Open letter to the Board of Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum
(Voor de NL-vertaling van de brief, klik hier)
To the Chair and Members of the Board of the Rijksmuseum,
With this letter we’re putting forward our concerns and discontent with regards to the exhibition “Good Hope. South Africa and the Netherlands from 1600”, which is currently on view at Rijksmuseum. The decision to tell a colonial history from a white perspective reproduces a harmful form of selective amnesia. Many of the failures of the exhibition, listed below, could have probably been avoided if the Rijksmuseum had truly valued the views of people for whom such a perspective is not acceptable because they have been – and still are – dealing with the consequences of colonialism. The insults and inaccuracies the Rijksmuseum (re)produces include (but aren’t limited to) the following points:
– The lack of acknowledgement that colonization is both a historical crime and a violent process that perpetuates itself in the present moment. The exhibition therefore fails to point its viewers to the responsibility we carry for this unjust present.
– The lack of clarity about the role of the Netherlands in the systematic oppression and
exploitation of people in South Africa – that is to say, its colonisation. The failure to remove the impression once and for all that it was ‘just’ a matter of setting up a refreshment station.
– The almost complete absence of the work of Black artists / writers, or artists / writers of color from South Africa or the Netherlands.
– The denial of the social structures, languages, religious, and educational means which existed prior to the Dutch colonization of South Africa, and the ways in which they have been erased.
– The absence of those, other than Nelson Mandela, who fought against the Dutch colonizers in South Africa.
– The absence of the current struggles of the Khoi and San descendants, or other Black South African persons and South Africans of color, including women and members of the LGBTQI communities, affected by Dutch colonization in South Africa.
– The lack of acknowledgment that is given to the fact that the exhibition is mostly based on historical documents that are deeply informed by Eurocentric views of colonised peoples.
– The failure to make the partiality of these archives explicit to the visitors, allows for a repetition of the silencing and erasure of the perspectives of the people that were colonised.
– The continuous use of the words “slave”, instead of “enslaved” and the use of the word
“interbreeding”, instead of “rape” are examples of the continuous use of colonial terminology. This continuation is problematic for a museum that announced the project Adjustment of Colonial Terminology with which it claims to be dedicated to ridding of terminology that reflects a Eurocentric perspective. A recently added clarifying text does not take away the internal confusion the museum makes apparent when it comes to dealings with history.
– The appropriation of protest throughout the exhibition through the “hand-written” slogans on the museum walls, but also through the neat display of collected protest signs that were exhibited in one of the final exhibition rooms. This form of appropriation reduces real gestures of protest to objects for aesthetic contemplation and falsely claims the inclusion of these voices, without actually doing so.
– The inclusion of the anthropological photographs of South African children born after ’94 by the white South African photographer Pieter Hugo, whose work shows us the world – once more – through a colonial gaze, in which the subjects in front of his camera become voiceless – become “others”.
– The inclusion of so-called “African Specialist” Adriaan Van Dis, who is quoted in an interview from 2003 saying “There is too much Africa in South Africa…” and who recently kept on advocating for a more nuanced view on apartheid.
– The title of the exhibition, “Good Hope”, which is itself a misnomer, where the falsehoods promoted by this exhibition begins. This exhibition represents only the “good hope” of the Dutch colonizers, who murdered, raped, stole, enslaved, and committed other abuses against innocent men, women, and children, to establish themselves in South Africa.
To conclude: We believe that “Good Hope” has misinformed and misled the 80,000 visitors of the exhibition by showing partial ‘facts’ and has reproduced colonial power structures by telling history from the perspective of the colonizers. The exhibition is, once again, a missed chance to show a perspective other than a white Dutch one – a missed chance to look at history and start working towards a just and inclusive future.
We are aware of the intentions of the Rijksmuseum to organise an exhibition on “the Netherlands and slavery” in 2020, following the plans of its current director to also pay attention to the darker side of Dutch history. After taking a close look at the way in which the current exhibition has been developed, we are deeply troubled by the prospect of an exhibition at the Rijksmuseum that deals with a subject as difficult as
this. The appointment of Wayne Modest, professor at the Free University and director of the Research Centre for Material Culture in Leiden, as collaborator on this upcoming show is a step in the right direction. We ask for you to introduce more voices like his and to appoint these experts not just as external advisors but to give them an active role within the institution: as writers, editors, (guest) curators – and as members of
the board itself.
We believe these are crucial steps to make: not just to avoid the harmful mistakes and reaffirmation of colonial power structures of the current exhibition, but to turn the Rijksmuseum into an institute that is ready for the future. We hope you will take our considerations into account in your upcoming decisions.
– Emmanuel Adjei, filmmaker, Nederland
– Ghislain Amar, kunstenaar en curator van artist-run space Peach, Rotterdam, Nederland
– Katayoun Arian, onafhankelijk curator en lid van University of Colour, Nederland
– Amandla Awethu!, lid van University of Colour, Nederland
– Josephine Baan, kunstenaar, Nederland
– Marjan Boelsma, activist, Rotterdam, Nederland
– Maurits de Bruijn, schrijver, Nederland
– Ibrahim Cisse, postgraduate student in Art Curation, Royal College of Art, Verenigd Koninkrijk
– Tom Clark, onafhankelijk curator, Verenigd Koninkrijk
– Irene de Craen, kunsthistoricus en directeur Hotel Maria Kapel, Nederland
– Uzair Ben Ebrahim, postgraduate student in Hebrew Language and Literature, University of Cape Town, activist in #RhodesMustFall, Zuid-Afrika
– Zippora Elders, kunsthistoricus, schrijver en artistiek directeur Kunstfort bij Vijfhuizen, Nederland
– Rosie Eveleigh, designer, Werkplaats Typografie, Nederland
– Tarim Flach, lid University of Colour, Development MA student ISS, Den Haag en Media Studies RMA student UVA, Nederland
– Chandra Frank, onafhankelijk curator en PhD kandidaat Goldsmiths University of London, Nederland /Verenigd Koninkrijk
– Yoeri Guepin, kunstenaar, Nederland
– Maarten van der Graaff, schrijver, Nederland
– Hidde van Greuningen, kunsthistoricus, Nederland
– Amelia Groom, schrijver en educator, Nederland
– Khwezi Gule, schrijver en hoofdcurator van Soweto Museums, Zuid-Afrika
– Gloria Holwerda-Williams, kunstenaar en educator, Nederland
– Alina Jabbari, Global Criminology MA student Universiteit Utrecht, lid van University of Colour, Nederland
– Wigbertson Julian Isenia, Phd kandidaat Universiteit van Amsterdam, Nederland
– Patricia Kaersenhout, kunstenaar, Nederland
– Iris Kensmil, beeldend kunstenaar, Nederland
– Sam Keogh, kunstenaar / artist in residency aan de Rijksakademie, Amsterdam, Nederland
– Katja Verheul, kunstenaar, Nederland
– Donna Kukama, kunstenaar en lecturer aan de University of Witwatersrand, Zuid-Afrika
– Imara Limon, freelance curator en onderzoeker, Nederland
– Milo van der Maaden, kunstenaar en schrijver, Nederland en Verenigd Koninkrijk
– Thato Magano, schrijver en PhD kandidaat, Rutgers University (US) en MA kandidaat, Wits University, lid van #FeesMustFall, Zuid-Afrika
– Neo Image Matloga, kunstenaar, Zuid-Afrika / Nederland
– Egbert Alejandro Martina, schrijver en onderzoeker, Nederland
– Alfie Martis, Research master student Mediastudies, UVA, lid van University of Colour, Nederland
– Dorine van Meel, kunstenaar, schrijver en theoriedocent aan de Rietveld Academie, Nederland
– Ilga Minjon, curator en kunsttheoriedocent, Nederland
– Yvette Mutumba, Co-Founder, Editor in Chief Contemporary And (C&), curatorial team 10th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art
– Sandra Walusimbi Nanteza, kunstenaar en schrijver, Nederland
– Gabi Ngcobo, lecturer aan de Wits School of Arts, Zuid-Afrika en curator van de 10th Berlin Biennale forContemporary Art
– Rachel O’Reilly, schrijver, kunstenaar en theoriedocent, Dutch Art Institute, Nederland
– Marleen Özgür, schrijver en filmmaker, Nederland
– Sara Pape, kunstenaar en economisch activist, Nederland
– Rianna Jade Parker, schrijver en curator, Londen, Verenigd Koninkrijk
– Miguel Peres dos Santos, kunstonderzoeker, Nederland
– Sander Philipse, historicus, Nederland
– Annelein Pompe (NL), kunstenaar, Brussel
– Petra Ponte, freelance curator en onderzoeker, Nederland
– Esper Postma, kunstenaar, Nederland
– Nelmarie du Preez, kunstenaar en educator, University of South Africa, Zuid-Afrika
– Elaine Reynolds, kunstenaar, Verenigd Koninkrijk
– Sophia Seawell, Gender and Ethnicity RMA student, Universiteit Utrecht, Nederland
– Dineo Seshee Bopape, kunstenaar, Zuid-Afrika
– Moses Serubiri, onafhankelijke schrijver en curator; curatorial team of 10th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art
– Lisette Smits, onafhankelijk curator en course director Master of Voice, Sandberg Instituut, Nederland
– Maartje Smits, dichter en kunstenaar, Nederland
– Jonas Staal, kunstenaar, Nederland
– Abri de Swardt, kunstenaar, onderzoeker en deeltijdse docent aan Wits School of the Arts, Zuid-Afrika
– Jacqueline Tizora, lid van University of Colour, Nederland
– Phumzile Nombuso Twala, schrijver en organisator Soweto Art Week, Zuid-Afrika
– Sinethemba Twalo, schrijver, Zuid-Afrika
– Tom Vandeputte, afdelingshoofd Critical Studies, Sandberg Instituut, Nederland
– Gloria Wekker, emeritus Hoogleraar Gender en Etniciteit, Universiteit van Utrecht, Nederland
– Simone Zeefuik, schrijver en organisator, Nederland