This exhibition testifies to the fact that slavery is an integral part of our history, not a dark page that can be simply turned and forgotten about. And that history is more recent than many people realize: going back just four or five generations you will find enslaved people and their enslavers.
For the very first time, in 2020 the Rijksmuseum will hold an exhibition devoted entirely to this subject. Slavery is found in many cultures, places and times, but this exhibition focuses on slavery in the Dutch colonial period, spanning from the 17th to the 19th century.
Why the Rijksmuseum is holding this exhibition The Rijksmuseum is the Dutch national museum for art and history. Slavery is an integral part of that history, and one that affects us all. Delving into the history of slavery will lead to a better understanding of contemporary Dutch society.
The plans for this exhibition are part of a museum-wide effort to increase the attention given to colonial history, from diverse perspectives. Academic research, recent acquisitions and a critical reappraisal of the existing collection are all aspects of this policy. Others include the multimedia guided tour entitled ‘Colonial Past’ and the Country Series of eight books that each focus on a nation with which the Netherlands had a relationship during the colonial period.
What the exhibition is about In the days of Dutch colonial slavery, millions of people were reduced to the status of personal ‘property’. It has proven to be difficult to trace the stories of these people. The exhibition at the Rijksmuseum will centre on ten individuals, some of them well-known, others less so. This emphasis on the personal will enable the museum to give a ‘face’ to slavery and and make the universal and perpetual relevance of this history tangible.
This exhibition does not attempt to offer a complete overview of the history of Dutch slavery. By taking a biographical approach, the museum wants to encourage museum visitors to reflect and to ask questions: How did enslaved people cope with their situation? Were there any voices of dissent? What did people in the Netherlands know about slavery?
The exhibition will shed light on the trading triangle linking Europe, Africa and the Americas; on the Indian Ocean region; on southern Africa; and on enslaved people who were brought to the Netherlands.
The people involved in building this exhibition The Rijksmuseum has assembled a team of specialist curators with wide-ranging academic networks, including Eveline Sint Nicolaas, Valika Smeulders, Maria Holtrop and Saida Si Amer. The team will receive support from a think-tank that will convene on four occasions, as well as an international advisory council.
In the run-up to the exhibition, the Rijksmuseum will hold a number of meetings and events focusing on contributions and discourse from society at large. On 18 May 2018, for example, a discussion took place that focused on the part that Wikipedia can play in increasing the accessibility of our collection. And did you know that if you go to our online Rijksstudio, you can already start putting together your own collection of Rijksmuseum objects relating to slavery?