Melanie Bonajo

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Melanie Bonajo (born 13 November 1978) is a Dutch artist working with film, performance, installations, music, event organizing, and photography. Her works address themes of eroding intimacy and isolation in an increasingly sterile, technological world.[1] Her experimental documentaries often explore communities living or working on the margins of society, either through illegal means or cultural exclusion. In addition to her art practice, Bonajo is a certified Sexological Bodyworker, Somatic Sex Coach and Educator, International Cuddle Workshop Facilitator, and animal activist. Her work has been exhibited and screened internationally, from the Tate Modern, MoMA PS1, to De Appel Arts Centre and Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam to Manifesta 12, the Gwanjou Biennale, the Center for Contemporary Art, Warsaw, the Kunsthalle Basel, International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), the Berlinale, the International Film Festival Rotterdam, and Treefort Film Fest.[2]

Notable work[edit]

Bonajo's film series Night Soil is a trio of experimental documentaries about modern approaches to nature and the cultural implications of acting against capitalism. The first in the series, Night Soil - Fake Paradise, is about psychedelic plant medication, human-plant conversations and how ancient rituals of indigenous descent can be translated to urban environments. The video pays close attention to the female voice, which has traditionally been neglected in psychedelic research.[3] In the sequel, Night Soil - Economy of Love, a womxn’s activist movement approaches sex work as a way for femmes to reclaim their power in a male-dominated pleasure zone. Their emphasis is on nurturing, educating and empowering both sexes around the power that lays within the femxle orgasm. The third film, "Night Soil - Nocturnal Gardening," considers how communities come together through alternative and pre-colonial uses of land. Structured around four central storylines, the video explores indigenous land rights, off-the-grid subsistence, racism and injustice in the food system and the consequences of consumer behaviour on farm animals centering femxle activists. Progress vs. Regress, which premiered at Hacking Habitat, is the first in a trilogy that questions how technology has changed social relationships through the eyes of centenarians in the Netherlands.[4] This film was also selected for IDFA (International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam) 2016.[5] The film Progress vs Sunsets (2017) examines extinction or the endangerment of vulnerable groups through techno-capital development, but also extinction in an abstract sense, such as that of feelings and thoughts. Through the eyes and voices of children, the film illustrates the complicated issues around animal rights, bio-politics, dwindling resources, ecology, anthropomorphism in which Nature, as the ultimate “other” is seen as a utilitarian object outside of ourselves, and the implications these ethics have on human desires, emotions, emotiveness and sentimentality towards ‘the others”. Bonajo’s most recent film TouchMETell (2019) initiates a discussion with children about boundaries, gender roles, physical autonomy and intimacy and the lack of physical contact in this digital age, where we seem to have forgotten the language of our bodies.[6]


Bonajo's Furniture Bondage photography series pairs domestic tools with the naked female body.[7] In 2012 she initiated Genital International, a feminist performance collective event about participation and equality. Bonajo's photography series and music video work Pee on Presidents is often tied to the recent anti-censorship and sex-positive branches of the feminist movement for its endorsement of female body agency in public environments, resulting in a provocation of censorship laws in the media.[8]

Music and Performance[edit]

Bonajo has performed internationally at venues such as Paradiso in Amsterdam, Baby's Alright in NYC and Collège des Bernardins in Paris alongside artists such as Kembra Pfahler and Bianca Cassidy of CocoRosie.[9] Her band, ZaZaZoZo,[10] is a music project with Joseph Marzolla known for its spacatronic folk sound and animalistic influence.[11] All their music is produced by Bonajo's brother Tommie Bonajo at his Tomster studios. They released their debut album INUA in spring 2013 by Tsunami Addiction. More recently Bonajo collaborated with Michael Behari to create a vinyl record entitled Single Mother Songs on the End of Nature, published by Bonnefanten Museum. Boundary Boss[12] by Bonajo, Splitter Splatter and Friends is the follow up, released in 2020, and addresses children on having ownership over their personal boundaries for a healthy solid sense of self and self-esteem in a post #metoo movement era.


Bonajo released her first major publication since Spheres[13] in December 2015 Matrix Botanica Nonhuman Persons designed by Experimental Jetset,[14] which explores the ways we experience nature through representations on the internet, via YouTube and blogs posting adorable, funny or adorably sad amateur videos and photographs of nonhuman animals. This publication delves into the ways nature education has changed over the years and integrates the voices of animal behavior scientists rather than a National Geographic perspective.[15]

In 2020 Bonajo was selected to represent The Netherlands at the 59th Venice Biennale, 2022. She will be working with a curatorial team consisting of Maaike Gouwenberg, Geir Haraldseth and Soraya Pol. The work will be presented at the Chiesetta della Misericordia in the Cannaregio neighbourhood in Venice.

Selected works[edit]



  • 2018 Melanie Bonajo - Single Mother Songs from the End of Nature, with Michael Beharie
  • 2016 Matrix Botanica - How to Escape from an Elderly Home Method 2016, with Tommie Bonajo
  • 2014 ZaZaZoZo - Woke up as a Wolf
  • 2013 ZaZaZoZo - Inua (Tsunami Addiction)


Events and Curatorial[edit]

Solo Shows[edit]

Group Shows[edit]


  • 2020 Awarded the Dutch Pavilion at the 59th Venice Biennale
  • 2019 Prix Pictet (nominee)
  • 2018 Amsterdamprijs voor de Kunst (nominee)
  • 2018 Nam June Paik Award (nominee)
  • 2017 Prix de Rome (nominee)
  • 2017 Campaign Artist for Amsterdam Unseen
  • 2016 Shortlisted for the Dutch Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale
  • 2016 IFFR Tiger Award for short films
  • 2015 IFFR Tiger Award for short films (nominee)
  • 2014 IFFR Tiger Award for short films (nominee)
  • 2013 MK Award
  • 2011 C.o.C.a (nominee)
  • 2009 Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, Peter Paul Peterich Fonds
  • 2009 Festival Internationale de la Mode et Photographie
  • 2007 PUP Award
  • 2006 Berlinale Talent Campus

Education and Residencies[edit]

  • 2020 International Cuddle Workshop Facilitator
  • 2019 Somatic Sex Coach and Educator
  • 2014 The International Studio & Curatorial Program, New York, USA
  • 2009-2010 Rijksakademie voor Beeldende Kunst, Amsterdam, NL


  1. ^ Frank, Priscilla. "Meet The High Priestess Of The Anti-Selfie, Dutch Artist Melanie Bonajo", "Huffington Post", 2 November 2015. Retrieved on 7 April 2016.
  2. ^ "Isa Genzken Door De Ogen Van Melanie Bonajo - Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam." 1 January 2016. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  3. ^ Yoshimura, Courtney. "Melanie Bonajo Speaks about Her New Video at the De Appel Arts Centre" "ArtForum", 8 October 2014. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  4. ^ Hacking Habitat (2016). "Melanie Bonajo". Retrieved September 18, 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-11-07. Retrieved 2016-11-07. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link) CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^
  7. ^ "AVANTGARDE PORTFOLIO SHOWCASE | MELANIE BONAJO | GALLERY" Archived 2016-05-14 at the Wayback Machine, "Lightra", Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  8. ^ Frank, Priscilla. "15 Feminist Artists Respond To The Censorship Of Women’s Bodies Online", "The Huffington Post", 13 April 2015. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  9. ^ Bonajo, Melanie. "MELANIE MEETS BIANCA CASADY" Archived 2017-11-07 at the Wayback Machine 28 July 2014. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  10. ^ "ZaZaZoZo". Retrieved 2017-05-16.
  11. ^ Bonajo, Melanie. "Kim Hiorthøy by Melanie Bonajo", "BOMB Magazine", 29 October 2014. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Spheres #1 – Melanie Bonajo / In what spheres do we live in?". motto distribution. Retrieved 18 September 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  14. ^ "This was 2015". experimental jetset. Retrieved 18 September 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  15. ^ "Matrix Botanica—Non-Human Persons". Capricious. Capricious Publishing. Retrieved 18 September 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  16. ^ "Preview On Earth". Issuu. Retrieved 18 September 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  17. ^ Julia Kahl. "Spheres #1 – Melanie Bonajo / In what spheres do we live?". Slanted. Retrieved 2012-09-21. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  18. ^
  19. ^ "Melanie Bonajo: Night Soil in Foam Amsterdam". Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam. Retrieved 2017-05-16.

External links[edit]