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Symposium - The Future of the Dutch Colonial Past

26 & 27 November 2021
9:00 - 17:00
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Amsterdam Museum

Sign up for the Symposium 'The Future of the Dutch Colonial Past' on November 26 and 27, 2021 at the Hermitage and Lutherse Kerk. The symposium is organized by the Amsterdam Museum and its partners ASCA, NIOD, Rijksmuseum, The Black Archives, University of Amsterdam, National Museum of World Cultures, Vrije Universiteit and Stadsarchief Amsterdam.

Recently in the Netherlands we have seen many examples of cultural institutions that look at the Dutch colonial past with a contemporary perspective and how this has continued into the present. Museums dedicate exhibitions to related themes such as Slavernij (Rijksmuseum), Aan de Surinaamse grachten (Museum van Loon) and De Gouden Koets (Amsterdam Museum). In 2020, the government commissioned the publication of the advisory report Colonial Collections and Recognition of Injustice, in which the advisory committee stated that the government must show willingness to restore stolen, colonial heritage. Research projects such as the Provenance Research on Objects of the Colonial Era (PPROCE) Pilot Project and Pressing Matters: Ownership, Value and the Question of Colonial Heritage in Museums focus on the methodology and implementation of provenance research to enable concrete steps toward restitution and recovery. From archives to artistic practices and in public space, the colonial past of the Netherlands is approached in different fields. Not only heritage objects, but the knowledge, symbols and language we work with today are subject to re-evaluation. 

In this symposium we aim to explore the deep-rooted continuation of the Netherlands' colonial past in our contemporary cultural and academic practices. How can we bring together the approaches of cultural institutions, makers and academic practices so that we can work towards tangible results? We aim to answer this question by facilitating an interdisciplinary conversation about the Dutch colonial past, the ways in which this history is approached, and how it shapes contemporary practices. 

Sessions (in English)

  • Dutch Colonial Heritage in a Global Context (opening) 
  • Repair and Redress (NMVW & NIOD) 
  • Iconoclasm: Toppling Statues, Changing Street Names, Challenging Dominant Narratives (The Black Archives) 
  • Curating Contested Heritage (Rijksmuseum) 
  • Decoloniality in Academic Research, Activism and Artistic Practice (ASCA) 
  • Artistic Practices and Reflections (Amsterdam Museum) 
  • Rereading the Archive (New Narratives & Stadsarchief) 

Organizing Committee:
Isabelle Britto, Mitchell Esajas, Ellen Grabowsky, Eloe Kingma, Susan Legêne, Imara Limon, Wayne Modest, Esther Peeren, Mirjam Schaap, Margriet Schavemaker, Inez Blanca van der Scheer, Esmee Schoutens, Valika Smeulders, Rowan Stol, Frank van Vree. 

Friday, November 26 
09:00 - 09:30 Arrival and registration 
09:30 - 11:00 Dutch colonial heritage in a global context 
11:00 - 11:15 Short break 
11:15 - 12:45 Repair and Redress 
12:45 - 13:45 Lunch 
13:45 - 15:15 Curating Contested Heritage 
15:15 - 15:30 Short break 
15:30 - 17:00 Artistic Practices and Reflections 
17:00 - 17:30 Closing of Day 1  

Saturday November 27th 
09:00 - 09:30 Arrival and registration 
09:30 - 11:00 Activism, Academic Research and Decoloniality 
11:00 - 11:15 Short break 
11:15 - 12:45 Iconoclasm: toppling statues, changing street names, challenging dominant narratives 
12:45 - 13:45 Lunch 
13:45 - 15:15 Rereading the Archives
15:15 - 15:30 Short break 
15:30 - 17:00 Closing session day 2 


DAY 1 - Friday November 26th, 2021
09:00 - 17:00 - Auditorium Hermitage
Hosted by: Margriet Schavemaker & Imara Limon

WALK IN + REGISTRATION 09:00 - 09:30

SESSION 1 09:30 - 11:00 (90 min)

Dutch colonial heritage in a global context (hosted by all parties)
09:30 - 09:40 Opening statement - By Margriet Schavemaker & Imara Limon
09:40 - 09:50 Introductory interview - With Karwan Fatah-Black
09:50 - 10:30 Opening panel - with Tirza Balk, Aspha Bijnaar, Susan Legêne, Frank van Vree, Urwin Vyent
10:30 - 11:00 Keynote - By Ciraj Rassool


11:00 - 11:15 SHORT BREAK 

11:15 - 12:45 - SESSION 2  -  Repair and Redress (hosted by NMVW - VU - NIOD)
Moderator: Wayne Modest

This first panel will discuss notions of Repair (= engaging with the colonial past in ways that actively acknowledge the deep impact on contemporary societies and individuals in terms of past and present violence and Redress (= agreeing on acts that in a concrete sense contribute to changing current relationships to this past)

The context for this discussion is threefold: (1) the policy report ‘Colonial collections and recognition of injustice’; (2) the PPROCE project on methodologies of provenance research for colonial collections; (3) the Pressing Matter project on ownership value and the question of colonial heritage in museums.

11:15 - 11:45 Repair - Presentation 'Fragments of Repair' - By Kader Attia
11:45 - 12:05 Redress - Presentation PPROCE - By Klaas Stutje & Frank van Vree
12:05 - 12:45 Panel discussion - With Wayne Modest, Kader Attia, Klaas Stutje, Frank van Vree, Ciraj Rassool

12:45-13:45 LUNCH 

13:45 - 15:15 SESSION 3 - Curating Contested Heritage (hosted by Rijksmuseum)
On exhibitions relating to contested heritage, decolonial curatorial practices and the role of the institution

Moderator: Valika Smeulders

European national museums and their collections, built in the 19th century, are rooted in ideas of nationalism and colonialism of that era. The Rijksmuseum’s Slavery-exhibition, which was on during the summer of 2021, demonstrates the Netherlands’ current day reckoning with its colonial past. The museum is re-examining its collection, bringing in new expertise from different disciplines, among which most notably oral history, and bringing in newly acquired and loaned historical and contemporary objects to be able to address the past in a more balanced way. The four-year process of preparing the exhibition was executed in a participative and transparent way, building a broad support base for the exhibition and new involvement with the museum into the future. How is this transformation received by the public? What steps are taken by museums across the Netherlands regarding the decolonization of exhibiting, programming and working inclusively? What characterized the Rijksmuseum’s curatorial approach that resulted into this exhibition, and how does this relate to the practice of museums in other countries dealing with the colonial past?

13:45 – 13:55 Introduction By Valika Smeulders
13:55 – 14:20 Presentation By David Bade & Tirzo Martha
14:20 – 14:35 Talk By Anthony Bogues
14:35 – 14:50 Talk By Aspha Bijnaar
14:45 – 15:15 Paneltalk + audience questions With David Bade & Tirzo Martha, Anthony Bogues, Aspha Bijnaar

15:15 - 15:30 SHORT BREAK

15:30 - 17:00 SESSION 4 - Artistic Practices and Reflections (hosted by Amsterdam Museum)
Moderator: Inez van der Scheer, Margriet Schavemaker

In our engagement with the colonial past, institutions are in a process of transformation. We are reflecting on our own role in sociohistorical narratives that are currently contested or being unpacked and this reflection entails new practices of curation, intention as well as form. What (hi)stories do we tell and how do we present them? What audiences do we hope to engage in this debate and what message do we hope to impart on them? How do we collaborate to stimulate multivocality in broaching the colonial past, present and decolonial futures?

For the Golden Coach exhibition, we have commissioned the visions of several contemporary artists on this loaded history. Especially in the context of colonial history where a single Eurocentric narrative has

thus far prevailed in archives and collections, contemporary makers play a vital role in redressing this imbalance. As a result, different ways of thinking about the relationship between past and present and history and art emerge in the exhibition. Artists mediate between the audience and the institution, bringing their personal insights and experiences forward. As individuals or collectives, they have cultivated unique artistic practices for navigating colonial histories, objects and collections. In this panel, we will offer the contemporary makers of the Golden Coach exhibition a platform to share their experiences, motivations and creative practices of social critique.

15:30 - 15:40 Opening statement (Inez van der Scheer/Margriet Schavemaker)
15:40 - 15:50 Lecture (Clementine Deliss)
15:50 - 16:00 Column (Raul Balai)
16:00 - 16:55 Roundtable (Raquel van Haver, Iswanto Hartono, Raul Balai)
16:55 - 17:00 Closing remarks

CLOSING REMARKS DAY 1: 17:00 - 17:30
Margriet Schavemaker/Imara Limon

DAY 2 - Saturday November 27th, 2021
09:00 - 17:00 - Lutherse Kerk
Hosted by: Margriet Schavemaker/Imara Limon


9:30 - 11:00  SESSION 5  - Activism, Academic Research and Decoloniality (hosted by ASCA)
Moderator: Esther Peeren

How are theories of decoloniality (by, for example, Walter Mignolo, Sylvia Wynter, Rolando Vazquez) used in and across academic research, activism and artistic practice to address the afterlives of colonialism in the present and to challenge the disavowal of these afterlives? How can theories of decoloniality help to foreground and recognize the forms of knowledge and genres of being and living that have been marginalized and devalued by the system of modernity-coloniality? Besides addressing these questions, the speakers, who all work on the intersection of academic research, activism and art, will reflect on how the borders between these fields can be crossed (out) so that they can creatively feed into each other, and so that art and activism can find a place within academia as research practices.

9:30 - 9:40 Introduction: What is Decoloniality? - By Rolando Vazquez
9:40 - 9:50 Position statement - By Julian Isenia
9:50 - 10:00 Position statement - By Mikki Stelder
10:00 - 10:10 Position statement - By Barbara Titus
10:10 - 10:30 Panel discussion
10:30 - 10:50 Q&A with audience
10:50 - 11:00 Closing thoughts panelists

11:00 - 11:15  SHORT BREAK 

11:15 - 12:45 SESSION 6 - Iconoclasm: toppling statues, changing street names, challenging dominant narratives (hosted by The Black Archives)
Moderator: Mitchell Esajas

Across Europe grassroots movements have organized, petitioned, lobbied and protested to change street names, remove statues and other symbols of Europe's colonial past which continue to remain present in the public place. Over the past decade, a new wave of anti-racism emerged in the Netherlands centered around the “zwarte piet” stereotype. It became the catalyst for a broader public debate about contested heritage including street names and statues.

In this panel we will reflect on the meaning of such relics of the past in present public space and the dynamic in the movements which organize to remove them. How does this work contribute to the creation of space to question, decolonize, and expand upon dominant historical narratives in museums and in the public space?

11:15 - 12:45 Roundtable - With Simukai Chigudu, Sherida Kuffour, Nancy Jouwe

13:45 - 15:15 SESSION 7 - Rereading the Archive (New Narratives - Stadsarchief)
Moderator: Imara Limon

The afterlife of Dutch colonial history permeates our cultural institutions, including archives such as the Amsterdam City Archives (Stadsarchief). The colonial past manifests itself in archival documents such as letters of manumission, notarial deeds and registers of slavery, prompting archivists to critically reflect on the conservation and handling of this fraught heritage today. But the question of the colonial and the anti-colonial in archival practices goes beyond the objects that we know to contain colonial and slavery histories. What can contemporary developments around accessibility and digitization, the exclusion and inclusion of marginalized histories and creative or subversive research methodologies mean for the archives as institutions and archival research as a discipline? What new narratives can we unearth from the archives or may emerge from our alternative archival research practices? For this session, experts from across the field will present a variety of research projects and reflect on their engagement with colonial heritage in and outside the archival discipline in a panel discussion.

13:45 - 13:55 Introduction
13:55 - 14:35 Short presentations - by Mark Ponte, Dr. Chandra Frank, Dr. Michael Karabinos
14:35 - 14:40 Intermezzo by Richard Kofi
14:40 - 15:15 Panel discussion

15:15 - 15:30 SHORT BREAK

15:30 - 17:00 SESSION 8 - Concluding session (hosted by all parties)
Moderator: Margriet Schavemaker

Concluding remarks and audience questions.
Hosted at Museumcafé Mokum at the Amsterdam Museum - Informal setting with drinks