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Melanie Bonajo

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Melanie Bonajo
Born (1978-11-13) 13 November 1978 (age 45)
Heerlen, Netherlands

Melanie Bonajo (they/them) is a queer, non-binary, Dutch artist, filmmaker, feminist, sexological bodyworker, somatic sex coach and educator, cuddle workshop facilitator and animal rights activist. Through their videos, performances, photographs and installations, Mel examines current conundrums of co-existence in a crippling capitalistic systems, and address themes of eroding intimacy and isolation in an increasingly sterile, technological world.[1]

They research how technological advances and commodity based pleasures increase feelings of alienation, removing a sense of belonging in an individual, and their works present anti-capitalist methods to reconnect, explore sexualities, intimacies and feelings. Their experimental documentaries often explore communities living or working on the margins of society, either through illegal means or cultural exclusion, and the paradoxes inherent to ideas of comfort with a strong sense for community, equality, and body-politics. Their 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 women'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 all sexes around the power that lays within the female 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 female 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]

Feminism and activism[edit]

Bonajo's Furniture Bondage photography series pairs domestic tools with the naked female body.[7] In 2012 they 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]

As a psychedelic eco-feminist using technology, Bonajo's activism extends into our relationship with the natural world, using gender as a lens to engage with ecology, spirituality and the body politic. Increasingly it is addressed towards nature and the rights of non-human persons, as manifested in the Matrix Botanica — Non-Human Persons publication, and Matrix Botanica — Biosphere above Nations (2013) film.[9] This performance and film explores the absurd construction of placing human identity “outside” nature. This work re-shapes contemporary human/plant/animal rituals in a desacralized global society, and examines remaking relations with nature on the basis of recognising them not as “things” but as creative, self-directed, originative others. In addition to the film, they also shows how the symbol of nature and animal has drastically changed over the years in a publication entitled Matrix Botanica. This revised version of the magazine makes visible the way our relationship to nature has changed through the popularization of amateur-nature photography on the internet.

Embodiment and sexuality[edit]

Bonajo is a certified Somatic Sex Coach and International Cuddle Workshop Facilitator. Their work is based on the principle that when we expand our pleasure ceiling by practicing knowledge around our own body's needs and boundaries, increase sensitivity through presence and cultivate new language, we also create more nuance, depth and safety in our relationship with others. Touch is their anti-capitalist medication to re-negotiate intimacy and body connections in a safe(r) space to counter the epidemic of loneliness and the erosion of our feelings. This is apparent in Skinship_, a touch-based place for kinship_, initiated by Mel. It is a collective run queer/trans/non-binary/genderfluids/agenders/genderexpansive and femme centering space restructuring and re-prioritizing the body as a vehicle for connection and safety, cultivating touch, pleasure, sexuality, playfulness, consent, boundaries and friendship as a form of activism. In 2020, the Skinship collaborated with several educators to offer 21 Days of Selfpleasure,[10] a queer and pagan self love advent calendar.

In 2021, Mel collaborated with KABK on the Wxtchcraft Studium Generale [11] talk series, which featured Silvia Federici, Adriene Maree Brown, Staci Haines, Starhawk and more. This curriculum stands opposed to the commodified and tamed cultural representation of the witch, and in opposition to purely rational, scientific reason with its many tools of oppression.

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.[12] Their band, ZaZaZoZo,[13] is a music project with Joseph Marzolla known for its spacatronic folk sound and animalistic influence.[14] 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[15] 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–Me Too movement era.


Bonajo released their first major publication since Spheres[16] in December 2015 Matrix Botanica Nonhuman Persons designed by Experimental Jetset,[17] 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.[18]

In 2020 Bonajo was selected to represent The Netherlands at the 59th Venice Biennale, 2022. They will be working with a curatorial team consisting of Maaike Orlando 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.
  5. ^ "Progress vs Regress | IDFA". Archived from the original on 2016-11-07. Retrieved 2016-11-07.
  6. ^ "Deze video-installatie laat kinderen praten over hun grenzen". 15 October 2019.
  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. ^ "Melanie Bonajo - Matrix Botanica, Biosphere Above Nations (2013)".
  10. ^ "Skinship Berlin". Skinshipberlin.bandcamp.com. Retrieved 2022-05-04.
  11. ^ "WXTCH Craft - Studium Generale 2020-2021".
  12. ^ Bonajo, Melanie. "MELANIE MEETS BIANCA CASADY" Archived 2017-11-07 at the Wayback Machine 28 July 2014. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  13. ^ "ZaZaZoZo". www.facebook.com. Retrieved 2017-05-16.
  14. ^ Bonajo, Melanie. "Kim Hiorthøy by Melanie Bonajo", "BOMB Magazine", 29 October 2014. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  15. ^ "Boundary Boss | Cinekid".
  16. ^ "Spheres #1 – Melanie Bonajo / In what spheres do we live in?". motto distribution. Retrieved 18 September 2016.
  17. ^ "This was 2015". experimental jetset. Retrieved 18 September 2016.
  18. ^ "Matrix Botanica—Non-Human Persons". Capricious. Capricious Publishing. Retrieved 18 September 2016.
  19. ^ "Preview On Earth". Issuu. 6 April 2016. Retrieved 18 September 2016.
  20. ^ Julia Kahl. "Spheres #1 – Melanie Bonajo / In what spheres do we live?". Slanted. Retrieved 2012-09-21.
  21. ^ "Capricious Day: Melanie Bonajo".
  22. ^ "Melanie Bonajo: Night Soil in Foam Amsterdam". Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam. Retrieved 2017-05-16.
  23. ^ Binsbergen, Sarah van (2022-06-09). "'Come Alive' verleidt je om je open te stellen voor een waaier aan sensuele ervaringen ★★★★☆". de Volkskrant (in Dutch). Retrieved 2022-12-07.
  24. ^ "Ten days six nights - Performance at Tate Modern | Tate". Archived from the original on 2017-03-21. Retrieved 2017-03-20.
  25. ^ "GIVE ME YESTERDAY – Fondazione Prada".
  26. ^ "Close-Up – A New Generation of Film and Video Artists in the Netherlands | EYE". Archived from the original on 2016-04-08. Retrieved 2016-04-22.
  27. ^ "Melanie Bonajo | Hacking Habitat | Kunstmanifestatie | Utrecht". Hacking Habitat. Retrieved 2022-05-04.

External links[edit]