The Exhibition “Slavery” Confronts the Dutch Dark Past


The Amsterdam Rijksmuseum has opened a slavery show to the public. The show aims to illuminate the cruelties of Slavery and the richness of the Netherlands who benefited from the evil trade.

The show opening was closed due to the virus, and the slave trade instruments can be seen for the first time.

A series of iron legs, once chained slaves by punishment wrists, Rembrandt’s pair of portraits of a wealthy Dutch couple, clothing for Slavery, and hundreds of other pieces can be seen in the museum.

“We wanted to say that the story speaks to all in the Netherlands, that it belongs to us all. This is why we have chosen a truly personal approach. The story centers on ten people living there, slave proprietors, slaves, people who spoke out against the system to ask themselves, what if I were in the shoes of those people, what would I have done?” Asked Valika Smeulders, Head of the Department of History of the Rijksmuseum.

Amsterdam played a key part in the world trade in slaves. The stately mansions along its canals testify to the fortunes frequently experienced by merchants using slave labor.

The history has contributed to calls from the present municipality for formal apologies.

Smeulders added:

“Apologies are completely in the air, and I think with this show like a museum, we add that we carry this story to us in the most truthful way possible.”

Curators at the museum would like to start an honest dialogue in a country that still considers its place in colonialism.

The exhibition is topical in the context of the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement.

“Hopefully (slavery exhibition) would lead to a more informed discussion and listening. This is one of our exhibitions aims to include more detail about this history so that a better discussion occurs,” said Eveline Sint Nicolaas, Rijksmuseum’s Senior Curator.

Called Slavery, the museum uses songs and oral sources to be heard on an audio tour to fill in the loopholes with no documents.

The Netherlands never apologized formally for their part in the slave trade.



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