The Rijksmuseum of Amsterdam has announced that an adapted version of its 2021 Slavery exhibition will be making a trip to New York City for a five-week display at the United Nations (UN) headquarters. Slavery: Ten True Stories of Dutch Colonial Slavery focuses on the 250 years of Dutch involvement in the transcontinental slave trade through two major components, “Ten Stories” and “Tronco.”
The original iteration of the exhibition took four years to come together with efforts beginning in 2017. It was highly acclaimed for its confrontation of the deep but quietly ignored history of Dutch colonialism, especially as the modern-day Netherlands is largely admired for its progressive policies and moderately high standard of living. Visitors entering the show would see Romuald Hazoumè’s “La Bouche du Roi” (1997–2005), an installation of 304 inflated petrol jerry cans fashioned into masked faces that were positioned to emulate the astonishingly cramped arrangement of enslaved people on the ships that trafficked them across the Atlantic ocean. Afterwards, the exhibition transitioned to the “Ten Stories” and their supplementary objects.
This first section shines a light on the experiences of enslaved people from Brazil, Suriname, the Caribbean, South Africa, and Asia alongside those of enslavers or other players operating in the transcontinental trade between the 17th and 19th centuries. This section illuminates the personal experiences of “ten true personal stories of people who were enslaved, people who profited from the system of slavery, and people who raised their voices against it,” according to an exhibition statement. In the online text that supports the short film renditions of the stories, the Rijksmuseum states that both entities “are an inextricable part of our history.”
“Tronco” (c. 1600–1800), meaning “tree trunk” in Portuguese, will be displayed at the UN as well. The tronco is a long, split wooden stock with holes that clasp around the ankles of multiple enslaved people at a time, subjugating their movement to prevent escape and keep them in place for corporeal punishment. The museum states that the contraption represents “the suppression of over a million people who were shipped from around the world and forced to work.”
There are a few related events taking place in conjunction with the New York iteration of the exhibition, including a screening of the documentary New Light (2021) on March 29. Directed by Ida Does, the 57-minute film provides context on how the Slavery exhibition was developed at the Rijksmuseum and how its broader impact was both painful and healing. On March 30, there will be a talk and panel discussion surrounding the exhibition and the Dutch involvement in slavery.
Slavery: Ten True Stories of Dutch Colonial Slavery will be on public display in New York from February 27 through March 30, after which it will travel to different UN headquarters internationally until 2024.
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