This month’s alumni spotlight features Tessel van der Putte (class of 2016), who also happens to be our new Media and Communications Officer for Evolucio. Edward sat down with her to talk about what she’s been up in the past four years, and what she envisions for these spotlights going forward. If you are interested in being interviewed next by Tessel, or know someone she should talk to, send her a message on LinkedIn, Facebook or e-mail the board at email@example.com.
First things first, what’s happened since you’ve left LUC the Hague in 2016?
After graduating, I was fortunate to directly start working in Amsterdam. I worked with Jimmy Nelson , a photographer who was actually featured in one of my classes—I think it was Area Studies, with Daniela— and that I had gotten to know well over time. He was starting a Foundation and I could join his team on the right moment. Here, I started initially in charge of communications, but shortly after I was promoted to Policy Director of the Foundation. I started leading the international projects with indigenous people, on culture, storytelling and sharing knowledge.
It was a very big shift for me, because I had been studying such heavy topics in LUC. For example, I took many of Aernout’s courses (probably still the most depressing yet interesting courses I have ever taken) and was focussing on Genocide in my thesis. As such, switching to a more creative and positive topic was very interesting for me.
After two years, I wanted to dive a bit deeper again. So, I left Amsterdam and started my master’s degree in International Law and Human Rights at the United Nations Mandated University for Peace (located in Costa Rica – I know – not bad right!) I met so many interesting people there, professors, peers, from all over the globe and all kinds of backgrounds. In a sense it was very much like LUC; it felt very familiar and I could easily blend in.
I did my thesis research there on climate change and small island nations in the Pacific —also somewhat related to my work in Amsterdam, as as this area in the world is strongly influenced by its indigenous heritage. Some islands might soon become uninhabitable or even disappear entirely in the next few decades.
I’ve finished up just now and moved to Geneva to start my new job at the International Red Cross Headquarters there.
Tell me about your time with Jimmy Nelson. Could you tell me a bit more about what he does?
Jimmy travels around the world and takes photos of remote families and cultures (such as the Kazakhs in Mongolia or the Huli in Papua New Guinea). He became very famous but also controversial, because he depicts people at their most beautiful and proud moments, in a sense it feels almost a bit like Vogue. At the time I started working there, my team and I also started working on writing down personal stories and aspirations in life of people all around the globe, which became a very interesting gathering of cultural narratives for the new book.
In the spirit of indigenous pride, as opposed to a dominant Western perspective, the Foundation I oversaw wanted to enable indigenous artists to take these pictures themselves. We had lots of photographers from abroad on the teams, to create international collaborations, and to create this sense over ownership for people themselves.
He is known for “Before they pass away”. Were you already involved in that, or what did you do with him?
When I started working in Amsterdam, we started working on the new book “Home to Humanity” which came out in 2018 (right before I went to Costa Rica). My job was more related to the Foundation, but I was very happy to write texts in that book and to help with research.
It was really amazing to be working with all these artists and amazing creative thinkers, but being from more of a political background myself, I was also happy to bring that background and critical thinking to shape our work (for example, I re-wrote our Foundation policy and was focussed on ethics for the campaigns and projects we ran). I am still very grateful for that time and for meetings such incredible people along the way.
You majored in World Politics—how would you say that LUC has shaped your work in the arts?
Even though doing a major like that obviously directs you towards a certain field of work, I feel that LUC across all majors prepares you incredibly well to work in any field. I see that around me a lot as well, friends working in such diverse places. I think that is because you learn how to think critically and how to deal with topics that you’re not that comfortable with, and how to make them your own.
I guess it’s also the social skills: the internationality, diversity and the interactivity that help you a lot at any job I believe. I’m experiencing that now: before having worked in the creative field, then studying something much more legal, and now I’m working in the humanitarian field. So I’m very comfortable in this and feel very excited for whatever might be next!
How did you decide to move to the Red Cross in Geneva?
It’s different from my work at the Foundation, but at the same time it’s quite similar. I focus a lot on the use of online platforms, outreach and storytelling, but this time I can use it in tandem with my previous studies. I studied War at LUC, and Peace at UPeace, and the Red Cross lets me combine all these things in my work. I was also trained by ICRC Mexico during my master’s in International Humanitarian Law, so it seemed like a natural step in a way. In addition to that, the ICRC is just a very admirable organisation to work for and learn from.
So why did you choose to come back to LUC through Evolucio?
Well to be honest, already when I was working back in Amsterdam, I was very keen on seeing the alumni network of LUC grow. I remember when I started at LUC, it was only three years old at the time, it was a very young program, but we all had this communal sense of why we were there. I think there is immense potential of the alumni network and I think it is also something we can be super proud of. And just when I moved back to Europe I saw your call for help, so I reached out.
What are your goals in becoming Evolucio’s Media and Communications Manager?
I want to put a literal spotlight on people’s experiences and stories. The people that I am in touch with from LUC, are all doing amazing things. I want to show people what is possible with this degree that we all share. Next to that, I think it is very important to keep this bridge between the people that used to go to LUC. It is our stories that really define what it means to have gone to LUC. Plus, it is just so much fun for me to get to talk to old friends and neighbours, and new people that might have come after me.
When you lived on my floor you used to make beautiful art. Are you still doing that, and how has your relationship with your art changed over time?
I always make art! I never stopped doing that luckily.
I used to make big canvases, in cubist or abstract forms—I remember making some for a few LUC exhibitions at the time even. At some point I started really getting into combining fourth wave feminism and intersectionality into the art works. They are all in black or white, and tell a story about being female, about women and race, sexuality, the politics of the female body, or about personal development. You can check the website  to see what I make if you want. Jimmy bought one just before I left for Geneva. I really hope that next to my working life I can always keep doing this, in the end it is what makes me the happiest.
 You can see Tessel’s artwork on her website, www.tesselvanderputte.com