Good Hope. A Hopeless Exhibition in Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

The danger of putting such an exhibition together is that, in their effort to appeal to their ‘target’ audience, curators can leave other narratives twisted, make them insignificant, or completely ignore them. While Gosselink and her colleagues have curated a monumental exhibition, the narrative it portrays is found painfully wanting. The exhibition, which is meant to explore “what took place between 1652, when Van Riebeeck landed at the Cape and Mandela’s visit to Amsterdam in 1990”, feels more like a nostalgic retelling of a past of conquest – sans the violence foisted on and the dehumanization of a lot of people that came with it. After admitting that this is where their introspection will begin, the exhibition, together with the catalogue that accompanies it, begins the “scrutiny” of this “shared history of The Netherlands and South Africa” in the days leading up to Van Riebeeck’s docking on the Southern-most tip of Africa. Then, after again admitting that they weren’t able to find other accounts of this history besides the ones from the colonialists, the narrative perpetuated throughout the exhibition continues with an erasure of the agency and abuse of the Natives that were found in South Africa by the colonialists by failing to show evidence of any resistance against them and paints them as the agitators of the violence that transpired throughout the early years of the Dutch colonization project. The main language used in the exhibition, Dutch, is translated for English-speakers but fails to evoke the magnitude of the atrocities committed by the VOC and Dutch settlers since Van Riebeeck’s arrival at the Cape. The language used romanticises a rather violent history and almost nullifies the brutality and violence suffered by the Khoi at the Cape at the hands of Dutch settlers. The imagery used in the exhibition also poeticizes the realities of colonial conquest. The use of words such as “intermenging” alludes towards voluntary “interbreeding”, although this wasn’t always the case. The word “rape” is sorely missing in both the exhibition and its accompanying catalogue.

Alfred T.M Rossouw en Phumzile N. Twala in Good Hope. A Hopeless Exhibition in Rijksmuseum Amsterdam (Africanah)