A 18th century painting of Dutch plantation owner and female slave from William Blake's illustrations of the work of John Gabriel Stedman.
A 18th century painting of Dutch plantation owner and female slave from William Blake's illustrations of the work of John Gabriel Stedman. Image: William Blake - The William Blake Archive Wikimedia CC0

Decolonising museums: diversity debate in the Netherlands

The movement for diversification is gaining foothold in the Netherlands as cultural institutions across the country are looking to become more inclusive and “decolonise” their establishments.

In March, a network of Dutch museums known as “Musea Bekennen Kleur” (Museums See Colour) was launched to advance diversity and inclusion. The 12 members included Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, Rembrandt House, Stedelijk and Van Gogh museums, the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven and the Centraal Museum in Utrecht, which first proposed the initiative. The number has now risen to 26, and has a small waiting list of 16.

After a wave of anti-racism protests began in Dutch cities along with the worldwide anti-racism protests “There was an increased urgency for the museums to participate”, says the co-ordinator Aspha Bijnaar, a Dutch-Surinamese educator and researcher.

Longer-term plans of the project include an international symposium, a national education programme for children aged 10-12 and annual reviews of the museums’ individual diversity targets. The project is estimated to cost €424,000, subsidised 40% by the Mondriaan Fund, a public grant-making body, and 60% by the museums, whose contributions will vary according to annual turnover.

One of the first exhibitions to be launched by the network in tandem with the Rembrandt House Museum is Black in Rembrandt’s Time (extended until 6 September). The exhibition was developed in four years. Valika Smeulders, a specialist in slavery history is working on an exhibition on Dutch Slavery at the Rijksmuseum and hopes that such an exhibition will encourage any museums hesitating to start the conversation to join in.

To read more on the initiatives being taken by the Dutch museums, log on to The Art Newspaper.

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