Sophie Peelman delights in duality. For the first edition of “Pieza Curated”, the Antwerp-based 28-year old selected five pieces from our collection: À La Mode, Afternoon Light, The Seagulls in Essaouira, Lifeguards, and Head in the Clouds.
These at first glance seem like disparate choices. However, this is only if you don’t happen to know Peelman personally. For her, dualism is present in all of her choices. “It’s something I’ve always struggled with”, she tells me. “How hard you need to appear on the outside, and how soft on the inside. For me, these photos represent this feeling.”
Both the public faces and private parts (so to speak) of a project can prove inspirational. Peelman finds herself as inspired by the functionality of a project as the aesthetics, and speaks enthusiastically about optimising back offices and stockrooms.
Despite shying away from the sometimes restrictive world of architecture (“too much computer time, not enough client connection”), Peelman has highly-developed ideas of how to make an appealing space functional.
Indeed, ‘functionality’ is the word that Peelman uses more than anything else throughout our conversation. When it comes to her work, she loves “..to create a space where clients can personally thrive on their best level- both functional and beautiful.”
Peelman’s desire for a wider perspective on life took her through many different fields before landing on interior design. Now as head of her own creative design agency, she highlights ‘female magic’ prominently on her website.
Seeking to challenge the traditional perception of femininity, she takes particular pleasure in working as a woman in a male-dominated industry. Even her business name, Peelvrouw, is a feminist pun on her own surname (vrouw being the Dutch for ‘female’).
This is reflected in many of her curatorial choices. In À La Mode, duality is once again on Peelman’s mind. She tells me how subjects that are “not really feminine, not really masculine, is something I feel too- not really one way or the other.”
Leading on from this, she tells me how she admires the inherent courage in “trusting yourself to wear whatever you’d like, without fear of judgement filtering through and dimming your own identity.”
This idea of not losing one’s own identity rings particularly true in Peelman’s own professional sphere. Peelman values softness, and all the feminine stereotypes that come with it, but as she puts it, “softness is a strength rather than a weakness.”
She describes how “Interior is quite a masculine world.. [and] it’s hard to figure out how masculine to act, because of course, some men find you too aggressive, or not girly enough. So it’s always the balance of how to get sh*t done, without losing yourself.”
Peelman tells me that she struggles “with being soft. Most people who know me would say I appear cold or unapproachable, and it’s a value I’m working on- when to be soft, and with whom.”
Afternoon Light contrasts softnesses in a different way. “It reminds me of a super chill afternoon in the south of France, but also of tristesse.” [a state of melancholy sadness]
“So, again, this duality between hard materials like the train and the softness of the light: it’s always this game between happy and sad, hard and soft...The melancholy of the picture also reminds me how much I struggle with holding onto past things. I recognise myself in that.”
Seagulls also triggered an autobiographical response: “With this [work], it’s more a search for meaning, or of finding your place in a system.” For Peelman, it “represents freedom- but also of feeling alone in your head , even when there’s a lot of people around.”
Even on a more prosaic level, she finds it a work with enormous presence. “The sound there must be so intense! I’m very sensitive to noise, so the thought of being there is pretty overwhelming.”
Lifeguards was also an autobiographical choice. “Here in Belgium we have the seaside, which for me, is like the most belgian Belgium you can find. There are areas of Belgium, with a certain level of conservatism- right wing, beer, campsites, that sort of thing.”
This setting, with the women in hijabs front and centre, “creates this kind of friction, you know? Even if the photograph wasn’t taken in Belgium, that’s what it made me think of.” It also links back to Peelman’s own work.
“I also like the tactility in the photo- the rawness of the sand with the softness of the fabrics- it’s something I also try to use in my interiors, lots of tactility between raw materials, with hard materials, soft materials, translucent materials.. It’s this balance of how to make an interior one balanced space, and the same thing with the playfulness of textures in the work.”
Ultimately, as Peelman puts it, “I think the pictures I chose all represent a bit of my personality- my interests, and what is important to me.” She struggles to think of a location where all the pieces could be hung equally- every work speaks to her in a different way.
Whilst she can envision some of the pieces hung as part of an exhibition, she suggests locations for the other pieces in places as disparate as her therapist’s office to her own bedroom.
But perhaps this is to be expected in a woman who delights in contrast at every turn. She describes herself at the beginning of our conversation as a “chaotic creative”, but on reconsidering the question towards the end, comes to a different conclusion.
In describing her own curation, she sums it up as “eclectic, but serene”, and herself as “serene, but also..” Wherever Sophie Peelman finds her next also, you are certain contrast will surely follow.