Young Writers, Old Works: Aya Sabi on a stained-glass king

In the exhibition 80 Years’ War, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam looks back at the Revolt that led to the division of the Netherlands. At the request of deBuren, eighteen young Flemish and Dutch authors each bring an artefact from the exhibition back to life. Over the next few weeks you can read several of their stories in translation for the first time. Today AYA SABI shines her light on a stained-glass king.


Dirk Crabeth, Philip II at prayer, detail from stained-glass window The Consecration of the Temple and the Last Supper, 1559, collection of the Sint-Janskerk, Gouda

Chaos Hurriedly COBBLED Together

A stained-glass window consists of fragments stuck together. Chaos is transformed into order. What I saw as art when I was eight years old. A landscape painting. A bronze statue of the perfect man. A stained-glass window of Philip II at prayer. History unfolding before me, immortalised, a piece of reality captured. So I thought. I didn’t understand a thing about all that loud-mouthed art. Paint that scratches across the canvas, images that crash into each other, it made a noise but it didn’t get through to me. It had to be beautiful or genuine and all the rest had nothing to say to me. Because I wasn’t listening. I didn’t understand why the artist had sometimes worked for years in order to leave behind his art ultimately without a clear meaning. Give it a title. Give it a form. Give it a purpose. It’s your child after all.

It was incomplete. So I thought. Until I realised that a work without meaning can mean anything. That even a static work of art of a king at prayer means more. That a king serves his God and not his people, for example, that history is written by power and that power also dictates art, raps it on the knuckles, looks over its shoulder. Or that history consists of separate fragments and coloured glass of different hues and if you want to make a single image of them, history struggles against you, and you can still see where the fragments ran into each other and touch each other. A little heat, some pressure and everything cracks. Order is just chaos hurriedly cobbled together.

It means that however keen we are to capture history, everything ultimately lacks meaning because reality cannot be captured. It can’t be disentangled. Don’t even try. So many stories that spill over into one another or fit together – perfectly – but that sometimes bite chunks out of each other, collide, destroy, multiply themselves. There are threads between them, sometimes so thin that they can snap at any moment but they don’t snap, because once the thread is tautened there is no way back. Because all stories are told within time and time rushes ahead, everything that hasn’t happened, hasn’t happened. But everything that has half happened, a quarter, a bit, those things remain. Forever. And if they disappear, they will be missed. It’s not that they were there yesterday and today are no longer there. And even if they explode and lie shattered on the ground, they are still there.

Every new day brings old days with it.

Aya Sabi © Marianne Hommersom

Aya Sabi (1995) lives in Flanders and studies Biomedical Sciences in Maastricht. She blogs fortnightly for, is a columnist for NTGent Magazine and already has a solid live reputation. She made her fictional debut in 2017 with the collection of stories Verkruimeld Land (Crumbled Land; Atlas Contact).

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