New Dutch exhibition takes unflinching take a look at slavery


AMSTERDAM (AP) — The delicacy of one of many first objects in new exhibition at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum belies its brutality. On the finish of a skinny iron rod are the artistically interwoven letters GWC — used to model the initials of a Dutch buying and selling firm into the pores and skin of enslaved staff.

The stark distinction between finery and brutality, wealth and inhumanity is a recurring sample on the museum’s unflinching exhibition titled, merely, “Slavery,” that examines the historical past of Dutch involvement within the worldwide slave commerce.

Close by, an enormous wood set of shares and heavy iron chains and locks used to constrain enslaved folks stands near a small field, intricately adorned with gold, tortoiseshell and velvet celebrating among the useful commodities traded by the Dutch West India Firm within the 18th century: Gold, ivory and human beings.

The exhibit, being opened Tuesday by King Willem-Alexander, tells the story of slavery by drilling down into the non-public tales of 10 folks, starting from enslaved staff to a rich Amsterdam lady.

“We needed to make the case, that it is a historical past that speaks to anyone within the Netherlands. It belongs to all of us, in order that’s why we selected a private strategy,” Valika Smeulders, head of the museum’s historical past division, instructed The Related Press.

The exhibition opens — belatedly and primarily on-line due to the COVID-19 pandemic — at a time when scrutiny of many countries’ brutal colonial historical past has been spurred by the Black Lives Matter motion that swept the world final 12 months after the loss of life of Black man George Floyd.

Faculty kids will have the ability to go to the museum starting this week, however the exhibition is not going to open to most people till the Dutch lockdown eases additional, presumably in June.

Amsterdam had a big position within the world slave commerce — the stately mansions lining its canals attest to the fortunes made by Golden Age merchants typically with the usage of slave labor. That historical past has led to requires a proper apology from the present municipality.

“Effectively, apologies are within the air, completely. And I feel that, with this exhibition, as a museum, what we’re including to that’s that we convey this story in probably the most sincere method doable for us in the mean time,” mentioned Smeulders.

The Dutch present is a part of a broader motion to re-examine colonial histories. In neighboring Belgium, the Africa Museum close to Brussels re-opened just a few years in the past after a significant renovation and shone a lightweight on the nation’s darkish colonial historical past in Congo.

Germany is returning tons of of artifacts generally known as the Benin Bronzes that have been largely looted from West Africa by a British colonial expedition.

The ten tales featured within the Amsterdam exhibition span 250 years of Dutch colonial historical past and 4 continents — Europe, Asia, South America and Africa.

Among the many tales is that of Wally, an enslaved man pressured to work on a sugar plantation within the colony of Suriname. In an audio presentation, his historical past is narrated by former kickboxing world champion Remy Bonjasky, whose ancestors labored on the identical plantation.

Wally turned concerned in a battle with the managers of the plantation in 1707. He and different enslaved folks fled earlier than they have been recaptured, interrogated and executed.

Wally and his fellow escapees “have been to have their flesh torn off with pink sizzling pincers whereas being burned alive,” Bonjasky says within the on-line narration. “Their severed heads would later be displayed on spikes as a warning.”

The “would possibly” proven by Wally and the opposite enslaved males “continues to be in my blood,” Bonjasky says. “It has been handed down by way of generations and is without doubt one of the the reason why I used to be in a position to turn into kickboxing world champion thrice.”

One other story within the exhibition that gives a obvious distinction to the horror of Wally’s quick life is that of Oopjen Coppit, the widow of Marten Soolmans, whose father owned Amsterdam’s largest sugar refinery, processing crops harvested by enslaved women and men in South America.

Within the exhibition, she is a personification of the wealth generated for a privileged few by enslaved staff. In a full-length portrait painted in 1664 by Rembrandt van Rijn, she wears a protracted black, lace-trimmed costume accessorized a pearl necklace and earrings.

“That we’re ready to make use of Rembrandt to discuss the historical past of slavery is absolutely thrilling and actually new,” Smeulders mentioned.

Oopjen’s second husband, Maerten Daey, additionally had hyperlinks to the slave commerce. Earlier than their wedding ceremony, he served as a soldier with the Dutch West India Firm in Brazil, the place he kidnapped and raped an African lady known as Francisca, fathering a daughter in 1632, in line with church information cited within the exhibition.

“The lives of Marten, Oopjen and Maerten are intertwined with the historical past of slavery,” Rijksmuseum Director Taco Dibbits says in an audio tour of the exhibition. “They owed their wealth to the slave labor in Brazil. It’s an instance of how the historical past of slavery and the historical past of the Netherlands are certain collectively.”


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