Rijksmuseum, the national museum of arts and history of the Netherlands, will stage its first ever major exhibition dedicated to the subject of slavery this spring. Slavery is inextricably bound up with Dutch history. It is the first time stories of slave trade across the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans are told together in one exhibition in the Netherlands.
The Slavery exhibition presents ten true stories. Ten personal stories about enslaved people and slave owners, people who resisted, and people who were brought to the Netherlands in slavery. What were their lives like? What was their attitude to the system of slavery? Were they able to make their own decisions?
The exhibition will include objects from national and international museums, archives and private collections like the Nationaal Museum voor Wereldculturen, British Museum, National Gallery of Denmark, Iziko Museums of South Africa, St Eustatius Historical Foundation, National Archeological Antropological Memory Management (NAAM) in Curaçao, the National Archives of South Africa, Indonesia and the Netherlands and private collections in Sint Eustatius, Suriname, the Netherlands.
By focusing on ten true personal stories, ‘Slavery’ gives an insight into how individuals dealt with legalised injustice,” said
Valika Smeulders, head of History at Rijksmuseum.
During the 250-year colonial period, people were made into property and objects to be recorded in accounts. The exhibition highlights the lives of ten people who lived at the time. They each tell their own story: about living in slavery or taking advantage of it, about resistance and – ultimately – freedom.
They include enslaved people and slaveholders, as well as individuals who broke the shackles of slavery, an African servant in the Netherlands, and an Amsterdam sugar industrialist.
An audio tour leads visitors through these widely differing lives. Among the narrators are Joy Delima, Remy Bonjasky and Anastacia Larmonie, who each have a connection with one of the ten people through their own background.
The exhibition includes objects, paintings and unique archival documents, and visitors will hear oral sources, poems and music. To tell a more complete story, there will be exhibits that have never been shown in the Rijksmuseum before, such as objects that were cherished by people in slavery, and tools that were used on plantations.
The exhibition spans the Dutch colonial period from the 17th to the 19th century. It features the trans-Atlantic slavery in Suriname, Brazil and the Caribbean, and the part played by the Dutch West India Company (WIC); and Dutch colonial slavery in South Africa and Asia, where the Dutch East India Company (VOC) operated. The effects of the system in the Netherlands during the period are also highlighted. As a whole it offers a geographically broad and at the same time specifically Dutch view which has never been seen before in a national museum.
From the opening of the exhibition, the relationship with slavery will also be specifically highlighted in other parts of the Rijksmuseum. For a year, around 70 objects in the collection will be given a second label explaining a previously hidden relationship with slavery.
The exhibition design is by AFARAI, the agency led by architect Afaina de Jong. The exhibition and accompanying events and activities are the result of collaboration with a wide variety of external experts, including historians, heritage experts, cultural entrepreneurs, artists, theatre practitioners and performers. The Slavery exhibition is made possible in part by the Mondriaan Fund, Fund 21, Blockbusterfonds, DutchCulture, Democracy & Media Foundation, Fonds de Zuidroute/Rijksmuseum Fund, Scato Gockinga Fund/Rijksmuseum Fund.