Rewrite The Institute – The Amsterdam Museum

With their Amsterdam DNA exhibit, the Amsterdam Museum claims to “give you an exciting overview of the history of Amsterdam”. Going through the exhibit reminded me of the many conversations I’ve had with people who work in Dutch museums and wonder why their institute isn’t visited by a more diverse group. When they ask me why my people and I aren’t crowding these spaces, what they basically want to know is: “Why aren’t Black people drawn to Whiteness?” To rewrite the institute is to rephrase our presence (in the ‘show’ as well as the building), to reposition ourselves in the dominant narratives that frame histories, current realities but also futures. It’s also about telling people to “let’s not stand on ceremony here” because clearly nobody expected us in these institutes in the first place. Whenever the words “us” and “our” are used, Dutch museums use them to refer to white people and/or Western culture(s) and we are either presented as colonial and other stereotypical props or completely erased. One of the most institutionalized forms of erasure, is the presentation of dates we should all celebrate. For example: one of the exhibit walls carries the title “City Of Freedom: 1945 – now.” In 1945 the Netherlands still had colonies and they still do. On the far right of that wall there’s a text informing people about the first Dutch constitution that was adopted in 1798. Above the text is an icon of a piece of paper with the constitution’s first article written on it: “All people equal as people.” If this article is from 1798 but slavery wasn’t abolished in 1863 and stretched until 1873… on whose equality is this ‘freedom’ based?

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