The Netherlands was one of the most belligerent European colonial empires. Driven by commerce and spread over four continents, their imperial ambitions changed the lives and cultures of millions of people from Indonesia to the Caribbean. In this series artists and arts practitioners share their thoughts on how to deal with the legacies of that empire, in the Netherlands and beyond. Here our author Heitor Augusto takes a closer look at the exhibtion Afterlives of Slavery at the Tropenmuseum Amsterdam.
Afterlives of Slavery, a semi-permanent exhibition at the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam can be inserted into a current chronology of attempted critical takes on colonization and on the colonial gaze. Similar attempts were made with exhibits at the base of the monument “Padrão dos Descobrimentos” (lit. Monument of the Discoveries) in Lisbon or in the six-month exhibition Afro-Atlantic Histories that took place at MASP and Instituto Tomie Ohtake in São Paulo.
Afterlives of Slavery addresses the Netherlands’ colonial past and its lingering presence, taking the local audience as a focal point. A major aspiration of the exposition is to call immediate attention to the country’s colonial violence and its role in the transatlantic slave trade. However, the conditions of production, the grid format, the limited scope of the material selected, the choice of a video that promises non-threatening education, and the almost complete absence of works by artists of color born in the Netherlands or in the former colonies suggest that certain things still need to be discussed. It indicates that a serious conversation around race, racism, colonialism, and colonial fetishism in the arts is yet to be meaningfully done in the Dutch context.