press photos were published in newspapers between 1930 and 1980. Whether they were made public from a preventive point of view at the time is doubtful. In those days the media was not yet aware of imitation behavior, a disastrous effect of sensational reporting. But from their original context, the photos speak for themselves: people receive each other, sometimes literally in safety nets, often through loving communication.

Wall of Shame

Designer Richard Sluijs found more than 300 suicides as a result of the economic crisis in national and international newspapers, blogs and digital articles. Sluijs described them in black-rimmed prayer cards. In the confrontational monument Wall of Shame, based on the book The Complete Lexicon of Crisis Related Suicides 2008-2013 / Vol.1, he sheds light on the individual suffering behind these suicides. Knowing that the suicides were reported sparingly, the 300 cases described are just the tip of the iceberg.


Suicide Cemetery

In 2014, Belgium extensively discussed the centenary "anniversary" of the First World War. On the night of October 2nd, activists placed 400 white gravestones in a meadow in West Flanders. Local residents found a letter on the doormat: “Since tonight, the Westhoek has gained a war cemetery. Not of the Great War, but of the silent war. Since 2000, more than 400 people under the age of 30 committed suicide in West Flanders. "The media reported on this protest action extensively. The gravestones symbolize the tragedy of a country that ranks third in the European suicide rankings. Photographer Gert Jochems made a nocturnal photo of the monument.


Writer David Van Reybrouck also responded to the memorial industry surrounding the First World War. “Perhaps the suicide taboo is a useful trick to keep the illusion of a normal society intact, so as not to see the madness of the present. It is much easier to honor the victims of the past than the dead of today, ”says Van Reybrouck.


Michaël, 19th July 2009, 22 years old

"I still texted: What time are you coming? I made asparagus soup. "

"Why did your son die so young? Was he involved in an accident? Yes, I say out of discomfort, he died in an accident. In his head, I think then. "

"He weighed 4 kilos 300 at birth. They put it directly on me. He still had such a wet nose. "

"When I ride the bike, when I get to the top of a slope, somewhere in the middle of the fields, when there is such a cloud sometimes, such a strange cloud with the sun behind it, I want to be very loud call my name, then I call his name, very loudly, in the middle of the fields. "

"I will continue to have six children. Why would I suddenly say that I only have five? It's like a pie in six pieces, only one piece seems to be gone now… "

"I can still see him riding away with his bicycle."

"I would have liked to help him so much. Sometimes you would feel your heart sink into your body because it weighs so much. Processing? Well. You process waste, don't worry. ”

"I would like to pull it away and stand on those tracks myself."

Dikkebus, 10th March 2014


Good Night

Jasper Bruijns' short film focuses on an urgent social problem: loneliness. Still images of an abandoned apartment and a sleeping city draw attention to the voice of Gerard, a volunteer of the Sensoor helpline. He listens patiently and speaks comforting words so that the lonely callers can sleep. After several phone calls, a lady calls. She appears hopelessly alone, deeply unhappy and suicidal. Good Night illuminates the beauty of human communication.


In response to the The Bird Catcher exhibition, Museum Tot Zover is organizing a peripheral program for exchanging and deepening knowledge in September and October, in collaboration with the Funeraire Academy. Because communication is a spearhead of the exhibition. Every suicide or suicide attempt has stories and its stakeholders are diverse.


The fringe program consists of:

  • 17th September 2015, workshop Funeral Providers and suicide
  • 28th September 2015, Literary evening with Joost Zwagerman and David van Reybrouck
  • 4th October 2015, Documentary evening Strohalm and discussion