Exhibition | Slavery: Ten True Stories

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions, online learning by Editor on August 4, 2021
Exhibition trailer by Boomerang Motion.

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From the press release for the exhibition now on view (an initial notice appeared here at Enfilade in September 2019, but here’s the full, updated information, including links for terrific online components). . .

Slavery: Ten True Stories
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 5 June — 29 August 2021
United Nations Headquarters Visitors’ Lobby, New York, 26 February — 30 March 2023

 Curated by Eveline Sint Nicolaas and Valika Smuelders

The Rijksmuseum, the national museum of arts and history of the Netherlands, presents its first ever major exhibition dedicated to the subject of slavery this summer. Slavery is inextricably bound up with Dutch history. This is the first time stories of slave trade across the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans are told together in one exhibition in the Netherlands. The exhibition presents ten true stories. Ten personal stories about enslaved people and slave owners, people who resisted, and people who were brought to the Netherlands in slavery. What were their lives like? What was their attitude to the system of slavery? Were they able to make their own decisions?

The exhibition includes objects from national and international museums, archives, and private collections—including the Nationaal Museum voor Wereldculturen, British Museum, National Gallery of Denmark, Iziko Museums of South Africa, St Eustatius Historical Foundation, National Archeological Antropological Memory Management (NAAM) in Curaçao, the National Archives of South Africa, Indonesia and the Netherlands, and private collections in Sint Eustatius, Suriname, and the Netherlands.

Valika Smeulders, head of History Rijksmuseum: “By focusing on ten true personal stories, Slavery gives an insight into how individuals dealt with legalized injustice.”

Taco Dibbits, General Director Rijksmuseum: “The Rijksmuseum is the national museum of art and history. Slavery is an integral part of our history. By delving into it, we can form a more complete picture of our history and a better understanding of today’s society.”

Ten True Stories

During the 250-year colonial period, people were made into property and objects to be recorded in accounts. The exhibition highlights the lives of ten people who lived at the time. They each tell their own story: about living in slavery or taking advantage of it, about resistance, and—ultimately—freedom. They include enslaved people and slaveholders, as well as individuals who broke the shackles of slavery, an African servant in the Netherlands, and an Amsterdam sugar industrialist. An audio tour leads visitors through these widely differing lives. Among the narrators are Joy Delima, Remy Bonjasky and Anastacia Larmonie, who each have a connection with one of the ten people through their own background.

The exhibition includes objects, paintings, and unique archival documents. Visitors also will hear oral sources, poems, and music. To tell a more complete story, there will be exhibits that have never been shown in the Rijksmuseum before, such as objects that were cherished by people in slavery and tools that were used on plantations.

The Dutch Colonial Period on Four Continents

Alexander de Lavaux, Map of Suriname, 1737, silk, 187 × 216 cm (Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum).

The exhibition spans the Dutch colonial period from the 17th to the 19th century. It features the trans-Atlantic slavery in Suriname, Brazil, and the Caribbean, along with the part played by the Dutch West India Company (WIC) and Dutch colonial slavery in South Africa and Asia, where the Dutch East India Company (VOC) operated. The effects of the system in the Netherlands during the period are also highlighted. As a whole, it offers a geographically broad and at the same time specifically Dutch view that has never been seen before in a national museum.

Look at Me Now

The stories in the exhibition—about João, Wally, Oopjen, Paulus, Dirk, Lokhay, Van Bengalen, Surapati, Sapali and Tula—stand for millions of other stories about the slavery past of the Netherlands and its continued effects. At the end of the exhibition, the artists David Bade (Curacao, 1970) and Tirzo Martha (Curacao, 1965), both from Curacao’s Instituto Buena Bista, invite visitors to give expression to their own stories through the ten new artworks making up the Look at Me Now project. Visitors can follow the progress of this project via the website.

Online Exhibition

The Rijksmuseum is also presenting the ten stories in an online exhibition that features video and audio clips, animations, an overview of the exhibition galleries, and objects that can be viewed in exceptional detail. Visitors to the website will be able to see the Slavery exhibition in ten episodes, whenever and wherever it suits them.


The Rijksmuseum partnered with the National Library of the Netherlands and the National Archive of the Netherlands to present an English-language online symposium on 23 April 2021, focusing on what it means to increase inclusivity in source usage by museums, archives, and libraries. What sources are available to people making presentations and conducting research on the subjects of slavery and the slave trade? Click here to view a recording of the symposium.

Rijksmuseum & Slavery

For the coming year, more than 70 objects in the permanent collection will have a second museum label that explores and highlights what has been, until now, an invisible relationship between the object and slavery. Subjects covered range from former rulers to the presence of people of colour and the way they are portrayed. Rijksmuseum & Slavery takes place concurrently with the Slavery exhibition, but it is not part of the exhibition.


The exhibition and accompanying events and activities are the result of collaboration with a wide variety of external experts, including historians, heritage experts, cultural entrepreneurs, artists, theatre practitioners, and performers.

Narrative advisor:
Jörgen Tjon A Fong

Think tank:
Reggie Baay, Raul Balai, Aspha Bijnaar, Mitchell Esajas, Karwan Fatah-Black, Martine Gosselink, Dienke Hondius, Wayne Modest, Ellen Neslo, Matthias van Rossum, Maurice San A Jong, Alex van Stipriaan, Jennifer Tosch, Urwin Vyent, Simone Zeefuik, and Suze Zijlstra

The exhibition design is by AFARAI, the agency led by architect Afaina de Jong. The graphic design of the exhibition and the book are by Irma Boom Office.

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Eveline Sint Nicolaas and Valika Smeulders, eds., Slavery: The Story of João, Wally, Oopjen, Paulus, Van Bengalen, Surapati, Sapali, Tula, Dirk, Lohkay (Amsterdam: Atlas Contact, 2021), 352 pages, ISBN: 978-9045044279, €28. (Also available in Dutch).

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Note (added 27 March 2023) — The posting has been updated to include the UN as a venue for a version of the exhibition.

Exhibition | Rijksmuseum & Slavery

Posted in exhibitions, museums by Editor on August 4, 2021
Hendrik van Schuylenburgh, The Trading Post of the Dutch East India Company in Hooghly, Bengal, 1665, oil on canvas, 203 × 316cm
(Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum)

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This project, aimed at reconsidering objects in the permanent collection of the Rijksmuseum, coincides with the major exhibition Slavery: Ten True Stories:

Rijksmuseum & Slavery: New Light on the Permanent Collection
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 18 May 2021 — February 2022

Many of the works in the Rijksmuseum’s permanent collection have links with the Netherlands’ slavery past. It’s a relationship you probably won’t notice at first glance and one you won’t typically read about on a museum label next to an object: from the nutmeg harvested by enslaved people, to an enslaved woman shipped off to the Netherlands; from the image of a dance party on a Surinamese plantation that hides critical messages about the slaveholder, to the pulpit from which an 18th-century legal philosopher made the case for abolishing slavery.

Rijksmuseum & Slavery is adding 77 museum labels to paintings and objects in the permanent collection. The new labels will remain in place for a year, until February 2022. All of them focus on the colonial power of the Netherlands, which from the 17th century onwards was inextricably bound up with a system that included slavery. Some of the labels tell the stories of people who, under Dutch rule, were enslaved and put to work, and had their status reduced to that of objects, while others highlight people who profited from slavery, or spoke out against it.

When the Slavery exhibition and Rijksmuseum & Slavery have ended, the museum will evaluate both the pre-existing labels and the new ones. Wherever possible, the new information will be integrated into the museum in order to do greater justice to the Netherlands’ complicated history. The labels are collected in a booklet available free of charge in the museum. The booklet can also be downloaded here. In addition, all the labelled works are available online as a collection in Rijksstudio (in two parts: 1500–1650 and 1650–1960).

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Hendrik Keun, The Garden and Coach House of 524 Keizersgracht in Amsterdam, 1772, oil on panel (Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum).

From the booklet: first the original label and then the newly added one:

Nicolaas Doekscheer, who lived at 524 Keizersgracht, built a grand, Rococo coach house on the Kerkstraat, which adjoined the back of his garden. He is here depicted conversing with the gardener, while his wife speaks to a maidservant. The two young men are Doekscheer’s nephews and heirs. The painting is still in its original Rococo frame.

The 18th-century Dutch elite benefitted greatly from the slavery-based plantation economy.[1] So did Nicolaas Doekscheer and his associate Hendrik Steenbergen, both depicted here in a garden. They financed no less than fifteen plantations in Berbice, Demerary, and Essequebo (all three part of present-day Guyana, South America).[2] Thanks to these loans, plantation owners were able to set up their coffee, cotton, and sugar plantations, while in Amsterdam Doekscheer and Steenbergen made a substantial profit from the interest.[3] See booklet for the footnotes.

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